Recently, I’ve been asked the question “What should I look for in a highly effective technology director?”. I believe there are seven characteristics that define a successful technology director in the K-12 space.
- Proactive – A good director quickly solves problems as they arise. A great director anticipates those problems and takes steps to prevent them from ever happening in the first place. The data collected by the district’s ticketing system is a fantastic resource for diving deeper into potential problems in the future. This proactive approach applies to more than just work orders though. Directors should have well thought out forecasts for replacing aging and outdated equipment before it can have a negative impact on student learning.
- Approachable – Technology can be confusing at times. People need to feel comfortable asking questions or trying new things. If the head of the technology department isn’t approachable, these folks will do one of three things:
- Not ask their question at all and just “live” with their problem
- Ask someone else and run the risk of receiving incorrect information.
- Attempt to fix the issue / try something new on their own. While this isn’t entirely a bad thing, a little guidance from the tech office would be helpful.
- Communicative -We live in a world where we don’t like to wait. We want things now! Great technology directors are masters at communication, doing it quickly but with precision. They understand society’s need to rapid replies so most emails are answered with a few hours if not sooner. Even on the busiest of days, keeping caught up on emails is still a priority They avoid sending long winded emails, instead choosing to send short messages that convey their message. In addition to sending emails about planned outages or unexpected downtime , he/she will send regular emails to the staff letting them know about new technologies, sites, extension or apps that would be helpful in the classroom. Finally, they share their knowledge of what has worked for them with peers, at conferences, on social media, and on sites like this one.
- Collaborative – Often times I hear stories of directors who are struggling with problems that someone else has already solved. The solution that has been developed may not fit their situation, but why reinvent the wheel? A thoughtful technology director looks to his/her peers for guidance and input on tough issues. They assess what others have done, determine what fits their organization, and then they implement a hybrid model. There are times, however, when the need arises to develop a new, innovative approach. Knowing what others have had success with in the past provides a great starting point for those new ideas.
- Adaptive – The rate at which new technologies (devices, software, apps) are being developed is faster than at any other time in human history. A strong technology director understands the need to adapt quickly when change is knocking on the door. The inability to adapt to change will quickly lead poor administrators to becoming obsolete. An obsolete technology director, replaced by a fresh face with fresh ideas.
- Forward Thinking – A well rounded Director of Technology has a vision for the future. It’s a vision that is both technical and philosophical. They have a plan outlining the direction that technology access, end user devices, and network infrastructure will take. Similar to being adaptive, a solid leader has defined strategies on topics like internet filtering, bring your own device, and cloud computing. While they have their ideas about technology related issues, they are not so rigid that those ideas cannot be changed as technology evolves.
- Experienced – I’ve found that some of the best directors are the ones who have “done their time in the trenches” either as a desktop support technician or on the phone at a help desk. I believe that you gain a unique appreciation for the day to day workings of an IT department when you are supporting it at its most basic level. Directors who have moved up the ladder from one of these positions can relate to the technicians they’ll preside over. Its hard to be an architect if you’ve never laid a brick. In recent years, another trend I’ve seen is to promote a classroom teacher who has shown a passion for technology as well as leadership qualities into a director position. I believe this approach can work very well too, as long as they are connected with a strong network engineer. While much of this position is about customer service, it’s still an IT job with a highly important technical aspect to it at its core.
The result of excellent leadership is the confidence of stakeholders (staff ,admin, parents, students, community) that technology in the district is cutting edge, reliable, supported and most importantly IMPROVES the quality of life.. ie teaching and student learning in the district.