Tech Leadership

What Does a Tech-Savvy Administrator Look Like?

by Doug Johnson

A classic Dilbert cartoon shows a technician explaining to the pointy-haired boss how he must turn his laptop computer upside down and shake it to reboot. The final panel has one techie asking another, “I wonder if he’ll ever realize we gave him an Etch-a-Sketch?”

My guess is that more than one school administrator has found similar “pointy-haired boss” cartoons secretly taped to his or her door. I know I have.

As technology plays an ever more mission-critical role in schools, technology literacy for district, building and program administrators is becoming mission-critical as well.

The National Education Technology Plan (, released by the U.S. Department of Education in January 2005, has as its first action step to “strengthen leadership.” But what does leadership strengthened with technology look like?

Savvy Personified

One vision is the Technology Standards for School Administrators, or TSSA, adopted in 2002 by the International Society for Technology in Education. These have become the de facto national standards. TSSA includes six Educational Technology Standards and Performance Indicators for Administrators. ISTE’s website ( contains a wealth of information about support for these standards.

In our district, all school leaders are finding the ability to use technology a genuine necessity and benefit in helping them meet their responsibilities. I’ll use a colleague, Bruce Borchers, principal at Mankato West High School in Mankato, Minn., to illustrate what it means to be a tech-savvy administrator within each of the six standards.

Leadership and Vision. Borchers helps create a shared vision and philosophy of technology use by serving on the district and site-based technology planning teams. Our tech plans are increasingly using curriculum and program needs as the driver for technology adoption. Because of his daily interaction with his teachers and students, Borchers provides critical input into the decision-making process. A major challenge is finding the resources for an ambitious upgrade of his school’s tech education department.

Learning and Teaching. Working with his library media specialist, Borchers is supporting teachers to increase integration of technology in all courses, especially the use of reliable online sources of information in research and problem solving. Student access to technology , enabled through the library, open computer labs and wireless connectivity for student-owned laptops and handhelds , is a high priority.

Productivity and Professional Practice. As principal, Borchers finds communicating regularly and effectively to staff, parents and community using e-mail, listservs and websites is of utmost importance. His school board reports are illustrated with graphs and photos embedded in multimedia presentations. He uses districtwide calendar programs for facilities scheduling and managing his own schedule.

Support, Management and Operations. Using the student information system, Borchers tracks the day-to-day operations of the school through ready access to schedules, attendance records, health records, discipline incidents, grades and online teacher gradebooks. He carries most of this in his personal digital assistant, synchronized with his desktop computer. He manages his building budget using the district’s real-time finance program.

Assessment and Evaluation. As part of the high school’s commitment to documented continuous improvement, Borchers and his site team use the district’s data-mining program to evaluate program effectiveness, identify students needing additional attention and plan staff development. Under his leadership, teachers now make their online grade books accessible to parents.

Social, Legal and Ethical Issues. Creating and enforcing rules and policies regarding school use of technology have become areas of increasing concern. Students, always a step ahead of staff in the use of new technologies, find new ways to communicate, learn and sometimes skirt school rules. Borchers’ own understanding and use of technology help him create rules that are both reasonable and effective. An ethical dilemma involves resource allocation—how to balance expenditures on technology with other needs such as class size reduction.

A Harnessed Tool

While I would like my school district’s formal program to take credit for developing Borchers’ technology proficiencies, I’ll admit training for our administrators occurs primarily as needs arise. The old “just-in-case” technology in-service programs have been replaced by a “just-in-time” model. As genuine needs and desires by school leaders arise, our department provides individual or small group training in the use of technology.

We involve administrators in all technology staff development activities and provide rapid technical support. Our district librarians and technologists help build technology leadership capacity by communicating trends, models, best practices and research about educational technology use to administrators.

Instead of looking at technology as just another problem on the list of those we face as administrators, we must harness it as a powerful ally. By purposely and continuously improving our administrative technology skills, we can lead with technology, not be led by it.

You just might need to find some new cartoons for your door.

Doug Johnson is director of media and technology, Mankato Public Schools, P.O. Box 8713, Mankato, MN 56002. E-mail: