School & District Management

CTOs and Academic Leadership Must Go Hand in Hand, ISTE Panel Says

By Sarah Schwartz — June 25, 2018 2 min read
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As more schools are using technology in daily lessons, districts’ chief academic officers and chief technology officers are finding new ways to collaborate.

Still, at a presentation Monday by state and district technology leaders at the International Society for Technology in Education’s annual conference, some CTOs in the audience said they struggle to be regarded as instructional leaders.

Panelists agreed that CTOs should work closely with—and learn from—a district’s CAO or curriculum director. In 2016, Education Week published a special report highlighting examples of how CTOs and CAOs worked together on tech implementations and instructional shifts in several districts across the country.

Tech leaders need to be able to “sift through the next shiny object to be able to figure out what’s best for kids,” said Donna Williamson, the technology director for Mountain Brook Schools outside of Birmingham, Ala.

But one audience member asked: How do you convince district superintendents that you should be a part of the leadership cabinet in the first place?

“Show that you need to be there,” said Williamson. For CTOs in smaller districts—many of whom helm a one- or two-person tech department—finding the time to get involved with setting the school system’s broad instructional vision might seem difficult, said Williamson.

But it’s important to make time to talk to district instructional leaders and demonstrate how technology is critical to instruction, she said.

Every month, Williamson sends out what she calls a “technogram": an email update to district principals, assistant principals, and central office secretaries with information on upcoming tech implementations or events that relate to instruction—for example, an arrival of a new shipment of Chromebooks.

Building Relationships With Educators

But it’s not just CTOs who should be involved in instruction, the panelists said. The entire tech department should understand what’s going on in classrooms.

Especially for tech staff who haven’t taught before, it’s important to build relationships and “street cred” with teachers, said Jeremy Shorr, the panel’s moderator and the director of digital innovation and early learning at the Cleveland-based Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM.

In Illinois’ Gurnee School District 56, each school has a designated technology professional who serves as the tech director for that building, said Phil Hintz, the district’s director of technology.

Hintz encourages his staff to go into classrooms whenever they’re not working on a help ticket. If they notice a teacher having trouble with a digital whiteboard, for example, they can they offer to give them a tutorial on its use after school.

“Look for the pain points,” he says that he tells his school tech directors. “Look for where teachers are having struggles.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.