A veteran edtech leader’s words of wisdom and guidance for challenging times.
GUEST COLUMN | by Loretta Cannistraci, Ed.D., CETL
The value of a technology director position has become even more evident as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused major changes to the delivery of curriculum in K-12 educational institutions both public and private. The severity of the pandemic closed schools and moved education to a remote environment. Technology has come to the forefront as a crucial tool for continuing learning as the pandemic impacts traditional learning methods.
Some schools and districts were more prepared than others to transition to virtual education delivery. Many were not ready, and all looked to the K-12 technology leader for solutions. The K-12 technology leader position looks different in each K-12 educational organization depending on the perspective of school administrators for the role of the technology leader. The educational technology infrastructure is now a focus of concern for school administrators and educators.
Currently, the K-12 technology leader position title describes these differences based on the focus of each educational organization’s technology director job description. Some examples of these titles are Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer, Director of Information Systems, Director of Instructional Technology, Director of Education Technology, Network & Systems Administrator, – just to name a few.
‘When technology leaders are part of the educational management team, using technology to deliver innovative teaching and learning for each student entrusted to the organization is possible because a knowledgeable technology leader is present.’
CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking), the national association for school system technology leaders and METAA (Massachusetts Educational Technology Administrators Association), a CoSN state affiliate, are both organizations working to strengthen and broaden the scope of K-12 technology leaders in educational institutions within their respective communities.
To maximize the benefits of technology solutions, the district technology leader should be included on the executive leadership team within educational organizations. When technology leaders are part of the educational management team, using technology to deliver innovative teaching and learning for each student entrusted to the organization is possible because a knowledgeable technology leader is present.
The following three categories encompass the realm of informed K-12 technology leaders.
Leadership and Vision
A well-rounded K-12 technology leader possesses the ‘balcony’ view of the organization. As a contributor to the executive team, the K-12 technology leader works to develop a strategic plan inclusive of technology that will support the organization’s goals. It is a responsibility of a K-12 technology leader to lead infusion of innovative technologies into all aspects of the educational organization.
Using technology, (such as e-mail, websites, social media, virtual sessions, etc.), to communicate and collaborate with administrators, educators, and other stakeholders has become invaluable during this pandemic. Think about school committee meetings, faculty meetings, teaching and learning, working within teams to create and implement new or revised policies and procedures relative to issues involving the increased use of technology.
Equity is another leadership issue that the pandemic has accentuated. K-12 technology leaders have always been responsible for maintaining and extending the network infrastructure within the school buildings. With remote learning, the focus has shifted to available internet access at the homes of students and educators in addition to the school buildings. Administrators and stakeholders look to the K-12 technology leader to find solutions for this issue. Think about rural areas in our communities! The technology leader strives for equitable access to technology resources for all stakeholders.
‘With remote learning, the focus has shifted to available internet access at the homes of students and educators in addition to the school buildings.’
K-12 technology leaders are also tasked with the implementation and maintenance of systems relative to collecting, storing, extracting, and reporting data in usable and meaningful ways. Government mandated information reporting requirements still are in place during this pandemic. With data collection and reporting, the K-12 technology leader also needs to ensure the privacy and security of organizational data. Data is needed to validate the decisions that stakeholders must make.
The increased use of technology requires that the K-12 technology leader communicate to all stakeholders within the organization and the community, the appropriate ethical and professional behavior for technology use for teaching and learning. All stakeholders must be aware of and understand copyright, privacy, and compliance laws and legal issues related to implementation and use of technology in education.
Understanding the Educational Environment
As a member of the executive team, the K-12 technology leader has the technological knowledge to support decision-making, provide technology support, and professional learning opportunities. The K-12 technology leader is also responsible for establishing a cross-functional team consisting of stakeholder representatives to create, monitor, evaluate, update, and report on organization’s technology plan while being attentive to state and federal laws.
Even before the pandemic, the use of technology within assessment, curriculum, and instruction was a goal that organizations have strived for. Now, it has become a critical, valuable tool that all stakeholders need to understand to utilize it effectively within hybrid and remote learning.
Professional learning for all technology-using staff has also become even more important than ever. A responsible K-12 technology director promotes the development of standards for innovative teaching and learning that ensure student proficiency in 21st century skills and fosters an environment that encourages team communications.
Resources and Infrastructure Management
The K-12 technology leader is not only responsible for the organization’s technology infrastructure and budget but also for the use of technology anywhere in the organization from the network backbone to the access to each room in each building. With the infusion of technology into more and more daily tasks, the technology leader finds responsibilities increasing in tasks previously allocated to other departments within the educational organization.
For example, building access with a key is being replaced by key cards. The technology team now becomes responsible for purchasing and issuing key cards and Building Services is no longer issuing keys.
Another solution might be for the technology leader or another member of the technology team provide a learning opportunity to Building Services to empower this department to produce the key cards in place of keys and retain this responsibility. As technology permeates all aspects of the organization, learning about new processes and programs is an unending task for technology leaders to enable other stakeholders to infuse their processes with technology. Additionally, for technology directors to make effective purchasing decisions, the technology leader must understand federal, state, and local financial guidelines and foster collaborative relationships with business managers, vendors, and community financial donors.
Data management is also a growing initiative. Data collection and analytics have transformed teaching and learning. At first, reporting was quite simple but as the power of the story behind the data has become more important, stakeholders ask for reports and queries that provide a deeper dive into the story behind the data. As more stakeholders rely on data to enhance teaching and learning, the technology leader and the technology team need to understand stakeholders’ questions and provide the reports to answer those questions.
‘As more stakeholders rely on data to enhance teaching and learning, the technology leader and the technology team need to understand stakeholders’ questions and provide the reports to answer those questions.’
The Value of a Technology Leader
Technology has become an essential tool to address the challenges the pandemic has presented to educational organizations. To provide teaching and learning at this time, technology is key to overcoming barriers for each student and educator. Access to equitable technology is now necessary whether in a school building or online from home. While the pandemic has been challenging for everyone, technology has provided innovation in our educational systems leading to ground-breaking, effective new teaching and learning opportunities.
Resources and infrastructure management is most commonly considered the major responsibility of a K-12 technology director. The value of a technology leader is seen when leadership comes together with understanding the educational environment and managing technology resources and infrastructure to provide a comprehensive approach to the challenges of today’s education environment.
The effective use of technology in the transformation of teaching and learning is facilitated by the strong organization and leadership of K-12 technology leaders. And, our students benefit immensely from technological fluency that prepares them to become viable leaders of our future society.
Loretta Cannistraci, Ed.D., CETL is an Education Consultant and Adjunct Professor at Framingham State University. She retired from the Salem Public Schools Director of Information Systems position and, is currently the METAA Professional Development Chair and Secretary with 32 years of experience in education technology. Write to: [email protected].