A conversation I had with a superintendent at Nebraska’s first-ever Educational Administrators Technology Conference…
Superintendent: I’m new to my district. I spent the first year getting the lay of the land. I’m now ready to start making things happen when it comes to technology and our students but our technology coordinator is blocking me at every turn.
Me: You know, your technology coordinator works for you, not the other way around.
Superintendent: I know. We’re having those conversations but it’s difficult.
Me: Can’t you just say ‘Look, it’s a digital age and we need to be facilitating technology-rich learning experiences for our students. Now, I can hire a technology coordinator who can help me do this or you can be that person. Which would you like it to be?’
Superintendent: Yes! I can say that! Thank you so much! I don’t know, I guess I just needed someone’s permission to do this…
I’m not sure why, but I seem to have this conversation every couple of months with some superintendent somewhere in the country.
I’ve had the same sorts of conversation. It kills me whe a senior administrator says “my tech people will not let me do …” How did tech coordinators get so untouchable? How do they not understand their role is to help make teaching easier not tie up the network and computers?
The technology coordinator has a good idea of what will work and what will not. So using the “I’m your boss, you will do this because I said so” is never a good idea. I am all for doing as much with technology in education as possible, but at some point there needs to be a reality check. Budgets, networks, bandwidth all put constraints on what a district can do.
Then the superintendent and teachers had better start learning budgets, networks and bandwidth. This is all very understandable stuff and constraints on how things happen in a classroom aren’t exactly new to education.
Telling me I can’t have Twitter because of bandwidth issues is almost criminal – Yeah, it really happened.
If you substitute the word teacher for technology coordinator would you make the same recommendation to the Superintendent?
As the Director of Technology, I have to say that sometimes there are things that are just not feasible. However, I hear all too often that the technology leaders are making decisions that seem to have nothing to do with education. There needs to be an educator involved in the back end of technology. Maybe the superintendent needs to say, “we need to work together for change”. But when Superintendents use the word block, it usually is a filtering issue. Both the superintendent and the tech coordinator need to be aware of how little actually has to be blocked to follow the law. Then the superintendent should be working with appropriate personnel to educate both parents and students about what students might encounter on the web. Some bad may come with the good, but it is our responsibility to educate everyone. If nothing else, most students don’t have filters at home:-)
Tech coordinators need to be some of the most flexible and easy to work with people in a school district. They need to have a great working relationship with not only the district superintendent, but also the principal in each building. Some initiatives will be district-wide, others might stay within a building… Either way the coordinator needs to do his job – coordinate the technology and support needed for each job. There should be a technology committee – a district-level one and, if needed, school-based ones. Although “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup” is true for committee work, at least your coordinator can’t hide behind his computer screen and pretend that everything is perfect.
The problem often comes from someone who is unwilling to be flexible; this seems to be caused a lot by people who are in that position with a background filled with technology but limited in education. IT managers in business *do* often run the show (he who holds the passwords…) – put the same guy in education and he’s no longer the big cheese. Sometimes it’s fun to go to a district meeting and see how many excuses the coordinator can make up in one sitting 🙂 Luckily I have the knack to tactfully approach just about any subject and am often relatively convincing. Great post!
The solution we use in our district is to have instructional technology teachers as part of the technology department, instead of separate. This has enabled the technical side to understand the educational needs and the educational side to understand the network and support needs. This has gone a long way in helping our staff on both sides to understand and appreciate each other.
I think I’m very flexible and in most cases its the folks upstream who provide our internet that I have had a problem with. I’m a tech coordinator who was the last to filter. I built our own with Linux and Dansguardian and one of two in our area who think that Google Apps for Education is great. We get hamstrung by upstream network folks and some others who are in-flexible. Really good technology coordinators need to be part tech integrator and part teacher along with some administrative role too. Tech Directors should not be traditional IT people from industry but a wedding of out of the box educational thinkers who are given license to live on the cutting edge.
The first question this Superintendent needs to ask is “Do I have a vision for education technology in my district and can I articulate it?” Next, this Superintendent needs to ask “Does my Technology Coordinator know my technology vision and do we share it?” Next, the Superintendent needs to ask “Have we developed a plan with measurable action steps and milestone events that will move us towards our shared vision?” Finally the Superintendent needs to ask “Do we understand the blocking factors inherent in our system that need to be mitigated for our technology plan to be successful, and have I provided the resources required to adequately support the technology plan?” Until this Superintendent has accomplished these fundamental leadership steps, I wouldn’t be placing the blame on any one person (i.e. the Technology Coordinator) for not bringing ed tech where it needs to be in this district.
