Information technology plays a central role in the success of all organizations, not only as a supporting function but as a driver of innovation and business. However, tech's move into the driver’s seat has been analogous to someone in the backseat leaning over to grab the wheel…with a similar outcome. In the education industry, where the destination is our future and increased student learning is our revenue, this drive-from-behind approach has come at a high cost.
To avoid the wreckage, we need more tech leaders in the driver’s seat at the school and district levels. The need for vision in technology integration has been recognized for some time now, with more schools actively seeking leaders who possess both vision and experience in the innovative use of technology. Despite this movement to place techie leaders at the helm of schools, we are a long way to placing tech in the driver’s seat. To do so, we must move beyond technological awareness to full integration of technology leadership skills in developing school leaders.
So that every school leader has the mindset of a tech leader, the following shifts from tech-as-supporter to tech-as-driver must take place.
possesses awareness of tech integration opportunities
possesses understanding of best practices surrounding tech integration and ability to lead through integration process
approaches technology learning as a result of strategic planning
approaches technology learning as strategic learning which yields org planning
views tech as supportive to academic functions
views tech as a driver of academic experiences
seeks solutions from IT when need identified
brings IT solutions to vision discussions
uses technology to bolster existing learning
uses technology to create new blended learning which transforms existing practice
relies on IT for direction in managing student data
establishes a clear vision and protocol for protection and use of student data
views technology as a separate department
views technology as decentralized and pivotal to leadership in all departments
sees technology integration as supplemental
sees technology integration as core
lower tolerance for ambiguity, appreciative of the proven path
higher tolerance for ambiguity, a “VUCA” environment, and ability to adapt, iterate, and lead through rapid change
There are several risks associated with the proliferation of the drive-from-behind practice. Among the impending wreckage, some are nebulous - What is the cost of not properly preparing our students for tomorrow’s uncertain work environment? Others are more imminent and strikingly clear - What role do schools play in the protection of student data in this prolific “freemium” learning app landscape? How much money will be wasted though wayward device purchases and failed implementations?
Beyond avoiding risks, tech leaders are needed to seize opportunities. What can we gain from inviting technology to the driver’s seat? How can we model best practices and establish standards for the responsible use of student data? What new learning outcomes can we reach? What new communities can we build? What new ideas can we generate?
To know where one must turn right or left, it is helpful to be able to see with one’s own eyes. While it is not necessary for a school leader to possess all knowledge required to make solo decisions in navigating change through technology integration (nor is it advisable to do so in isolation), recognition of the major navigation signals and landmarks is essential. Education has been stuck in a perpetual state of immobility, frustrating to educators and students alike. Technology has “disrupted” the industry and generated rapid movement, but this movement does not come with its own driver, and we are at risk of going off the rails where access is precariously open. Where access is cut off, the risk is greater, the gap between the haves and have-nots widening as equitable access to powerful tools is sidelined from lack of leadership or resources. We cannot expect to solve these issues from the backseat; it’s time to put tech leaders at the wheel.