CTOs Role - 7 Tips for Doing First Things First #edtech #edchat

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! 

Over the years, I've had the chance to chat with many Chief Technology Officers--and/or Directors of Technology--about starting out in a new place of employment. This list of 7 tips for "new" CTOs on what to do first is based on those conversations. If you're one of the CTOs (Mark Gabehart, in particular!! Thx!) I chatted with, you'll be sure to recognize your tip(s) in the list below. If you read the list below, and don't see something that you believe is critical, please share in the comments!

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZfV2q
"What will you do first?" It's a question that's on the tip of everyone's tongue, even if they don't ask it (and they often do, whether during an interview or two seconds after you get there). One's first temptation is to come into a new place and start changing everything, practicing slash-n-burn leadership. I know when I've started new jobs, when I come in, all I see is what's missing. That can be dangerous because your Vision is obscuring your sight, what you really need to see and focus on--the people's needs, wants, their vision.

Part of learning to see as a CTO, rather than impose your vision of what should be from the moment you arrive, can be summed up in the following list of suggestions:

Tip #1 - Connect with Departments
One of the challenges of being new is that you often get to meet people but seldom ask deeper questions. In the first few weeks/months of being "new," it's important to contact all Central Office director one by one and ask them to share what they have in place, what they are responsible for. Then, hone in on what their needs are for better technology support, what their vision is, and what they would like to see technology do in the future.

Tip #2 - Connect with Campus Principals
Just as you have connected with department directors, you'll also want to do the same with campus principals. Do a walkthrough of their building so you can get a sense of the technology that's out there, what their needs are, and what they would like to see happen in the future. Your goal isn't so much to share your vision of what could be but to get insight into what they perceive as critical and what you can do to help them achieve that.

Tip #3 - Prepare a Write-Up for Each Visit and Aggregate Results
As will be shared later, documenting the work anyone in the Technology Department is important...and you are no different. I encourage you to setup a wiki (read Stephanie Sandifer's book on the subject, Wikis for School Leaders  and this article on Wiki While You Work) to house all your ideas, questions, observations--tastefully articulated, of course--so that you build a public record of what you're learning. A written report of what's happening at each campus, as well as a combined list of needs and wants can help you see commonalities among all campuses and departments. The benefits of this include a first step towards building a cohesive vision that captures the hopes and dreams of the people a CTO serves.

Tip #4 - Connect with Your Technology Team and Log Their Work
Although these tips could be separate, one of the challenges that Technology Department team members face is that no one listens to them, no one takes the time to share what the big picture is and their place in it. This can be frustrating for any staff member, more so for those who "labor in darkness" as to the goals and mission of the organization and how the plan you put in place connects their work to the mission. It will be important to ask each of them what's going on, what their responsibilities are, ask them to develop documentation for their work. Again, I'm reminded of the tyranny of competence where only one person--that technician--knows what they are doing and no one else. Finally, it's very important to consider their needs, write down what they are actually responsible for as opposed to what's in their job descriptions, and what we can do to make what we do "down the road" better.

Tip #5 - Setup weekly meetings.
Set up weekly meetings between both sides of the Technology Department house, the technical and instructional. The agenda for these meetings will flow from questions that arise from the meetings the CTO has had with department directors, principals, emails and other contacts with customers. The focus of these meetings has to be to identify what we're doing--together as a team--and how we can help each other. One important point to the success of these meetings--not helping is unacceptable since we are customer service oriented.

Tip #6 - Establish benchmarks for the organization.
It's hard to show progress when there hasn't been a standard set or a benchmark assessment done. Some of those benchmarks must necessarily include a technology hardware assessment, a network connectivity and security assessment from a third party evaluator that has not done the work for the District before, as well as curriculum & instruction type feedback (e.g. Levels of Teaching Innovation (LOTI)). These benchmark assessments can get schools rolling in the right direction and this is the perfect time to conduct the assessments.

Tip #7 - Connect with Community Members
In the spirit of making connections, one group that is often overlooked is the Community. To that end, its important to connect with local groups like the Veterans for Foreign Wars, Kiwanis Club, Knights of Columbus, and more. What a wonderful opportunity it can be to build relationships with these individuals before you actually try to do that district-wide iPad initiative, etc. It's also important to connect with CTOs from other organizations such as hospitals, utility companies, and police departments

If you're a CTO, undoubtedly you've noticed that a significant part of your job is about connecting, collaborating, communicating with others around you. For a long time, I thought being a CTO was about the "technical" side of the house, but after chatting with colleagues in these positions, the light went off--it's about working with people, bringing people together, giving voice to their needs, wants and their vision for the future. What a powerful role of service to play in schools and community!

Bonus Tips

A few extra tips came to mind after I wrote this, so I'm tacking them on to the end as "bonus" items. What other advice would you have?

  1. Avoid sucker's choices. In conversations with staff, don't fall for "sucker's choices" that paint an either/or situation that is earth-shattering and world-ending. Find the middle road. Sure, it takes time and means you need to be smarter.
  2. Retain your sense of humor. As passionate as we can get as human beings, it's critical that hotheads never move forward. Lose your temper and the people you serve lose confidence. Laugh at yourself, at the situation, then 
  3. Remember that you're NOT the Lone Ranger. Solving problems must be a team effort, so succumb to the Messiah Complex where you are the saviour of everyone you meet. Instead, schedule a meeting, bring stakeholders to the table, build safety and move through a process. Remember that sometimes, good communication can block learning.
  4. Use social media to share your work, facilitating openness and transparency. I've written about this before (e.g. Reaching for the Heart and Social Media for School Administrators) but it doesn't hurt to revisit this point. Share what you are doing.

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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


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