If it truly is the Technology Coordinator that is the weak link in the system, that will become easily apparent when the measurable action steps in the tech plan, which will be owned by the tech coordinator, are not accomplished.
A couple other tips for this Superintendent: Make sure the Technology Coordinator is a member of your Instructional Cabinet, and take the time to review a set of technology coordinator standards, like CoSN’s CTO Skills ( http://www.cosn.org/EssentialSkillsoftheK12CTO/tabid/4489/Default.aspx ) to make sure you know all the responsibilities a technology coordinator has.
Ian L. said…
If the tech co-ordinator really works for the system and therefore should be allowing for and encouraging access to the system. Why do they insist on so many layers of security – so much to the point that Flash doesn’t even work because the version is so out of date! The one size model fits all just doesn’t cut it if you really want to unleash the power of teachers and students.
My response, albeit less lucid than some comments here, appears online at
And, as far as I’m concerned, most superintendents are not interested in using technology because they haven’t a clue what they’re really supposed to be doing…and if they listen to their advisors, technology isn’t a priority. In fact, it should be the TOP priority because it changes the learning ecology.
I agree with Ian. So many times schools have so many blocks in place for security that it’s hard for the teachers and students to really research and find all the possible resources available online.
The superintendent does ultimately have the decision as to what technology to implement in the school, but if the LMS is open-minded and talks freely with him, then possibly they can come to a solution as to why the things he proposes will or will not work and then go from there.
(Also posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blog, which led me here):
I find that both of these conversations (Miguel has provided a variant on his blog) are heading in the right direction — the intent is there. And perhaps they reflect specific conversations that take place as part of a larger set of conversations between a larger group of folks.
But I wonder how the intent might play out were the conversations to include a wider range of participants — because I think that the solution moving forward NEEDS to reflect and engage all of those involved — students, teachers, parents, tech coordinators, IT personnel, superintendents, directors. Until we have a collaborative process that is looking to address the WHY behind unlocking the technologies — namely the education of children — it is too easy for a smaller subset to limit their perspectives and their conversations.
Are inclusive, informed, forward-thinking deliberations regarding the changing nature of learning and teaching (due to, and influenced by technology) taking place on an ongoing basis in your jurisdiction? Moving forward will require that ALL of us move toward becoming better informed and more actively involved in the conversations.
— I’d also like to add here on Scott’s blog that I think the notion that the Tech Coordinator works for the Supt. may also side-step the reality that they both should be working to support the teachers — teachers who support the students. Top down without engaging/listening to the front-line teacher is inherently problematic.
Philosophically, the Superintendent is responsible for the direction taken in all matters, including technology. This really is no different than the maintenance crew, custodial crew, teachers, food service, administration, transportation, etc. The expectation should be identified by the superintendent, clarified for building discrepencies by the principals, and supported by the those skilled in that area. The variable here may be that the expertise and access that the technology coordinator possesses is beyond the scope of the superintendent’s (or other administrator or teacher) exposure and experience; rendering the desires useless if the coordinator is not supportive. At that point, however, as is noted, the “technology coordinator works for you” or not.
I also wonder at what point it is capability vs. cooperation. Since I don’t understand filters (although I know if a floor is clean or busses are late and whether that is due to something palatable), it is sometimes hard to ascertain if the adjustments are “able” to be made. I’d still like to be able to say, “This is what I want and expect,” and have the tech person make that happen.
As the previous comments clearly indicate the answer to this dilemma is not black and white.
I wonder who hired this particular Superintendent. Who hires a superintendent who is afraid to ask the tough questions, who is afraid to communicate with his/her subordinates/colleagues/constituents, who doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of direction.
Absolutely. We need to move past the “what I’m use to doing works” to “what I need to learn that has proven results for a digital age”. Education, for the most part, is still years behind the rest of the world in terms of using technology effectively. I know teachers that can’t seem to find the value in using web information and a projector. They are married to the overhead…you know, the technology used in bowling alleys for 20 years before educators realized the value of it.