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12 signs your tech leadership is obsolescent

...soft skills are hard and hard skills can be outsourced.

Nathan Mielke

The adjective obsolescent refers to the process of passing out of use or usefulness -- becoming obsolete. The adjective obsolete means no longer in use--outmoded in design, style, or construction. (

If a person became a technology director before about 1995, he/she probably came up through the teaching ranks. As a classroom teacher or librarian, if these folks showed an aptitude for, or even an interest in, educational technology, there was a path to administering it. After about 1995 computers, district-wide educational management applications and networks became sufficiently complex and important to the day-to-day operation of schools that technology directors were hired from business or computer science programs with little or no experience as teachers.

Being able to manage the Novell server took precedence over being able to help teachers use an Apple IIe with students.

I sense another change in the technology director hiring practices is overdue. (See: The Changing Role of the CTO. November 2010.) The new technology director seems a blend of technical expert, educator, and administrator (with perhaps a soupcon of visionary leadership). And I have no idea where these folks will come from. Educational technology degree programs?

Anyway, here are few ways to know if your school's technology leadership may be past its expiration date.

12 signs your technology leadership is obsolescent*:

  1. Your district still uses school-based Exchange or Groupwise servers for e-mail. If your district isn't actively moving the cloud, you are behind the curve. Outsourcing, SaaS, and ubiquitous resource access is the name of the game.
  2. Your school still blocks all social networking sites and Web 2.0 tools. Fear, control, and convenience-driven blocking is not in the best interest of kids. CIPA is not an excuse for mining the powerful educational uses of these tools.
  3. Your school does not have a wireless network connection to the Internet for students to use and bans the use of personally-owned devices. BYOD will be the only means of having the computing resources for everyday applications for many districts. If you aren't doing this, you had at least better be discussing it.
  4. Your district does not use an advisory committee to form technology policies and priorities. Top-down technology use policies that are created without input from teachers, administrators, parents and students are usually so stringent that technology cannot not be used to its fullest. Control freaks are so last century.
  5. Your district's tech budget does not include funds for staff development. I don't know of a district that follows the old 1/3 hardware, 1/3 software/infrastructure, 1/3 training formula that has long been recommended. But there better be funds for training if any of the gadgets will be used well.
  6. Your tech director doesn't attend technology conferences and only reads technology journals. Things move too fast in both education and technology to ignore what the rest of the world is doing. Keeping one's head in the sand is not a viable survival technique. Your technology director better be reading not just PC World, but Educational Leadership and Leading and Learning.
  7. Your tech director does not have a means of coordinating his/her department's efforts with those of the office of curriculum and instruction, district and building administration, staff development, assessment, public relations, and special education. This one is tough, time-consuming and never fully realized, but its increasingly critical. The success of the technology department is determined 100% by how well it makes other departments successful. Formal communication channels are now mandatory.
  8. Your tech director can't define 21st century skills, inquiry/project-based learning, or differentiated instruction. We've gotten the "business side" of technology down in schools pretty well - SIS, payroll, transportation, HR, etc. But unless the department takes the pedagogical uses just as seriously, it's not evolving.
  9. Your school is not taking full advantage of its library media programs or librarians in technology implementations. Technology directors need all the help they can get in training and support, and empowered librarians are critical components in providing these things at a building level. If the library and technology departments are not blended, both will suffer.
  10. Your district does not have a K-12 articulated information/technology literacy skills curriculum. A district is not taking student technology skills seriously without such formal documents and guides. This needs to be a joint effort between curriculum specialists and the technology department - neither can do it alone.
  11. Your technology program brags about the 5% of the teachers who use technology well instead of the 100% who use it well. Teachers who are early adopters and technology enthusiasts can be found in every district - even those with no technology leadership at all. It's what's happening in the other 95% of the district's classrooms that defines technology leadership. What's the vision of standard practice when it comes technology use in the classroom?
  12. Your tech director doesn't have his or her own PLN. I was going to say "Your tech director doesn't read the Blue Skunk blog" but that sounds pretty self-important. However relevant technology directors do use social media - including blogs and Twitter to stay informed and involved in discussions surrounding educational technology. 

To a degree we are all  obsolescent. But I would say showing six or more signs of obsolescence qualifies one as being obsolete. (I better get to work!)

Other signs your technology director should be put out to pasture?

See also: COSN's Framework of Essential Skills for the K-12 CTO  

*This post was inspired by J. Robinson's 21st Century Principal post: 5 Indications Your Leadership is Obsolete for 21st Century Schools.

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Reader Comments (11)

Great list, Doug - thanks!
I would only add one - "Your tech director does not model teaching and learning with technology" - somewhat inherent in a couple of others, but unless the TD is actively teaching and learning, he/she often gets out of touch.


