IT in K12 Schools: Transitioning from Tech Management to Tech Leadership
November 7, 2016
The Unique Role of Tech Leaders in K12 Education
IT Directors, CTOs, and CIOs at K12 school districts and schools have a uniquely challenging set of responsibilities. They must stay up to date on rapidly developing technology trends, deliver the solutions that their teachers and students need, and find ways to make daily workflows and processes more efficient for both teachers and administrative staff. They have to do all this while also maintaining the health and security of the school’s network and guarding the privacy of student and personnel data. Furthermore, they have to accomplish all of these feats on a very limited (and often shrinking) budget.
To successfully juggle all of these priorities while keeping a larger strategic view of the school’s future technology direction top of mind, school IT staff must make the transition from technology manager to technology leader. But how can this be accomplished? This evolution from manager to leader takes time and requires careful, continuous personal and professional development. This blog explores three key aspects of that journey: building trust, understanding school instructional and operational needs, and building a professional network.
No technology leader can succeed without first building trust with colleagues. Teachers, charged with readying their students for a 21st century workplace in which technology is likely to be a major factor, need close partnerships with their IT staff. But they are strapped for time and are managing multiple priorities themselves. Some teachers may even be tech-averse or uncomfortable broaching a subject in which they are not experts with someone who is. Building trust with teachers, in which they feel free to share their needs and concerns, begins with investing the time necessary to develop personal relationships with them.
Likewise, it is just as important to build trust with the school’s operations and administrative staff. Often juggling several different tasks at once just like the teachers, they encounter efficiency obstacles and frustrating, time-consuming processes that make it difficult to keep the school running at the pace it needs to. For example, they may be grappling with problems producing accurate, timely enrollment information. Or they may be struggling with data errors arising from a lack of integration between their enrollment and SIS platforms. They may have varying levels of comfort with technology as well. Whatever their productivity barrier may be, an IT Director or CIO’s leadership role is to understand it and work to eliminate it.
One way to build such positive working relationships necessary to solve these challenges is to make a point of being seen as available, approachable, and interested in hearing what problems and successes others are experiencing. Some technology directors accomplish this by taking unstructured time out of their day to do brief walkabouts with no agenda, in which they can have spur-of-the-moment conversations that, while small in and of themselves, slowly build trust with colleagues over time.
Understanding School Instructional and Operational Needs
A technology leader must be as fluent in the goals and the mission of the school as he or she is with the technology that supports it. Only by understanding how instruction, learning, and operational processes take place is it possible to make informed recommendations on the software and devices that will best support them. Just as it takes time to cultivate a strong working relationship with colleagues, it takes time to become fully conversant in the educational and administrative aspects of educational technology. As a CIO or IT Director becomes fluent in the language and processes of the school, he or she will not only be able to better communicate with the teachers and administrative staff using a common language, but he or she will have earned their trust and respect as well, thus gaining increased leadership standing within the school.
Building a Professional Network
As a technology leader’s profile rises and they are able to demonstrate a strong track record of successful tech initiatives at the school, colleagues will increasingly seek them out for guidance and consultation. In order to best advise the school on the technology that will help them innovate more quickly, deliver quality instruction, and work more efficiently, it is important to stay abreast of new and developing trends in technology.
This can be challenging to do, particularly if there are no other technology professionals on staff with whom to compare notes. For that reason, it’s important to build a professional network through which the IT Director or CIO can advance their knowledge and skills. Developing a Professional Learning Network (PLN) on social media channels or via local networking groups, as many teachers do, is one particularly high impact way to go about this. A PLN can help a technology leader solve difficult problems, keep on top of tech trends, and learn best practices that will ultimately benefit their school as well as their career. Other professional development opportunities, such as technology conferences and local technology communities of practice, are also solid avenues for developing one’s expertise and professional network.
Many tech professionals start out as avid “techie” problem solvers, excelling on an increasingly complex scale as they advance in their careers. Those skills, while certainly valuable in today’s increasingly technology-centric educational landscape, only form half of the tool set that an IT Director or CIO needs in order to fully support a school’s mission. By developing trust with colleagues, learning how the school works both inside and out, and building a professional network, they can successfully become complete technology leaders.
To develop technology leadership, CIOs, CTOs and IT Directors must first build trust with their instructional and operational colleagues by seeking to understand their needs.
By making it a priority to alleviate school pain points, both instructional and operational, technology leaders will establish themselves as a trusted resource for solving problems and build their leadership profile at the school.
Technology leaders can grow themselves professionally by building a personal learning network (PLN), online and/or offline, where they can share best practices with their peers.