Superintendents get new advice on ed-tech leadership

Updated toolkit from CoSN, AASA aims to ‘empower’ superintendents for the digital age

The toolkit marks a significant refresh of the five-year-old Empowered Superintendent program.

Leading a school system in the digital age can be hard, but a major new resource from two professional organizations might help.

The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), in partnership with AASA, the School Superintendents Association, is releasing an updated toolkit as part of its “The Empowered Superintendent” program.

The first module, which focuses on the role of K-12 superintendents in leading digital-era schools, is available now. A second module, focusing on how to build a high-quality ed-tech leadership team, will come out later this month.

Both resources can be downloaded from CoSN’s website by members and non-members alike at no charge.

The toolkit marks a significant refresh of the five-year-old Empowered Superintendent program, said Keith Krueger, CoSN’s chief executive.

When the program launched in 2009, “the idea was to get superintendents to shift from thinking about technology itself to what the learning should look like with its use,” Krueger said.

And while the core themes from Module 1 remain the same—strengthening communications, keeping kids engaged, teaching digital skills, supporting professional development, and transforming assessments—there is new advice for each of these leadership areas, as well as a brand-new self-assessment tool for superintendents to rate their digital leadership skills.

“You want to be certain that the dizzying array of technology options … are selected and used strategically to support your educational vision and improve student outcomes,” the toolkit’s introduction says.

“And you want to be knowledgeable and comfortable articulating your vision to the school board, educators, parents, students, business leaders, taxpayers, and the entire school community.”

(Next page: Key advice for superintendents—and a new focus on building effective leadership teams)

Module 1 focuses on what CoSN calls the “five imperatives” for strong ed-tech leadership from superintendents:

• 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.

Under the first of these imperatives, strengthening leadership and communications, the toolkit recommends that superintendents be “change agents,” distribute leadership, and foster a safe environment for innovation and risk taking in their districts.

“Leading superintendents follow through on their vision by ‘walking the walk’—visibly championing, modeling, and celebrating the use of innovative technologies in their communities,” it says. “They also present themselves as inquiring learners.”

Superintendents can create a culture of innovation by listening to ideas, collaborating with other experts to bring in fresh perspectives, and embracing failure as an option, among other strategies.

To “raise the bar” through more rigorous learning in their districts, superintendents should embrace “deeper learning” across the curriculum, the toolkit says, by encouraging students to think critically and work collaboratively to solve complex problems. Superintendents also should recommit to teaching civic literacy, foster responsible global and digital citizenship, and integrate the arts into instruction.

In the self-assessment tool, superintendents are asked to rate themselves on a five-point scale for statements such as…

• I encourage innovative ideas from principals and teachers.

• I network with my peers in other districts to find out how they are putting technology to innovative use.

• I include a district technology leader in my cabinet.

• I work with my district technology leader and school community to revise our district technology plan annually and project our future needs.

For the first time, the refresh of the Empowered Superintendent initiative will include resources to help superintendents build effective ed-tech leadership teams: Module 2 will offer four key “action steps” for doing this, as well as 10 skill areas to look for in a chief technology officer (CTO).

“As a superintendent, you will be a more capable technology leader when you partner with a highly qualified [CTO] as a cabinet-level advisor,” the toolkit explains. “A team approach to technology leadership will help superintendents and CTOs work as allies to foster 21st century learning environments.”

The Empowered Superintendent initiative is co-chaired by Terry Grier, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, and Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina.

“We have learned a lot about the broad scope of work around digital transformation over the last several years, and we have seen many successful implementations around the country,” said Edwards. “With the complex and unique challenges that superintendents face in this arena, creating and sharing resources with colleagues makes good sense.”

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