Putting Technology Leaders in the Right Positions

I had a call last week from a long-time colleague in the educational technology world with whom I hadn’t spoken in a number of years. Our paths first crossed in 2009 as several of us were working to get Online School for Girls through its “zero year,” as we used to call it. His career and mine went slightly different directions over the last almost decade-and-a-half, as he became a Director of Technology and I went the division head and Assoc. Head route. Between us, we know quite a bit about great school technology implementation and academic leadership. And as it turns out, the juxtaposition of those two areas of expertise was the reason for his call.

My colleague wanted me to give him my take on how a Director of Technology position fits in the ISM Circle. We at ISM have an alternative to the traditional “org charts” that depict a hierarchical command-and-control style school structure. We represent a school as a circle which shows the essential functions as part of a whole system that allows communication, predictability, and support to flow to the people who deliver and support the school’s mission.

Both the Director of Technology and the Tech Department are unique kinds of positions and departments in a school, and difficult to depict on a typical organizational chart. Which division do they belong in? Academic? Operations? Both? Every person at school uses technology to do their job, e.g., logging into the network and its computers. But of course there’s also a special educational component to school technology related to teaching and learning—Duolingo, anyone?—and academic administration, e.g., the student information / learning management systems.

My colleague’s straightforward question was: where does the Tech Department and the Director of Technology fit in the ISM Circle? I think what he was really asking was this:

How should a school set up the Director of Technology and the tech staff so they will have success providing support to all the people who deliver the mission at school?

A school needs a single, senior/executive leader for technology to set a vision for, and to implement and manage, the school’s informational and academic technology. That person heads a department that has two teams which are “home” in different areas of the school—academic and operations—and work together to provide support all around the organization. In many schools, the EdTech and IT folks communicate only periodically, usually ineffectively, and almost never strategically. A well-placed, competent Director of Technology brings these two teams together so that their working relationship is more collegial and better supports the school. In the ISM Circle, we achieve this kind of oversight and influence within the school by putting the Director of Tech in an “influencer” role that orbits the Circle like a satellite. Although the position manages employees in specific areas of the Circle (academic folks in the Upper 180, and operations people in the southeast quadrant), they impact and support people and systems throughout the school, much like a DEI Director does.

We all know that no matter what our role is at school, we can’t do our job without technology and the people who make it work. Unfortunately, schools often relegate the technology leadership to someone who is “down the org chart” and siloed away in either the academic or operations world. A well-managed, modern school is set up so that the EdTech and IT teams work closely to be responsive to daily challenges and to collaborate on planning for the future. When the Director of Technology sits on the Senior Leadership team and is in communication with the Head of School and the academic leadership, they can exercise the needed managerial leadership the school needs so that everyone in the organization will have the tools they need to be successful.

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