21st-century requirements in schools are changing, and being a good leader means solving new puzzles. Are you keeping up?
As schools continuously work to construct digital learning plans that will help transform teaching and learning, it is essential that school technology leaders are updated with the latest policies and practices that could impact their district’s future decisions.
Technology has changed the way students learn, and more importantly, it has changed school and district leaders’ roles. But technology and its capabilities are changing at such a rapid pace that even chief technology officers (CTO) require constant “updates” to solve some of the post pressing questions in schools this year.
To help technology leaders address what it calls the “undiscussables” of technology leadership, the Consortium for School Networking  (CoSN) held a recent forum  to come up with four questions every technology leader needs to answer in order to keep up with the rapidly-evolving K-12 school and district climate:
(Next page: Beyond technology and going digital)
1. How can you move beyond just ‘technology’? “As you retool and move beyond technical skills to become an instructional leader, how do you position yourself to be an equal partner with curriculum, instruction, and assessment colleagues?”
According to CoSN, one of the most dramatic and important ways in which attitudes about technology in K-12 have changed over the years is related to collaboration between technology specialist and curriculum leaders.
“No longer can these two groups continue to work in separate silos,” notes the report. “Today’s mandate is for the technology to support instruction and instructional leaders to pay attention to the technology tools that are available to make teaching and learning more meaningful to students.”
Based on the technology leaders forum CoSN hosted, presenters and participants introduced several ways technology and curriculum could work together.
For example, it’s crucial, notes the report, that technology leaders start with an “educational vision and goals, not the device or the applications,” because teaching and learning needs to drive technology.
Also, technology leaders should make sure not to use “techie talk” that can alienate those who don’t speak it–instead, they should focus on arriving at a common language.
School and district leaders should also make sure that technology specialists spend time in classrooms participating, observing, and coming to understand what students and teachers needs, says the report.
More suggestions relating to Question 1 on bridging technology and curriculum can be found in CoSN’s report  (reports are only available to members or for a fee).
2. Are you going digital? “Are you advocating for the elimination of the traditional textbook adoption process in order to speed up the transition to digital content?”
As CoSN describes, the migration from print textbooks to digital content has accelerated in recent years, fueled by budget concerns and the needs of personalized learning.
“The cost-savings involved in no longer purchasing, storing, and deploying textbooks can be significant and help defray the costs for technology purchases and maintenance,” notes the report. “In addition, the instructional benefits of digital content—from timelines and relevance to the ability to customize to the needs of individual students, classrooms, and communities—have won over critics and led to a number of states to demand digital alternatives to the traditional textbook.”
Forum participants said moving to digital can be done, but there are still many challenges. For instance, it remains difficult to locate content for a range of subject areas, and “even more difficult to evaluate the content to ensure that it is of high quality,” says the report.
Also, in “textbook adoption” states, where a centralized group has been responsible for evaluating textbooks and making purchasing decisions, the vetting process need to change to allow for more localized choice while still sharing expert opinions on the best materials available.
“Digital object repositories that teachers and students can pull from, as needed, are [also] powerful alternatives to textbooks,” according to report highlights. “An ideal system is one that encourages both home-grown contributions from local teacher and shared resources from multiple states and organizations.”
(Next page: The “right” data and modern PD)
3. Are you using the right data? “How do we move beyond myopic focus on high stakes test results to empower students and teachers with data to inform learning? How can technology be used to reach a more comprehensive understanding of student achievement?”
With the move to Common Core Standards and away from some of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) accountability measures, an “increasing number of educational leaders and policy-makers are questioning the value of standardized tests as a tool for evaluating students, teachers, and schools,” reports CoSN.
Forum participants explained that while the standardized test can be viewed as an autopsy to analyze what went wrong for the specific students after it’s too late to do anything about it, formative assessment “allows teachers to collect data about students more frequently and modify instruction as a result.”
Teachers also do not have the time to customize instruction for the needs of individual students, says the report. Instead, instructional tools are needed to automate the formative assessment process and math students with appropriate resources.
4. How are you modernizing professional development (PD)? “What role should you play in facilitating the move from traditional face-to-face staff development to more blended, online, collaborative opportunities for leader and teacher professional growth?
PD is “crucial to successful implementations and initiatives,” says CoSN. According to forum participants, you should start by reaching out to principals and administrators, because “helping them see how to use technology for their own personal growth…is a critical first step.”
Also, PD needs to “practice what [it] preach[es]” by including “multiple modalities, just-in-time learning, smart groupings, and other forms of differentiated learning for staff.
Looking closely at policies and how they might need to change should also occur, says the report.
For example, many states with PD mandates measure progress in terms of “seat time.” With blended and differentiated learning, these measures no longer “make sense,” explains the report. “There needs to be a way of accounting for individualized exploration, online learning, collaborative meetings with peers, instructional book groups, and more.”
“As technology, assessments, and instructional leaders come together to focus on common problems and principles related to improving education, valuable conversations are taking place,” concludes the report. “The undiscussables are rapidly becoming less mysterious, more commonplace, and more discussable through the power of collaboration and a unified vision.”