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8 Skills to Look for in a Director of Technology

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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As education has evolved, we've come to depend on so many more stakeholders than simply teachers and parents. I've written before about how vital stable administrators are to the running of a school. I've written about how much we rely on policy makers as well. But as our reliance on technology continues to grow, we must cultivate and ensure that the position of director of technology is not merely the most advanced IT guy in the district.

There are specific qualities that make up a great tech director, and while they are hard to find, I want to make the case that this position is critical to get right. Don't settle on someone who just knows technology and networking. Make sure they have other skills as well.

To help me create a list of qualities and expectations that the ideal school tech director should have, I enlisted the help of Tim Scholefield from Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District in California. First and foremost, Tim is an educator, and his level of knowledge of both technology and curriculum should be a goal for all districts in selecting a director of technology or CTO. Earlier in his career, when he was a network administrator, Tim realized that to address the current evolution in education he needed to have an understanding of instruction and curriculum so he could better support all stakeholders.

He returned to school to earn a masters in educational technology, which is where he "truly got a grasp of what teachers and administrators endure and the challenges they face in developing content to make it meaningful for students." This sensitivity now allows him to lend a more nuanced opinion to conversations about curriculum and instruction.

With his knowledge of both digital management and curriculum design, Tim now sits at the table with his superintendent in her executive staff as CTO, helping to expand the district's vision towards the future. When hiring a director of technology, there are many benchmarks of tech knowledge that contenders should have. However, there are other skills that these leaders should have that aren't so frequently identified.

The Skills Necessary

Based on input from Scholefield and other stakeholders, here is a list that will hopefully guide you in your own hiring process. A good tech director must:

1. Form personal relationships. A good tech director must have a Personal Learning Network made up of all members of a district and beyond. That means they believe in collaboration and teamwork as necessary philosophies to do a great job. As Scholefield says, you must "find time to meet with teachers, classified members, administrators, and beyond to get a true insight in how you can support them...If you truly have an innovative idea that hasn't been walked before, you need to find people to walk with you."

2. Take risks. You cannot move for change if you're willing to stay "status quo," and sometimes that means failing and learning from those failures. A good tech director isn't so fearful of failure that he or she remains stagnant in their philosophies about student achievement or teacher capabilities.

3. Have a vision with some strategy. It's one thing to dream, but a real leader rallies others to fill the gaps necessary to carry out that vision.

4. Communicate well and listen to others. A great tech director must be able to write, speak, listen, and present. They must also hear and embrace input from others.

5. Motivate others. A tech director should have the leadership qualities to motivate people towards the future. They help achieve what can be, not what has been. That takes moving tentative people forward with sensitivity yet drive.

6. Be a problem solver. Scholefield warns that, "people with non-technical and technical skills will look to [the tech director] for advisement. So they must be willing to sit down with them, think out all probable scenarios, and choose a path that would work out best."

7. Support the teachers. Years ago, the IT director was more on the operational side in running the business of the district. The job used to be about infrastructure, bandwidth, and policies developed through a corporate lens. However, "now we are seeing a shift in the IT director needing to play a part on what works and doesn't work in the classroom and make suggestions about how curriculum and assessment can empower students and teachers to be more effective inside and outside of the classroom."

8. Be curious. The tech director's job is all about keeping their antennae up and sniffing the air for what's to come. Grab at interesting designs and models. Learn about them. Teach others about the possibilities in education and the classroom.

Must Be a Continuous Learner

Directors of technologies should be willing to about-face their own prejudices in devices or strategies. Yet, they should also be leaders willing to advise stakeholders in topics only they may be able to predict. But this ability comes with a passion for lifelong learning.

Ask a candidate where they themselves seek advice. Do they go to any conferences that focus on instruction and not just infrastructure? Who do they follow in their own PLN or Twitter feed? As for Scholefield, he follows "just about every edtech leader I can think of across the US and abroad on Twitter. This has become my greatest ally in collaborating and sharing of ideas with a greater whole." It is telling of a possible candidate if they themselves continue their own education willingly.

The bottom line, according to Scholefield, is that "IT is no longer a nice-to-have; it is an integral part of every facet in a school district's ecosystem" -- and that includes instruction. If you find a director of technology that can speak beyond technology, that person is golden. They are out there, and they are a vital position in moving education forward.

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Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

You have, once again, hit the nail on the head, Heather! I won't go into details here, but suffice it to say I know all too well what it's like to work with a tech director who is missing just a few of these key skills. But I can also see what an incredibly difficult job it is. They need to have deep understandings of more than just their own job. Takes a very special and dedicated person!

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Writer/Edutopia Community Facilitator/Chief Education Officer at The Writing Project

Love these points Heather. Number one to me is the most important but often harder to assess. For example, districts/schools would only hire someone who they're acquainted and have a professional relationship with as opposed to branching out to a larger pool of candidates. How can we appreciate everyone's connections and relationships while still providing an equal opportunity for all individuals?

EddFriedman's picture

Excellent list! I feel that number 7 is so important. Ed Tech is just unused tech if it's not being used in the classroom to enhance instruction. To make that happen the Director of Technology HAS to collaborate with teachers.

Steve Pillow's picture

This is a good list but you are missing one key component. They need to come from education. Tech people do not understand instruction or the classroom needs from the perspective of a teacher. That understanding is what makes a great tech director.

VictorBoulanger's picture
VictorBoulanger
In search of simple and elegant technology solutions for educators and students

Heather, I really like the check list you've compiled here. I especially agree with the order you picked. Did you mean to prioritize the list? I believe that no matter how much knowledge one has regarding technology, failure to understand people and build deep meaningful relationships with all key players on campus will vastly hamper the mission of the technology department.

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