Empowering superintendents in the digital age

Superintendents have a critical role in digital transformation

superintendent-leadershipSuperintendents lead. They are charged with preparing students to be college-, career-, and life-ready, and with enabling a 21st-century learning environment. Increasingly, this means leveraging digital technologies to create personalized learning opportunities.

As leaders, superintendents play an essential role as a catalyst for using technology to transform learning. In districts where superintendents have created a clear and compelling vision for technology, positive learning changes are occurring. In districts where the superintendent has abdicated that responsibility, technology is rarely scaled in a systemic manner.

Given the critical role of superintendents in leading the digital transformation, how do we support them in creating a robust learning environment? And how do we scale this so that all superintendents, not only the “tech savvy” ones, are moving in this direction?

(Next page: Supporting superintendents in today’s digital learning environment)

Too often, superintendents start the conversation by focusing on the technology. Unfortunately, those well-intended efforts usually end in failure because they don’t begin with the problem they are trying to solve, or with the end goal in mind. They don’t address what learning looks like after the technology intervention. They haven’t rethought pedagogy for a digital era.

Superintendents need guidance, actionable steps, and practical tools to build their knowledge, skills, and confidence to lead a digital transformation and make the informed decisions. CoSN’s Empowered Superintendent initiative provides these resources in a refreshed toolkit launched in early October. The updated toolkit helps superintendents navigate changing educational demands and explores how technology addresses those critical educational challenges.

“Most superintendents have full agendas and multiple priorities on their to-do lists. That’s exactly why we need to make better use of technology ourselves. If we believe technology will make students and staff more productive and creative, we need to learn and model that in our districts,” says Terry R. Grier, superintendent of Houston ISD.

The Toolkit is organized around five key educational opportunities:

  • Strengthen district leadership and communications
  • Raise the bar with rigorous, transformative, and innovative learning and skills
  • Transform pedagogy with compelling learning environments
  • Support professional development and communities of practice
  • Create balanced assessments

While the education landscape has changed considerably since the toolkit was first released in 2007, the five education themes for technology leadership have staying power.

The Toolkit also makes the case that superintendents need to build the human capacity to lead this digital leap. This includes:

  • A team approach to technology leadership. The vital role of technology in education continues to change and expand. Technology infrastructure, systems, devices and funding can be complex. As a superintendent, you will be a more capable technology leader when you partner with a highly qualified chief technology officer (CTO) as a cabinet-level advisor. A team approach to technology leadership will help superintendents and CTOs work as allies to foster digital learning environments.
  • An expanded set of tools to strengthen technology leadership. CoSN’s research-based Framework of Essential Skills of the K–12 CTO and Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL)™ examination complement the superintendent initiative. It defines a broad range of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities required for CTOs to understand and strengthen the superintendent’s vision–and make that vision a reality. Key points and practical tools for hiring, developing and evaluating CTOs and educational technology professionals are integrated with this toolkit.

You can access the toolkit at

Superintendent leadership can make or break education technology initiatives. To fully and fairly navigate the implementation and operations of critical digital endeavors, current and aspiring superintendents should recognize the importance of strengthening their knowledge of technology and its power to transform learning.

As Mark F. Keen, superintendent of Westfield Washington Schools in Indiana said: “With all of the rapid changes happening in education and today’s world, the importance of continuous learning in my own professional life is even more critical than ever. We are all learners, and to be able to apply and create new ways of learning, we need to have both skills and knowledge. The more capable we are with technology and the more we understand the learning opportunities that become available to everyone, the better able we are to lead and inspire.”

We live in a digital world, and technology is providing the tools that are shaping learning ecosystems like never before. With the right leadership and foresight, superintendents have an incredible opportunity to create transformative educational settings in this new era.

Keith Krueger is the CEO of CoSN (Consortium for School Networking). Learn more about CoSN’s superintendent efforts at:

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