Certifiable - The Uncertain Path to Technology Director

Note: This is one in a series of blog entries exploring the role of the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Director of Technology. Please be sure toread the whole series! 
 On re-reading this--it had been sitting in my draft items box for months--I realized how short of the goal this response falls. It's not a perfect response, and if you follow the steps, they may not work for you. That's why the title of this blog post is The Uncertain Path 
I want to be as transparent as possible in highlighting the benefits of connecting with others, being transparent about your learning and sharing what you learn as you learn it. That's not to say that you will immediately be selected as a director of anything, but those 3 points have done as much for me as they have for others who've taken the time to read my stuff or attend my workshop sessions.
A colleague from another state recently sent me this request. Although I formulated a response and sent it on, further reflection yielded the following. I'd like to invite you to also share what your response would be to this request:

As a tech director wanna-be what advice are you willing to share on what had helped you be successful in your current role? In my state, they want you to have a certification that only a few others have statewide. Not sure that's a great use of time and resources, nor that it leads to success in the position.

1) Visible leadership at the regional and state level. In my case, I worked a regional education service center providing instructional technology workshops to folks from all over. This not only helped me build relationships with people, but also provide help and support to many others. Often, this work endeared me to many (and vice versa) because we were co-learners. Since this is the way my brain works, I had to write about those experiences, often discovering what I had learned (or identifying what I need to learn more deeply). This resulted in being published once a month in some publication or another, involuntarily raising name recognition...it didn't hit me until I was at a restaurant waiting at the bar (I wasn't drinking) having nachos and cheese with a co-worker when two strangers asked me, "Are you, Miguel, who writes in [name of magazine]?" What a shock that experience was...it still happens today, and being a naturally bashful person, I'm bowled over. 

Now, as then, I didn't do it for the purposes of getting known, only for the flush of excitement of getting published...the name recognition came as a result and I didn't recognize it until later when I went in for job interviews. One of the unfortunate side-effects is that people expect you to be a miracle-worker simply because you're published on something. Still, sharing what you're learning as you are learning it increases your visibility no matter what medium you share your thoughts in (provided it's public, of course).

In terms of retaining my position, being visible at the state level has helped me keep my job. I am usually well informed, a fact noted in my job appraisals. I've also received an award or recognition of some sort every other year (thanks to those of you who thought I was worthy), so it keeps one's name in lights in-house, so to speak.

2) Relationship-building with people. Since I was meeting with folks from various districts, I was able to meet prospective employers and/or people who would end up as my employers. For example, I gave a presentation in one school district where more than one district representative was present. I ended up interviewing with one of them--an Assistant Superintendent--for my current position.  This short-circuited the traditional process of meeting Asst. Supes at our state-wide administrators' conference.

In terms of retaining my position, building a PLN has been extremely helpful. It's helped add a stabilizing factor to the often turbulent, politically charged environment that K-12 education has become in the State (especially in these economic times). I shudder to think of people who have nothing else to ground them professionally. My blog and publications/keynotes serve as a way to validate what I say in an environment that has different values than edtech. Building relationships with people is your #1 job in this role...and, if you fail at that, you fail everything.

3) Studying leadership. Being an administrator and leader at the District level is one of the hardest jobs I've ever undertaken. I've come to believe that most of what's written about ed leadership is garbage, except for more practical texts like Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations. Looking back, I think I would have focused my efforts less on understanding leadership and more on just become an awesome teacher-practitioner. I continue to study leadership--but believe educational leadership is an oxymoron--because I have hope that I'll become a better leader for those who follow.

4) Knowledge of national and state standards.  It's been my observation that district administrators in some places--not all, thank goodness--appear to have a bias to anyone who's been a principal. I suspect that's because it's easier to assign principals tasks and expect them to focus on doing it without question rather than someone saying, "This doesn't align to the standards in the field (e.g. iNACOL, ISTE NETS, STaR)." Still, adherence to the external standards provides some guidance in the storm. I also depend on my team for their wisdom and perspective.

If you're asking whether certification is necessary in these times, allow me to say that any kind of certification that you can get is valuable. I wouldn't go around adding "DEN" or "GCT" to your signature all the time, but definitely pursue items that will serve you well as a director of technology, not just instruction. You have to get the instruction down, but the perception is that these things are obvious...we don't need to teach edtech because the technology is so easy. If you want to be a tech director, you need to pick up all the boxes and wires competencies.

That point of view--increasing importance of boxes and wires fundamentals--is why you may see me blogging about setting up a Linux server, etc. When instructional tech expertise is so common--and it is now with every university offering a worthless master's in edtech or instructional tech, as well as the non-traditional teacher-technologist perspective--the hardware/networking skills--certified--remain in moderate demand.

To be honest, starting now, I don't encourage people to go into Instructional Tech or Online learning. I push them towards principal roles (because in that role you have some hope of changing the campus conversation, or in online learning, being an online learning virtual campus principal). In fact, one award recipient of the Tech Administrator of the Year in 2010, because he didn't have a principalship, took on that role and left his plum job empty. Now, he's a superintendent for a small school district AND knows enough about technology to make a difference in that role. I'd also focus on engaging in project that help amplify student and staff voices.

I hope this info is helpful to you. Of course, it's based on my experiences and perceptions. My goal is to be a director of technology, not just instructional technology, for a small school district. Now is the perfect time with all the available outsourcing resources available (e.g. GoogleApps for Education, Read/Write Web tools). 

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


mrjadkins said…
I thought I would share a few thoughts on this as well. These are my bits of advice but they aren't nearly as academic as others may be.

1. Don't read a single leadership or management book. They are boring and pretentious. Read biographies about leaders - especially service-oriented leaders. Better than reading is to visit the workspaces of people in management in your community. Have lunch with people who do your job but do it for hospitals, utility companies, county police departments, etc. Share common issues over chips & salsa.

2. Don't be the star. Let your stars rise from the teachers who are doing extraordinary work. Stand back and let them shine.

3. Hardest: suppress your ego.

Our field is full of ego. It is the nature of our environment to create egomaniacs. Whether it is a control-fueled director and/or one who basks in the praise they get from teachers, administrators, colleagues and even vendors; the Technology Director is one who succumbs to ego easily. I am sure there could be an entire blog post on this idea but I digress. A few months of therapy helped me recognize my own faults with ego. It is easy to see how it happens for us.

4. Never become complacent or satisfied. There is always a new button to push or idea to push you further.

5. Learn. Seriously. Take on an activity to learn something for yourself that is creative or artistic. Take yourself out of systems and learn to play guitar, juggle, do photography or some other creative task. Learn for fun.
@Joel, excellent advice. The hard part is following it.

I especially admire your leadership in working with others in your town, so I'm going to keep this one close should I ever end up in a similar position: "Have lunch with people who do your job but do it for hospitals, utility companies, county police departments, etc. Share common issues over chips & salsa. "

With appreciation,
Miguel Guhlin

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