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BFTP: 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.

Original post Dec 19, 2011

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