Seven habits of a highly effective school tech exec

For Ed Zaiontz, executive director of information services for the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, and Leo Brehm, director of technology for the Sharon Public Schools in Sharon, Mass., being an effective school district chief technology officer (CTO) begins first with a passion for the job—and then the adoption of several important habits.

“In this job, you have to produce results and create value,” said Zaiontz. “Besides providing leadership and vision, a customer-focused business mind, and a knack for planning and budgeting, you have to also take charge of process management.”

For Zaiontz, process management includes everything from running communications and IT systems, to education, training, and implementing ethics and policies.

“On top of all that, you have to know how to build an effective team and staff,” said Zaiontz.

While a good CTO has to manage and lead a successful team, he said, there are some measures to keep in mind during operation:

• Use data-driven decision-making skills.
• Produce results … and create value.
• Always keep the focus on students and instruction.
• Remember that plans and policies need continuous improvement.
• Manage for innovation, not what you already have in place.
• Be flexible and adaptable.

Brehm told the audience that he prepared a laundry list of qualities and states of mind that every school district CTO should try to master, in order to “not only make operation run more smoothly, but also inspire educators to embrace technology.”

For Brehm, success comes from adopting seven habits:

1. Know your own personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as your schools’.
2. Say “yes” often—otherwise, educators and other leaders will be hesitant to come to you with another new idea. If you can’t say “yes,” then at least try to say “no, you can’t do that, but try this instead.”
3. Plan for the ever-changing plan. “Right now, our newest plan is two weeks old, but it’s been two days since I’ve checked … it’s probably changed already,” said Brehm.
4. Keep the larger vision in mind. For example, don’t automatically think every child should have a laptop, because not only is this too expensive for most schools, but it will probably be replaced with a lightweight, cheap, handheld device, like a modified iPhone.
5. Communicate a consistent message. Do this by sending newsletters or eMail messages to staff and colleagues to let them know you’re still on course and still have an optimistic view of the situation.
6. Offer effective and consistent IT support.
7. Embrace your role as the change-maker. Understand that your role is not to keep what’s already in place functioning, it’s to make things even more efficient.

“Being a successful CTO is being able to balance the curriculum and the technical side. Without the technical aspect of what can realistically be implemented, it will never enter curriculum effectively. However, if you never try to implement new tech strategies into the curriculum, new skills won’t be learned for the 21st century,” concluded Brehm.

Meris Stansbury

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