I try to weave professional books into my reading when I can. Being a teacher in a Technology Department puts me in a special category; I have a lot I need to learn about EdTech Leadership! This book contains a foreword by Thomas C Murray, Digital Learning Director for the Alliance for Excellent Education, someone I have learned a great deal from on Twitter – so it really peaked my interest.
This book looks at EdTech Leadership and gives practical suggestions for improvements throughout Technology Departments. I read the 146 pages over a two-week period; this book published in June 2015 was very easy to put down and pick up again. I will walk you through my highlights…
In 2015, we see a rigid dichotomy between the traditional mindset of school district technology leaders and those leaders and teams who have shifted to a mindset that puts students – not technology – at the center of organizational decision-making.
It is becoming more important to have an educator in the overarching role of EdTech Leadership of a Technology Department in a school district. It is easier for that leader to gather technical experts, but to lead those technical experts through an educational setting requires a strong connection to the typical classroom.
Systematically shifting instructional pedagogy in the classroom, and supporting the needs of diverse learners, is the hard part; but the part that matters most.
When a teacher moves into EdTech Leadership roles, the Technology Department moves closer to the customer service model of supporting efforts of the classroom versus asking teachers to mold to the requirements of technicians/engineers. A strong leader is able to graceful accomplish this. The district classrooms are better for this change. Teachers are not trying to learn a new skill set which may/may not be within their array of talents – they just focus on teaching.
…redefining traditional methodologies and closing gaps; gaps that cause teacher frustration and inadvertently impede student learning.
The largest gap between a technician/engineer and a teacher is the ability to understand that education is not static, and cannot operate with a static – or worse yet narrowing – flow of information. While technicians/engineers might view ‘protecting students’ as block-first-ask-questions-later, educators are more likely to at least educate alongside information from the Internet or at best educate on the manner in which students navigate the Internet. Teachers, not the Technology Department should be the limiting factor of what the student’s experience on the Internet.
With obvious exceptions related to Children’s Internet Protection Act, CIPA, like obscene materials/pornography/sites which are harmful, it makes you wonder why those useful teaching sites some teachers can find at home are blocked when they show up to work. That is a symptom of either a weak or non-existent EdTech Leader.
Districts/schools which accept e-rate funding/discounts also have some form of education around acceptable use. To move this perception from “acceptable” behavior online to “responsible” behavior online would take an educator to accomplish.
…move from acceptable to responsible use.
Once out of the classroom any educator quickly loses touch with current realities. Luckily, EdTech Leaders work in close proximity to teachers and should engage teachers, and students where appropriate, in molding the Technology Department to the usefulness of the district/school.
…provide a feedback model that leverages both teacher and student voice…
Chapter 1: Times are a Changin’
(“The Wills”) will make decisions that are student centered, even if those decision are difficult. They will provide access to devices, sites, tweets, videos, and information students need to learn, grow, and compete in the world. They will be an agent of change in their district.
The author, Mike Daugherty, divides EdTech Leadership into two categories: those who will find a way to do things and those who will not find a way to do things. While this is simplistic and maybe can be applied better to the degree of capital an EdTech Leader would have to spend in order to make something happen, the principle remains that the energy put behind any project reveals the intentions off an EdTech Leader.
I think of it more of a struggle between Compliance Keepers and those Innovating for Students. You don’t fake those characteristics; so a pattern of decisions should tell us which type of EdTech Leader you are.
These (“Will Nots”) will not embrace new technologies, but will continue to cling to what has worked in the past. By doing what they’ve always done, they’ll inevitably hold their district back.
Chapter 2: Building Your Team
This chapter talks about the entire process of building a team. He walks the reader through hiring, working conditions/scheduling, and sometimes ending the employment of technicians.
Daugherty did not involve technology integration specialists in any of these details; being an Integration Specialist I was disappointed in this decision. I think that technicians can be informed by integration techs in the same manner a EdTech Leader informed by classroom teachers. If not setting up an expectation of that interaction, Daugherty inadvertently sets his technicians up to fail at things such as delivering professional learning to teachers. He speaks directly of how to organize and supervise technicians leading professional development and misses the teachers in the Technology Department, the Integration Specialists as ‘teachers’ to the teachers which would not need such close scrutiny:
It can be difficult to stay silent, but speaking up to correct a mistake can quickly derail the session.
The inclusion of teachers as technology leaders surfaces when examining the building level resources. While he wants a strong connection to the classroom, he does not sound as if he wants it anywhere in his Technology Department aside from leadership – this was a very disappointing realization.
One of the most notable aspects of a highly effective IT department is the strong connection to the classroom.
Ideal representation from a building needs to be at the building level since each building is a different ecosystem culturally – and therefore should be different technologically. The building leadership hopefully recommends a strong communicator who is also respected by the staff. I would caution that it might be necessary for the EdTech Leader to offer feedback on the selected representative. A negative participant could derail technology for an entire building theoretically otherwise.
