This is part 2 of our series about handling complex technology decisions based on the interviews of school leaders David Blattner, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Director for Media and Virtual Learning at Iredell Statesville Schools in North Carolina, John Guyer, Executive Director of Technology at Summit Academy Management, a free public non-profit Academy for Alternative Learners, and George Rafferty, Superintendent of Tabernacle School District in NJ.
I just read an interesting blog “What does it take to be a successful K-12- IT decision-maker?” in which Jean Tower, Director of Technology for Northborough and Southborough public schools is quoted as saying:
“Twenty years ago a tech leader’s job was 80 percent technical…over the last twenty years it’s slowly morphed into a real leadership role understanding the business of schools.”
This premise was certainly borne out in our interviews with 3 successful administrators that have recently facilitated IT decisions in their districts. They have clearly demonstrated that true successful decision makers use solid strategies and understand that:
- You need to start with a vision of what you want to see happening in our classrooms. As Rushton Hurley, nationally known instructional technology specialist says: “we need to keep the conversation in “learner’s terms” not vendor’s terms.” You need to have a clear “why” beyond “because we got a grant.” Technology choices should be all about the learning
- The IT person should not be making the decision without the participation (not just input) of key stakeholders, ranging from administration, teachers, finance officers, students, parents, and community members. Each brings a separate piece of the puzzle to contribute to the process and ensure the best decision possible.
- You need to start with a robust infrastructure-a wireless network with sufficient bandwidth is critical. When infrastructure holds up deployment you are wasting money, losing credibility and feeding frustration.
Only once those initial steps were completed- developing a clear vision, inviting stakeholders, etc – did these administrators turn to considering what their solution would look like. They started their examination of solutions by first developing criteria.
Their criteria, based on what they would like to see happening in the classroom, included things like:
- Compatibility with current infrastructure
- Maximizing free tools available for collaboration, creativity and communication
- Minimizing time needed to support
- Differentiation possibilities for grade levels
Using a shared, clear cut decision-making strategy helped these leaders avoid the common challenges they experienced such as:
- Preconceptions, personal preferences, and device biases – some people are passionate about their “brand” – using a process gives every option an even playing field against the options
- “It doesn’t matter until it matters” – minimizing the fears, implementation surprises and backlash that comes with change
- Moving beyond what is “comfortable” and moving forward with change with sound arguments (understanding the why) and built in individualized support systems
We appreciate these school leaders taking the time to share how they were able to handle complex technology decisions with multiple stakeholders to make excellent choices and implementation plans and would love to hear your experiences.
For their advice for other school leaders and “lessons learned” stay tuned for our next blog.