Tech Leadership

Finding and Nurturing Leadership

by KEITH R. KRUEGER

As technology’s use deepens in importance in the 21st-century learning environment, the instructional technology department’s transformation is like few other functions in K-12. When school districts first adopted computer systems, the IT department stood for information technology. The department’s primary concerns, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s recently released National Educational Technology Plan, “were with the boxes, wires and software needed to run basic financial, personnel and reporting systems.” Over time, IT morphed into instructional technology, and the district staff took on new duties in the areas of teaching and learning.

Keith KruegerKeith R. Krueger



Some school districts today have both kinds of IT departments (under many names), and some have combined the two functions under single leadership. Even in the latter case, those in charge of information technology may find they are left out of deliberations on key decisions in areas such as instruction, personnel assignment or assessment. Meanwhile, education leaders often are frustrated by technology that does not meet their needs.

Effective process redesign is needed and will require close coordination among all these functions.

The Right Fit

Superintendents need their technology leaders to ensure effective use of technology to realize the district’s vision and goals. Here are a few suggestions to ensure the district’s technology leader has the right knowledge and skills.

•  Create or expand the job description to reflect the current environment and needs. A new report from the National Center for Education Statistics, using 2008 data, found that 51 percent of districts employed a full-time staff member responsible for educational technology leadership and 32 percent reported a part-timer in that role. Even in districts of 10,000 or more students, nearly one-fifth do not have a full-time technology leader. In medium-sized districts, a third do not employ a full-time technology head.

The statistics for this position by poverty concentration show significant disparities from 60 percent of wealthy versus 47 percent of poor districts having a full-time technology leader.

District technology leaders must be empowered with the range of skills and abilities to position themselves as educational leaders, not just technology leaders. The expanded role encompasses a vision of the transformative role of technology and a broad range of communication and strategic planning skills. Leaders need political and interpersonal skills to work effectively with all stakeholders, as well as the ability to implement strategic plans and manage technology and support resources. Leaders also need an understanding of teaching and learning, assessment, and professional development needs.

The National Educational Technology Plan also calls for the school district technology leader to be part of the superintendent’s cabinet.
Forsyth County, Ga., Superintendent, L.C. (Buster) Evans says,“As a CTO, you need to be passionate and have a pioneering spirit about the use of technology in the district. Make your passion something I can’t resist being connected with.”

•  Engage technology leaders in dialogue about 21st-century learning environments. For district technology leaders to leverage technology for the improvement of innovation in teaching and learning, they must reach out to other departments and help them understand how technology can support their work. Evans says, “You must have the ability to connect to the people networks and department silos. You must cultivate a continued network with key system leaders.”

To be valuable, technology must be evaluated from a silo to an enterprise perspective, and the goal should focus on improved learning. Today’s technology leaders require relationship-building and collaboration skills and abilities that bridge the technical and instructional worlds. Education leaders need to engage in this conversation if they want to harness the technology investment and transform learning.

•  Encourage self-assessment and support professional development for technology leaders. District technology leaders come to their positions from varied career paths — some from instruction, some from the technical side and others from the business community. A chasm may exist between instructional and technical skills and perhaps management skills required for 21st-century leadership.

Whether your district’s technology leader has been working in the district for a long while or is relatively new to the role, the superintendent and senior team can nurture the technology leader through a professional growth strategy to address any skill gaps and then define a professional development plan of action.

Guiding Framework
To understand what is required for 21st-century learning, the Consortium for School Networking’s Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 chief technology officer (V.2.0) (www.cosn.org/framework) answers this critical question: What must district technology leaders know to be successful? Collectively, the skills provide a road map to help achieve the ultimate goal: improved learning for all students.

Keith Krueger is CEO of the Consortium for School Networking. E-mail: keith@cosn.org