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10 essential skills for today’s technology leader

CoSN defines their essential skills with support of the NSF; aims to advance district technology leadership.

Leading a school district in the digital age can be both exhilarating and formidable. Technology has proven to enhance the educational experience of students and educators, preparing everyone for success in the ultra-competitive, highly connected, ever-shrinking world.

What core competencies do school system technology leaders exactly need to succeed? And what skills should a superintendent look for in his/her technology leader?

CoSN (the Consortium for School Networking), the national association of school district technology leaders, has thought long and hard about this question, and we have developed the first-ever aspirational leadership certification to address this need.

Identifying and Understanding Today’s Chief Technology Officer

In 1990, PwC found that 80 percent of the technology leader’s role was technical. Today, managing the technical aspects of the job is less than 30 percent. However, districts mostly advertise and recruit district education technology positions on the basis of technical skills.

To address this shift and get school leaders on the right path, CoSN formed the Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO. The Framework’s body of knowledge was built and updated by expert CTOs, and validated with support from the National Science Foundation. It defines 10 essential skills that can be grouped into three buckets:

  • Managing Technology (the traditional role of CTOs);
  • Understanding the Education Environment; and
  • Leadership & Vision.

Next page: The 10 essential skills for today’s technology leader)

The 10 essential skills for today’s technology leader are:

1. Leadership & vision

2. Strategic planning

3. Ethics & Policies

4. Instructional Focus & Professional Development

5. Team Building & Staffing

6. Stakeholder Focus

7. Information Technology Management

8. Communication Systems Management

9. Business Management

10. Data Management

Over four years ago, using the Framework body of knowledge, CoSN launched the Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL)™ program. More than 300 education technology leaders, from large and small school systems nationwide, have passed this rigorous program and earned their certification.

One of the key benefits of having established a certification program is the standardization of the key knowledge and skills necessary to perform as education technology leaders. These standards have the benefit of the wide-ranging validation, so your district can benefit from the experience of others.

Certification provides a foundation for superintendents and district leaders to use as a benchmark in developing job descriptions, hiring and/or promotion decisions, and creating personalized, professional development plans. It also boosts the confidence and commitment of those who achieve the designation. A recertification requirement of at least 60 continuing education activity points every three years helps to ensure education technology leaders stay abreast of trends.

Shifting from Technical to Transformative Tech Leader

Technology leaders can no longer be “in charge” of all technology – some refer to this as the “consumerization” of technology. Likewise, technology can no longer fall into a silo. CTOs must see their job as using technology to enable the modern learning enterprise, not simply installing, maintaining and locking down the network.

By becoming a CETL™, those who are credentialed demonstrate a commitment to that vision and have the skills lead.

Knowing What Superintendents Need From Technology Leaders

For superintendents, district technology leaders often provide guidance and instruction on how technology can improve learning. Yet in too many districts, CTOs do not have the complete leadership skills and experience to be a part of the leadership team.

What’s more, CoSN’s 2016 K-12 IT Leadership Survey Report found that more than 30 percent of all district technology leaders will be retiring within the next six years, a 3 percent increase from 2015. This forthcoming exodus of senior education technology leadership from the field creates a compelling need to scale professional development for those aspiring to be CTOs.

CoSN’s Framework can be used to recruit and evaluate the skills needed by the CTO, and there is a trend toward identifying candidates that are, in fact, CETL™ certified. The Framework can also be a performance rubric for evaluating CTOs. CoSN has developed free sample CTO job descriptions, questions for interviews and more tools surrounding what district technology leaders should demonstrate.

Education technology leaders also need to work with Chief Academic Officers, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Operating Officers and others at the district level, as well as principals, teachers, parents/guardians and the School Board. They must have the leadership skills to effectively communicate and work with these various stakeholders.

Reaching out to those who hold the CETL™ designation, and encouraging your technology teams to pursue the CETL™, can be a giant step forward in making sure your team not only has the technical knowledge and skills to advance your vision, but the leadership skills to ensure your district’s success.

Begin to build the human technology capacity of your school system technology leaders with CETL certification – and prepare for your district’s successful “digital leap.”

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