Thursday, February 3, 2011

Answering McLeod's 15 Leadership Questions (Part 2)

On July 12, 2009, Scott McLeod asked 15 questions of the technology leadership in K12 schools. I tried my best to candidly answer his questions earlier this week. But in addition to asking questions, McLeod also provided thoughts (per question) on why the questions matter. Here is my assessment (in italicized print) on how I did and how our school district is doing as compared to McLeod's thoughts per question.

McLeod said, "Here’s why the answers to these questions matter:"
  1. If it’s not the superintendent, it’s the wrong answer. No one else has the power to set and facilitate the district-wide vision for effective technology usage. I totally agree, but I would reframe the concept in saying no one else has the ability to "empower" and support a whole-scale vision of technology use. 
  2. If it’s not the superintendent, it’s the wrong answer. The further down the org chart the primary technology leader sits, the harder it is for that individual to facilitate necessary change. Again, totally true. This is also why we need transformational, accessible, and supportive development opportunities for district administrators to "get" digital-age tools so that they can better "lead" the necessary changes. Sadly, many of my colleagues are too busy or too anxious about diving into to learning about digital-age tools. 
  3. If no, that’s the wrong answer. Not including the primary technology leader on the superintendent’s cabinet sends a message to the entire organization (and the outside world) that technology is nonessential. I snicker at the word "cabinet" since I lead in a small, rural school, but again, he is spot on with the concept: Technology must be at the table with the business manager, the special ed director, the assessment/curriculum director, etc. It is now equally important in the effective management of a school district. 
  4. Ideally the primary technology leader would meet individually with the superintendent at least as often as the curriculum director, associate superintendent, business manager, and/or other top-level district staff. Desired frequency will vary by district, but I would say every few weeks at a minimum. Every few weeks? When transitioning infrastructure, migrating to a new software system, acquiring quotes and pricing for new hardware, we individually meet almost daily. Yes, there might be a week that goes by when we have relative down-time, but it's rare that an entire week goes by without a face-to-face. 
  5. Many primary technology leaders wear other hats (principal, superintendent, director of facilities, business manager, etc.). Effective technology leadership is a full-time job. I understand that many districts – particularly smaller ones – need to job share, but the more this person’s work is diluted across multiple titles and/or responsibilities, the less successful the district’s technology efforts will be. Guaranteed. Yup. I'm with you, brother. But where the rubber meets the road is revenue (sadly), and to keep the school house doors open, we are all doing more with less resources. 
  6. If just one, that’s the wrong answer. Separating these functions is a potential recipe for disaster because it often leads to turf and/or resource conflicts, facilitates confusion by classroom teachers, results in the integration function being marginalized or nonexistent, and so on. This is why it is so important to "bring down the silos" in all areas, from classroom to classroom, from discipline to discipline, and from tech function area to tech function area. Luckily, technology magnifies collaboration and (with leadership) alignment to a vision (of what true tech integration is). 
  7. Ideally the technology function is shared across the district. Effective change is much more likely to happen when many pull together. Tear down the silos!
  8. The lower this differential the better, unless you want to lose your technology leader. It's an admittedly hard balance to find. No one wants to be overwhelmed. At the same time, the movement of cloud computing is slightly easing some of the burden.  
  9. Pay close attention to the number of days the primary technology leaders gets for her own professional learning. Also pay attention to whether those days are just focused on networking/hardware/software support versus technology integration, how to facilitate effective change within complex organizations, large societal/workforce shifts that will impact schools, building effective teams, and other non-technical, leadership-related topics. Professional learning communities, professional learning networks, mentors, and individual, off-site professional development opportunities are exceedingly important. At times, it's hard to filter through all the opportunities, just to determine what fits for our school district. We tool we use to filter, find, and approve these opportunities is or school vision, which always centers us on what is most important. 
  10. The lower this differential the better, unless you want to lose your technology leader. Corporate computer:support staff ratios tend to range between 75:1 and 150:1. In K-12 education, ratios tend to be 300:1 or higher (and it is not uncommon to see 800:1 or worse). I'm glad I read this. We are nowhere near 300:1, but probably on the high end of the acceptable range. What's interesting about this too is the "netbook," "Ipad" generation of digital devices, which don't require as much attention (ghosting, etc). As we move toward devices that don't require as much maintenance, I wonder what the acceptable ration will be then? I also think the mobile movement and the student-owned device movement (which will become one movement more sooner than later) will affect this ratio. 
  11. Ideally this number would be between 25% and 50%. A corollary question might be How much of the computer equipment that you’ve purchased doesn’t get used very often? I'd say we are pretty close. Like I said in my original answer, It's a hard number to arrive to because of district approaches to development and the unique way that technology is infused into all our development initiatives, from RTI to literacy, and from STEM to research to assessment.
  12. The higher this percentage the better. It’s important for teachers to use computers. But it’s more important for students to use computers since they’re the ones that we’re supposedly preparing for their future lives. I concur. 
  13. A lot of districts have trouble passing technology referenda. Sometimes they’re close, sometimes they’re not. Taking a look at how a district pitches its technology referenda to its local community can tell you a lot about the district, the community, or both. It also depends on the school board's understanding of technology. When there are people within the governance structure that have some insight into the power of tech integration, and are able to communicate the value of tech integration, it's perceived as a much more creditable proposal for revenue. 
  14. For most districts, the answer to this will be rarely or never. That’s the wrong answer. The correct answer is at least every year. Certainly, frequent dialogue with all stakeholders (including students) in a school community will better inform district-wide decisions. 
  15. For most districts, the answer to this rarely will be more than a couple of hours (and often will be less than one hour). That’s the wrong answer in a digital, global era. Perhaps my guess at 15 % of student time engaged with digital tools is a bit high, but 15% of total time equates to 171 total hours for the school year.
Reflection is the deliberate act of thinking about prior experiences in order to learn from them. More than anything else, this two part series was an exercise of reflection, which can be affirming or enlightening or disquieting. We should all take advantage of our professional learning networks and our professional learning communities as a resource and tool to elicit reflection, especially in a complex time of flux and reform.

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