The newly evolving role of building level “Technology Coach” is not a funded role in most buildings. Some building try to use their Librarians/Media Specialists with mixed results. Some buildings are lucky enough to have funded Instructional Coaches who can double as a Technology Coach. In both those instances the position is still unfunded, just another teacher doing more than s/he is paid to do. Consider offering time or resources if salary/stipends are not an option.
An effective technology advocate is someone who possesses strong communication skills and who has the respect of his or her colleagues. The technology advocate needs to be able to communicate with both the Office of Technology & Information Systems and their colleagues about various technology projects and plans. The building technology advocate will facilitate communication between your department and the staff at his or her building. A technology advocate does not need to be the most tech-savvy person in the building, but a good understanding of technology is vital for success in the position.
To a certain degree, a tech advocate becomes a level one technician. It is because of this that I recommend that this position be a paid supplemental contract.
Without the compensation, it gives off the impression that you do not respect or value their time and that you are taking advantage of them.
To be fair, I advise teachers who fulfill this role initially to be certain this is not a long-term solution where they do more work for little to no more pay. So any building leader will need to customize the incentive provided to this teacher and work toward a more permanent solution if s/he desires to keep the Technology Coach in place for long.
The team also shares a belief in the significance of strong customer service skills.
The role of a Technology Coach is to serve all of the faculty at a school, and in turn increase the value of the educational experience for the students. This coach must also be able to communicate effectively with the Technology Department. This is another place where Daugherty could have mentioned Integration Specialists in the Technology Department. Integration Specialists as former teachers are better equipped to deal within teachers in the field.
Daugherty treats Integration Specialists very separately and in his descriptions of the “five reasons why an Integration Specialists is vital to a district’s technology implementation strategy” he never really includes them as his employees, equals, or potential EdTech Leaders. He does admit they deliver professional development better than a technician. Integrationists appear to be those which carry out EdTech Leaders dictates to Daugherty – on this we greatly differ. As an Integration Specialist I expect to advice the EdTech Leadership directly. This is a clear failing of this book that the author only dedicated eight paragraphs to the district-level role of Integration Specialists.
Chapter 3: Serving Your Teachers
I really like the tone of this chapter. The author wants to serve, not manage/pacify/out-wait, his teachers.
This attitude is an important one to project as a department that few know much about in any district. Technology Departments consume an inordinate amount of the budget, but if not seen as helpful can become the focus of many teacher frustrations.
Autonomy in reaching out for help is the most basic requirement between the Technology Department and any/every teacher.
The end-user experiencing the issue has to be the one reporting the issue… a middle man approach actually creates more problems than it eases.
Instead of relying on someone else to enter a request for help, if a teacher does it for him/herself there is more accountability on that classroom teacher and a feeling of control.
the users should be able to see all the tickets in the system, not just their own…Letting your end users see one aspect of your work load through the ticketing system is a subtle, but effective, way to handle this issue.
In fairness, if you never show what all the Technology Department is doing, how do you expect the faculty to respect the time issues take? The idea of displaying all help requests for a building to anyone might seem too transparent, but think of the immediate respect to be gained from the average teacher.
Teachers are not meant to be avoided when addressing help requests. Daugherty does a fine job providing templates of actions for technicians approached on location, asked to fix items not already logged as a help request. But here he is addressing being honest about how much work is done outside of one classroom, to better educate everyone.
Often times when a member of the IT staff attempts to resolve an open work order, the end-user is not available. The ticket gets resolved and the person receives an email letting them know the problem has been resolved. Great, right? Wrong. Many employees frequently ignore work order update emails like they do a SPAM message. Unless the fix is an obvious one (like a new projector bulb), they probably have no idea that their issue has been repaired. They can get frustrated and may accuse you of ignoring them.
People often refer to support technician as ninjas. One user stated “They try to slip in and out without you knowing they were ever there”.
Daugherty provides the solution of leaving a Post-it note behind in a classroom so the teacher knows someone was there, who was there, and the resolution. This seems like a basic requirement of technicians and a reasonable request to ensure a highly visible layer of communication.
Chapter 4: Adjusting Your Strategy
Daugherty illustrates out how to shift strategies as needed to fit changing conditions in this chapter. This is good information for all educators, not just EdTech Leadership since the field of education is constantly shifting.
Are you being reactive or proactive? A reactive technology department fixes the issues as they arise but a proactive department seeks to prevent the issues from ever happening. A proactive approach attempts to prevent post deployment headaches by including input from the people who will be using the machines, to ensure the most user friendly image is designed.
EdTech Leadership has the ability to set the tone for risk-taking and advanced thinking in the district. The EdTech Leader can make moves to be proactive and reinvest in the innovators present int he classroom – those who are destined to back an EdTech leader who is proactive.
