This year I celebrated my 30th year in the field of education. I’ve been a classroom teacher for 21 years, first teaching elementary school then at the middle level.
I’ve been a Director of Technology for four years in a district of 6,000 students and now I’m in my fifth year as Chief Technology and Information Officer of Green Bay Area Public Schools with 22,000 students.
In the past decade, the importance of educational technology strategy has become more essential for school districts. It has become imperative that technology strategists reside in the core leadership team of a school district because all systems, business and educational, depend on a technology infrastructure that needs to sustain districts now and into the future.
In the end, it’s the humans who still run the technology and it’s the humans who teach our children.
A good technology leader needs to have extensive educational technology experience and applies their skills effectively in an educational environment.
People often ask me how I was able to make the jump from classroom teacher to the CTIO of the 4th largest school district in Wisconsin.
According to the Consortium of School Networking’s Framework of Essential Skills of the K–12 CTO, there are three areas in which a good technology innovator must be successful:
Leadership & Vision
As a classroom teacher of middle school computer applications courses, I often served on leadership teams that were responsible for technology professional development for staff. It made sense to teach our staff members the same computer skills that their students were acquiring.
While taking on additional duties does not really qualify as leadership; motivating, empowering, helping to vision forward, and building pathways for teachers to use/showcase their new skills was a way I was able to help lead others. Staying up to date with educational trends and technology on the horizon as well as working hard to keep my supervisors informed of those trends was another way I was able to move toward a leadership role.
Serving as a trusted advisor where technology topics of conversation for forward planning was key.
In my service to Green Bay, I know that we are very much in unchartered waters when it comes to how technology can optimize the inner workings of our school district. By empowering all the different leadership teams in our organization to set their visions higher, beyond just survival, is another key element in my role.
We use design thinking, what are the optimal outcomes we’re trying to accomplish to reach our educational goals?
Whether it is assisting different groups of people in organizing and creating notes/agendas for ongoing staff meetings or helping schools find ways to record assessment scores so that we may best make educational decisions around the student, it most likely involves technology as a means to either meet the goal or record the goal of the process.
In many instances, there may not be existing solutions.
As a technology leader, you must be able to capitalize on those instances to forge a new path that may never have been generated before while utilizing technology as a tool to build efficiencies.
Understanding the Educational Environment
As a classroom teacher I was quite aware of the routines and cadences of a school setting.
Knowing the internal functions of a school building throughout the day/calendar year is advantageous when it comes to planning for true integration of your technology solutions.
During my time as a classroom teacher I also taught graduate educational technology courses. I appreciated the span of knowledge it gave me regarding the edtech needs of grade levels that were different from the ones I taught.
I also liked having adult students in my classes from a variety of school districts so we could see how different districts solved similar issues. I was able to hone my craft of adult leadership by serving as lead on various school district or state/national committees.
Learning what it takes to help people vision plans for things they could only imagine and helping to empower people to surpass the expectations they have for themselves was a challenge I always took on because it’s the way I have always operated in my own lifestyle.
Working hard and putting in more time than a typical 8 hour work day is necessary to keep up with the breadth and span of my role.
In order to make the jump from teacher to technology leadership you have got to be willing to put in the additional time to consistently learn and study new technology trends, explore educational processes enhanced by technology, and connect the dots of seemingly unrelated characteristics to create new solutions.
Personally, the one area within me where I needed the most work was in the technology management side. While I had served as administrator of some systems or assisted others as they learn to work with those systems, my areas of expertise were not in the technical aspect of the job.
I learned early on to ask as many questions as I possibly could to gather understanding of technical concepts, have trusted colleagues who can provide the hardware realities, and ask many colleagues who have been through similar work in the field.
My first year as a technology leader I assisted our district in building a 2.1 million dollar fiber optic network. In subsequent years we added additional access points to accommodate device density in our classrooms, we made major purchases of hardware, and worked through data integration issues. It was an opportunity for me to learn and grow while having trusted technical staff with a “can do” attitude that made things work.
In conclusion, what I have learned in making the move from teacher to Chief is that besides all the technical, budgetary, and visioning work, the most important part to technology is the human element.
Technology moves at a very fast pace.
Sometimes humans have a difficult time keeping up with the systemic advances.
Handling each technological scenario with humility and grace is essential, because in the end, it’s the humans who still run the technology and it’s the humans who teach our children.