Tech Leadership

Organizing and Staffing Technology Leadership

by Lane B. Mills

Technology plays a vital role in our schools’ ability to serve instructional, operational and administrative needs. Every day we hear about another way in which technology and its applications are changing our field.

Given its broad impact, careful consideration is needed in organizing and staffing the support for technology in our schools. While the old adage in real estate is that everything revolves around “location, location, location,” a corollary for technology might be “people, people, people.” Without the right organization and selection of technology leadership, no amount of acquisition and implementation of technology will lead to success.

The organization of technology leadership for school districts is as wide-ranging as the types of technology in our schools. And just as with different hardware and software applications, certain structures of leadership work better for some systems than others.

A first step to take in organizing the leadership of your district technology program is to review the needs and resources of your district and its current level of technology implementation. For example, school districts that are just beginning to embark on large-scale technology planning and use may require a much different organizational structure than a system in which technology already is embedded in all core services and serves vitally in day-to-day operations.

While limitations exist for all systems, evaluating your needs will go a long way in preparing for the task of organizing technology leadership at the system level.

Structural Makeup

While organizing the technology leadership for a district is not a science, there are some issues to consider in developing an effective leadership structure. A first step is to think about how you view technology in your district. Is it a separate entity from instructional matters and other core services or is it integrated into your instructional division? Both approaches can work but the structure could affect the type of leadership needed for the department.

In our 12,500-student rural district, technology is given the same priority as other core areas, including curriculum and instruction, human resources and administrative services. As a member of our senior staff, the assistant superintendent for accountability and technology has a voice in district decisions and weighs in on the implications of proposed practices and policies.

This structure has helped communication about technology practices and needs within our district and support the strategies that promote student success. Technology leaders need to have an equal voice in district policy discussions rather than just being asked for a recommendation on how many PC’s are needed for a school.

The resources a district has to offer in the area of technology leadership can vary greatly and will affect the organizational structure. Rural districts may be unable to recruit and retain technology staff. Small districts may not be able to allocate a full-time position for the many roles in technology leadership and support (chief technology officer, technology director, network engineer, security engineer, etc.). The wearing of many hats is a familiar concept in district technology departments and is not necessarily a detriment to providing good leadership.

The most important organizational issue is finding the structure that best meets the unique needs and climate of your district. Realizing the limitations you may face, the structure at a minimum requires one person to have ultimate authority over matters of technology. Management by group can lead to a costly mish-mash of software and hardware that does not play well with each other and to decisions that do not support your vision.

Interpersonal Linkage

Another critical component for technology leadership involves what skills to look for in your staff. While knowledge of and comfort with technology is a must, technology leaders are increasingly being asked to provide more than technical expertise in our school systems.

At or near the top of the list must be effective interpersonal communication skills. While control and ownership of technology decisions are vital, listening and communicating with staff and students can make the difference in a district’s success with technology.

Negotiating the roadblocks and headaches of technology integration in our school systems requires that leaders be comfortable working with and through various individuals and groups. This type of leadership requires knowledgeable and dynamic administrators who work consciously to avoid the silo mentality that afflicts the integration of technology in some organizations inside and outside of education.

Strong organization skills are needed to manage the myriad of dynamics involved in leading the school system’s technology department. Effective project management is crucial to meeting timelines and avoiding problems that could lead to lower productivity and funding crises. With limited budgets and staff, even small mistakes in the planning, selection and installation of technology can become huge issues for the long-term success of the technology program. Ongoing monitoring and communication with all parties involved in technology projects is a crucial need.

The value of technology in our schools also requires the leadership have an understanding and appreciation for how technology can be applied in all areas of a school system, while recognizing the foremost priority must be student needs.

Lane Mills is the assistant superintendent for accountability and technology for Wilson County Schools, P.O. Box 2048, Wilson, NC 27893. E-mail: Lane.Mills@mail.wilson.k12.nc.us