How to hire technology leaders, not followers

By Peter West
March 15th, 2016


Hiring in today’s tech-driven schools requires a careful resculpting. Are you asking candidates the right questions?

Just as a sculptor can take a rough block of granite and turn it into a piece of art, the leader of a 21st century organization must take a 20th century organization and sculpt it into its modern equivalent — an organization prepared to leverage technology to enhance education. Previous articles in this series have covered infrastructure, leadership, and mindset. This article discusses sculpting the staffing mix of an organization.

In the past, schools were reasonably homogenous in their approach to teaching. They varied in other ways (demographics, degree of focus on sports and the arts, religious affiliation) but these differences often did not impact the classroom; the methods of teaching were reasonably consistent.

Adding technology to this list has changed everything, as it directly impacts what happens in the classroom. Blended learning, and its subset flipped learning, are trends that are not just growing but becoming the norm.

Structure of a traditional educational organization

From a technology perspective, the teaching population of many educational organizations mirrors the graph of the “Innovation Adoption Lifecycle,” where there are those who are eager to jump in and use technology as well as those who are more reluctant. Updating the hiring process for new staff can allow administrators to change this graph and to sculpt an organizational structure that better aligns to a technology-driven mission.  The features of the groups are explained below.


Graph 1: A typical school population before technology is added to enhance learning and teaching. The percentages of teachers in each category will vary, but each group is likely to be represented. (The “Roger’s bell curve” originates from Everett Roger’s book “The Diffusion of Innovations”)

  • The Innovators are usually enthusiastic. They are positive and happy to change.
  • The Early adopters move with the change. They may not be enthusiastic initially, but they accept the need to change and modify their methods accordingly. Some may see it as a challenge, but are reasonably happy to learn and adapt.
  • The Early Majority and Late Majority may initially be concerned about some aspects of the change but eventually become comfortable and evolve with the school.
  • The Reluctant Adopters (termed Laggards in the traditional graph) are unlikely to accept the need for change. Even after much time, explanation and support is provided, they still do not accept the necessity for change. The problem is not that they question change but rather they continue to question the change long after explanations, guidance, and support have been provided.

Structure of an organization that has been sculpted to positively leverage technology

The following graph shows what a “resculpted” staff population could look like. It is represented by the blue line superimposed on the original graph.


Graph 2: A school population “sculpted” to support technology enhanced learning.

Note that the proportion of early adopters and similar groups has increased, while the proportion of late majority and reluctant adopters (laggards) has reduced.

How can sculpting occur?

The hiring process should reflect this need to have the teaching philosophies of new staff align closely with its vision.

Thus, advertisements for new staff and the subsequent interviews need to highlight these additional requirements. It is no longer enough to look at only the traditional aspects of teaching — subject knowledge, interaction with students, organization, etc. Technological skills and the desire to enhance learning through the use of technology need to be an important part of the hiring process. Discussions about blended learning and flipped learning, use of Online Learning Environments, experience with finding technology based resources to supplement and differentiate learning need to be raised (and covered in more than a superficial way).

Ideally, a member of the eLearning team should be involved in assessing resumes and in interviewing prospective staff.

How could interviews change?

All of the normal interview questions should remain. But evidence of belief in the technology enhanced paradigm should also be present (more on that below). Prospective staff could be “rated” on a scale of 1 to 5 for each new category, with results plotted on a radar graph.


A blank radar graph.

So what kinds of skills and attitudes should now be assessed? Here are few examples:

Technology skills: These are the fundamental skills of using a computer effectively, using the internet and school network effectively, and being able to problem solve basic technology problems. Without these fundamentals, little can be achieved in the world of technology enhanced learning.

Blended learning: There are two parts to this component. The person should be supportive of blended learning and the philosophy underpinning it. They should be able to provide examples of blended learning courses that they have created or that they have taught. They should also be able to explain how teaching blended learning courses differed from traditional classes.

Resources to support teaching and learning: Anyone who has worked with blended learning would have a number of resources that they have used in the past. These may be websites (e.g., Khan Academy, commercial products), software, apps, etc. They should be comfortable highlighting these and explaining how they can be used to enhance learning.

Understanding of OLEs (Online Learning Environments): These may be referred to as Learning Management Systems (LMSs), or may be other systems such that allow the collation and distribution of learning resources, collaboration, analysis of student engagement and more. They should preferably have created “playlists” of resources, or courses, for use by students.

Use of data:  Blended learning usually allows data to be gathered regarding student engagement, progress through course materials, performance on diagnostic tests, and more. Some schools also have historical data. Use of this data to modify teaching practice is advantageous.

Differentiated learning: Blended learning and the resources that are part of this paradigm have the potential to change learning; to move it away from the “one size fits all” to a more individual approach. This is especially true when combined with the use of data mentioned previously. Being aware of this, and actually working to make it possible, are key aspects of the modern teacher.

Online professional learning communities: The world of technology enhanced learning is changing rapidly. Teachers need to be up to date with trends and research. It is also valuable to have a group of people who are on a similar path to chat with, gain support from and to leverage their experience. There are many groups available online from all over the world and locally comprised of educators who are on a similar journey. Teachers who are committed to change are probably active members of some of these groups.

Creating a profile

While it is difficult to quantify many of these characteristics from a resume and an interview or two, it is worth completing a graph based on available evidence and “gut feel.” One possible outcome is shown on the graph following. The more points that the graph has with large numbers, the better.

As organizations move to an increased use of technology to enhance learning and teaching, hiring processes also need to transform. This will allow the organizational structure to evolve to one similar to Graph 2. The leader can create a structure to support the philosophies and learning paradigms of the organization while also allowing existing staff time to adapt. Hoping for successful change to happen spontaneously is not enough.

About the Author:

Peter West is Director of eLearning at Saint Stephen’s College in Australia. He has over 15 years’ experience leading K12 schools in technology enhanced education, particularly blended learning using online learning environments. He can be reached at or at