Yardsticks and Canaries: Enabling Effective ICT Decision Making

By Tony Gilbert - 23 Oct, 2018
Education Technology
5 Minutes Read

In this article, I would like to talk about two familiar but important concepts. Both are linked and equally critical in the decision making the process for ICT in education.

Firstly – yardsticks. There is little argument that as people we gather the sense of morality and behaviour from what we observe and experience. At different times in our lives, we use specific people and occasionally events as metaphorical “yardsticks” that we can measure our actions and choices against. The word comes from the yardstick itself, something that is used to measure to ensure accuracy.

Some of you may ask yourself at times “what would so-and-so do?”. This is a type of yardstick that places value on the experience and judgment of an individual. Sometimes we bestow this honour on a group too, be it grandparents, iwi or an organised group. Education is no different in this regard. As teachers, administrators and leaders we gather the choices we make, particularly the hard ones, from the people and experiences we have gained. In fact, I would argue, that because of the tight-knit group that is the education sector in New Zealand, we not only ask ourselves this theoretical question, we often ask it of the person directly.

Reaching Out

There aren’t any Principals or senior leaders that I know of who haven’t been faced with a new or challenging situation, requiring them to reach out and garner some support from others with perspective and experience.

This is really, really, healthy. The most dangerous thing for any person who has significant influence over others through the choices that they make, be it a classroom or boardroom, is to become closed off and believe that they have all the answers.

The other concept is that of the “Canary”, or the “Canary in a Cage”. Coal miners of age used to use these birds to signal danger of deadly gas as they essentially inhale twice and are therefore more susceptible. We all have canaries in cages in our lives. Quiet or not-so-quiet voices that let us know that something is not right and maybe we should pause for reflection or run for our lives.

Stepping back and qualifying the information is critical. The difficulty with this concerning ICT is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Yardsticks and canaries, therefore, become critical.

Rather than try and guess the yardsticks and canaries for you, let me share some of the ones that the team here at New Era have experienced.


The Connected Learning Advisory. This independent group will give you unbiased and qualified advice on the choices you are making

Other Principals. Insight from trusted peers can be incredibly useful. The caveat on this one is that they are listening to their own “canaries” in their environment.

Colleagues from other schools. These people will have no issue about telling you how things work at the school they went to or have come from. Change is always tricky, but colleagues can be an essential measure of how things can look from another perspective.

New Era. I can say hand-on-heart that even for our non-client schools we can give you a clear and honest opinion on your school’s ICT relative to best practice. It is in our favour to start the relationship with honesty and integrity.


Staff. Every staff group (I think) has the person who resists ICT. They will sing the moment things look like they are not working well. This person can be a complete headache as it may not be the system itself, (see user error), but should not be ignored concerning their silence. If they are happy, this is about as loud as a canary can sing.

Students. Interestingly you must bother listening or listen carefully to hear this canary. They will get on with whatever most of the time. Student feedback is often overlooked regarding ICT. Their faith in the network and its ability to function effectively with everything from getting help to trying new technology will be a crucial indicator of its practicality, robustness and agility.

Third parties. The number of integrations in a modern network is massive. Everything from alarms and phones to audio-visual technology often has some element that relies on network capacity and capability. If trusted and experienced third parties are having a nightmare getting anything done, this may sing to issues with the network.

Flashing Lights, Appearing Bills and Digital Tunes. Outages, lights flashing, bills arriving with lots of words you don’t know the meaning of constant beeping where you think it really shouldn’t come from are all big red canaries. The longer these have been going on, the bigger they are. The Canaries will sound, but the response and time they’re left to sing is also a significant indicator of the robustness of your ICT network.

Now is a great time to give New Era a call and get us to come and do a measure up with our perfectly crafted yardsticks and award-winning canaries.

Author: Tony Gilbert