Just also recalled his transition from teacher to CTO in 2009. It was an eye opener for Just, who was handed the keys to closets that were literally “crammed with technology and equipment” that teachers refused to use. “They didn’t want anything to do with it because it wasn’t helping them do their jobs,” he said. “It didn’t help instruct students.”

As tech coordinator, Just says he was charged with inventorying those and other technology tools and making sure they were put to good use. Today, he sits on the superintendent’s cabinet and informs the board, the superintendent, and principals about relevant digital trends and how those trends impact education. “It’s a whole different job than it was just five or six years ago,” Just said. “We talk about how we can adjust our approaches to help student learn more easily, and give them new opportunities for success.”

Unfortunately, there’s no single class or educational track that an aspiring K-12 CTO can take to learn how to fill that evolving role. “The job has morphed dramatically in the last 10 years,” he explained, “to where the leader of a digital integration really needs to be someone who can make partnerships and who can watch the trends and pull in the important pieces of new technology opportunities and see directly how they can fit into a classroom. That’s a very different definition of what we do.”

And with the proliferation of new educational and consumer technology tools not letting up anytime soon, Just expects the K-12 IT department’s role to change even more over the coming years. “We’re at a pivotal point right now as many schools are midway into or just beginning the digital leap.”

Taking tech out of the equation

When those skids of iPads were being doled out to students in hopes that the devices would individually enable learning years ago, Just quickly picked up on the fact that the technology itself should not be the focal point of such implementations. Instead, he says CTOs and their technology teams must know how to leverage educational tech and tools into learning opportunities for students (and, equally as important, into something that teachers can actually leverage and use effectively).

The good news, Just said, is that there are strategies that K-12 IT departments can use to make that happen. In most cases, it starts at the grassroots teacher level. “We have the tendency to start talking about IT implementations with our peers, principals, and district-level leaders,” said Just, “when in reality those discussions need to start with the teachers.” The MSD of Wayne Township, for example, has a group of 40 instructors who meet regularly to review new ideas and discuss opportunities with the district’s IT department.

Enlisting “early adopter” teachers to serve as role models for other instructors is another good strategy that Just’s district uses. Calling these early adopters “fertile soil,” he says those teachers have a knack for knowing what will and won’t work in the classroom setting. “Before we buy anything we show it to these early adopters,” he said, “knowing that they’ll give us candid feedback on whether the tools will work, whether they will enable greater interaction among students, and other valuable feedback.”

Bridget McCrea is a contributing writer for eSchool News.