December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

OUCH (blushing) I know many districts who have such a long way to go around here--sad to report. I'm trying so hard though.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Jo Nelson

13. Your Technology Director still disseminates information on paper.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

I am slightly tempted to forward this to our technology department, but I believe it would not produce the outcome I would like. I will admit that they continue to give me the freedom to teach my class the way I want to, but there are still teachers who I see cleaning their overhead projector plastic sheets.
I will definitely keep this list, and hope to pass it on to a few selected individuals, hoping that as the school works towards a new and better technology curriculum we can refer back to this.

Merry Christmas Doug!

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

Good list! I would temper many of them a teeny bit. Instead of:Your school still blocks all social networking sites and Web 2.0 tools. I might say: Your school still blocks all social networking sites and Web 2.0 tools and you (your tech director) aren't working actively to change this. Sometimes we have to spend more time educating our communities and school boards than anticipated.

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJean Tower

Another excellent list, Doug. You continue to remind me of things I should be doing.

I also agree with your steady push toward cloud computing for students and teachers. That said, is your district also supporting BYOD to some extent? If so, how's it going?

December 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDarren Draper

As a techie, I like the cloud technologies as much as anyone. But as an administrator, I have to allocate _LIMITED_ resources. So while Google Apps for Education and other such SaaS may be free--the TOTAL COST of using such includes things like a higher MONTHLY Internet access bill. Compare that to the ZERO incremental cost of accessing LAN-based apps and PERPETUAL licensing of an Exchange CAL.. There are other costs on both sides, like larger servers versus larger Internet security appliances, etc.

Just because TCO may not dictate an official transition at this time does NOT mean that we are not giving serious consideration to rising options! And just because we do not officially transition does NOT mean that we have to block access for education and exploration of these rising options!

You point number four is correct--in both directions. A renaissance team can often arrive at a better decision than either a Technology Director or a Teacher alone!

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobertus

Most schools have a long way still to go but schools have always been so far behind the curve it is scary. When i was at school our IT teacher was a french teacher who happened to also own a computer and the school computers had windows 3.1 even after 98 had been released.

December 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Boycot

Thanks, Tim. Great point. I like'd J's comment about the tech director still using paper to disseminate information. A concrete example.

Have a great holiday season,


HI Cathy Jo,

I think EVERY district still has a way to go, including my own. The fight against obsolescence is on-going.

Have a happy Christmas!


Hi J,

My war this year is on paper agendas and 3-ring binders. I am afraid the binders are winning.

Happy holidays however you may celebrate. Hope you are using your time to write another book.


Hi Kenn,

Forward it to your tech director's boss.


Hi Jean,

Oh, the list was meant to be challenging and provocative. In house, I do a LOT of tempering!

Thanks for the comment and have a great holiday,


HI Darren,

Nice to hear from you.

A post on BYOD in our district is forthcoming. In brief, I think we have all the infrastructure pieces in place but we will now start actively seeking teachers and buildings will to participate in formal pilot projects.

Have a great Christmas!


Hi Robertus,

Different districts will certainly have different realities when it comes to cost effectiveness of any of these technologies. Despite higher bandwidth requirements (not that expensive since this is e-ratable for us), we have found the cost savings significant.

Thanks for sharing you perspective,


Hi Martin,

And I thought schools were desperate when they had math teachers and librarians support computers! At least a French teacher could curse at the machines in multiple languages!

Have a great holiday!


December 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson


I'd have to take exception to some of the things contained here although they are a good start. I've worked as a consultant in 5 area schools in the last 12 years. I currently work at a school as the TD but the problems in most schools are the people at the top. My Superintendent, Business Official and Principals wouldn't know the difference from a wireless connection and a wired connection even if they were standing in the middle of a room using an iPad w/ no cables. I am appalled at the total lack of Technology skills with every Superintendent, Business Official and Principal I've met. Also, teachers still have their head in the sand regarding technology. This stuff has not just shown up in our schools!!! You want to fix the Educational system, fire all school administrators and replace them with young adminstrators w/ technology skills. The problem w/ most school administrators is that they were teachers that had no technology skills and didn't want to improve them. We have people at the top that make the true decisions regarding Technology. We can point at the TD's and kind of blame them but they have little to no control over the resources to expand Technology for K-12. I welcome anyone else to sway me from what I've seen in five different districts. Also, everyone that is a TD please tell me how much true control they have over their own budget? I do enjoy a lot of freedom in Technology but when PD money isn't funded properly, what can I do about how much Technology impacts the Education Process? Frustrated in New York

February 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDDC


I liked your comment and have used it as a blog post with added comments here:

Let's keep the conversation going.


February 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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