Making sure staff members have the professional development they need to ensure effective 21st-century teaching and learning is the top challenge facing school district chief technology officers (CTOs), according to a survey that queried more than 50 Illinois school district CTOs.
The survey, titled “The Challenges and Professional Development Needs of the District Technology Leader,” was conducted by the Illinois Chief Technology Officers (ILCTO), a nonprofit organization that helps CTOs in “realizing their [school districts’] visions and goals for the effective, secure, and rapid implementation of instructional technology and operational information technology.”
According to the organization, a district CTO “could be an administrator, manager, or teacher who has responsibility for technology operation across a school district.”
To better pinpoint the needs of district CTOs, the survey automatically eliminated the options of “time, money, and lack of people” as primary challenges, because—while these challenges are important—ILCTO noted that these components were “universal challenges for all organizations.”
After a focus group and much deliberation, nine key education-technology challenges emerged:
1. Providing professional development to school district staff—including formal, scheduled staff development on the use of new technologies, as well as spur-of-the-moment requests for individual help.
2. Meeting the growing number of expectations, including handling communications systems, data collection and processing, technology implementations, and requests for new projects. School district CTOs report they receive little or no guidance for these new or expanding initiatives.
3. Developing skills to improve instruction and learning. This includes knowing how to support student learning and teaching through technical applications and recognizing how to meet raised state and federal requirements. School district CTOs report they are often “forgotten participants in curriculum implementations.”
4. Moving resistors to use technology (that is, encouraging educators who are reluctant users of technology to do so).
5. Vendors changing or not understanding the technical issues involved in an education technology project.
6. Building IT staff to match organizational requirements: CTOs need to build technical staffs with funds that cannot compete with the open market.
7. Surprising software installations, support, and licensing: Frequently, school administrators purchase hardware or software without consulting the technology department.
8. Lack of a professional approach by vendors: CTOs report that vendors sometimes use unprofessional methods to “skirt the districts’ established procurement processes.”
9. Compliance with state and federal laws and associated policies, including internet filtering, teaching about online safety, and other mandates.
After seeing the list, survey participants were asked to identify and rank their top three challenges. The top two issues that emerged were (1) professional development and (2) increased expectations. Developing the skills needed to improve instruction and retaining staff to match organizational requirements tied for third.
The survey then dug further, asking participants to rank the top four needs for their own professional development, based on the Consortium for School Networking’s “Framework of Essential Skills for the K-12 CTO.”
CTOs ranked planning as the top need for their own professional development, followed by instruction, policy, and leadership.
“School district leaders should recognize that CTOs’ professional development needs are not technical,” states the report. “CTOs know how and where to get assistance about the core components of their jobs. They need professional development on … leadership and vision and the educational environment.”
The report continued: “This development can occur in formal opportunities, but likely [is] best when CTOs are mentored and included in district planning and policy development, curriculum initiatives, and school-level projects.”
Keith Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, said the Illinois survey’s findings mirror what his organization has seen nationally, especially the idea that school district CTOs need professional development for strategic planning as opposed to technical concerns.
“The job of the school district CTO over the past 20 years has substantially changed from being largely about technology to leadership issues,” Krueger said.
The report also lists a number of suggestions for how school districts can better support their CTOs.