You should make time to provide support to those teachers who are willing to make time to try something new.
Once people have the mindset that you are not approachable, it can be tough to change that perception. They may share perceived bad experiences with others which can strengthen the unapproachable perception… In order to be successful, you need to adapt a customer service mentality to the way you operate your department. It is almost as if you are running your own business and the district staff members are your customers… You are trying to build your department’s reputation as a place where people can go to get help. Your goal is to make them feel comfortable asking you any technology question, no matter how silly it appears… They need to know that you are going to respond in a positive manner and not ridicule them for their lack of knowledge.
Daugherty challenges the EdTech Leader from the beginning to establish norms for open communication and a reputation for approachability. The start of something appears to be the best time to manage end-user perceptions and capitalize on setting the manner in which you and your department are viewed.
Set aside an hour of time every other week for “open office” time.
Open Office time is a concept Daugherty champions and while it may be effective at the Technology Department, the vast majority of teachers would not be able to pop into the Technology Director’s office. However, they could stop by the Technology Coaches room during school hours. It seems like an excellent no-brainer for a school level technology person to implement.
If you are not the champion for technology use in your district, then who will be?
If you are not providing this function as part of your EdTech Leadership, maybe you are not the leader after all.
In the cases where communication was an obvious issue, their perception of busy took on a whole new meaning. The common theme was “Oh, what? He/She is too busy to respond to a freakin email?!!” The IT director’s work load was completely written off if they lacked the ability to respond in a timely manner. What you have to remember is that most people who are not in our profession just do not understand what we do all day. What they do understand is that you have not replied yet and that is creating an issue for them… communication from the IT department should be quick and ongoing.
Good communication should be everyone’s goal, but especially in a department which consumes such a large part of the budget and possibly seems mysterious to many others in the district – communication makes or breaks departmental success. If it is unrealistic to respond to help requests immediately, set up a system which acknowledges those requests. Better to over-communicate than have an end-user wondering if you received the request at all.
I like the suggestion of personalized emails at some point in the interaction. Daugherty offers a solution even if the workload is too much during the help process – why not send out a certain number of follow-up emails randomly to those you helped in that week?
…the days of blocking sites like YouTube and Twitter are gone… Besides, even if you choose to block sites like that, your student population will simply use their smart phones to access it anyway.
Blocking sites while knowing they are being accessed outside the system is simply irresponsible and insincere. An EdTech leader either cares about monitoring student usage of these sites or does not. If there is bad behavior occurring on these sites, it is within the scope of the job to educate all on how to use these sites properly.
Planning session conversations should focus on the expected outcomes, not on any one device….Budget should also largely be kept out of these initial planning conversations…The perspective outcomes you design should have an emphasis on skills, not on particular software or applications.
It is the job of the EdTech Leader of a district to narrow choices based on infrastructure and/or budgetary constraints and then leave the options up to the larger instructional community. The conversations should not revolve around any particular device(s), but on educational outcomes. Budgetary issues should already be dealt with before presenting options to an instructional committee so as to focus on what the assembled parties are expert in – educating.
First of all, you are setting yourself up to replace every single laptop four or five years after your initial order. Right off the bat that is a huge financial commitment in the school funding cycle that always seems to be in flux. Additionally, you can expect some very unhappy teachers during that last year or two when they are working on five-year old laptop. Some applications will not work due to age, while other machines will simply not make it all five years.
Daugherty presents an innovative way to step through a refresh cycle – where one year is open, no refresh is occurring. For anyone influential in this area of EdTech Leadership it is worth a look.
You’re Gonna Fail…I viewed failure as the opposite of success. He viewed failure as a growth opportunity. The difference is that he studied every failure and adjusted his efforts based on what he had learned. I, on the other hand, rarely examined the root issue of why I had not succeeded outside of the technical aspects. Do not get me wrong, I did learn from my mistakes, but not in a thoughtful manner… even though something is working well, could there be a better way to complete the process? If you do not take the time to understand what specifically caused you to fail, how can you expect to truly learn from it?
I really like the open and honest ay in which Daugherty exposes his evolution in the arena of failures. This honest approach can serve us all, because as he says – You’re Gonna Fail. Read this part when you need to reboot after one of those learning opportunities we all face.
Chapter 5: Final Thoughts
This chapter ties it all together from the perspective of the district EdTech Leadership. The other chapters are more detail-oriented.
Successful directors look at how their decisions affect the district stakeholders, not just their department. They make student centered choices.
EdTech Leadership Takeaways
Overall I liked this book for what it was – a how-to for those new to the EdTech Leadership roles in our districts. I did take exception to the slight he paid district level Integration Specialists – we certainly can play a larger part in the Technology Department than the share of this book we received.
This book helped provide me with a realistic view of the current department I work for – where we are, where we could be.
Please let me know if you have any thought on this book as well – I would love to talk through those with you!