The Gap in Educational Technology Leadership

This is a topic that has been on my mind for a while now: growing and cultivating EdTech Leadership. From where I sit in an international school in SE Asia I see a large pool of talented educators and leaders in international schools, but those that understand the multi-leveled complexity of Educational Technology seem to be rare.

What I often find is people are strong in one element of EdTech leadership, but not all.

Technology and LeadershipFor example, you go to international schools and find technology managers that are former IT professionals or engineers. They have strong networking, client/server, and systems skills. The infrastructure needs at those schools are well attended to, usually within a well maintained and planned budget. However, these managers often lack the understanding of curriculum and pedagogic needs.

Then I find another side as well with former teachers who have moved into a technology integration role and on to leadership. The folks have a clear connection between technology tools and the teaching and learning activities. They understand very well what good resource infused learning looks like and can show effectiveness through authentic assessment. Yet, their understanding of deep IT terminology, strategy, design, and maintenance is often insufficient to maintain large systems found in international schools.

Still, there is another type of leader I find in schools: the senior admin given the technology department. These administrators usually have some other area of responsibility within the school – finance, academics, etc. – and have little experience with technology for learning or infrastructure. They are strong at leading their teams and tying decisions into schoolwide goals, but IT management and on-the-ground planning is lacking.

This is not to say these three examples of school EdTech leadership are bad for a school. In fact, I find that schools hire people with skills in the tech field to meet their most immediate needs and they are usually quite pleased with those appointments and the results they achieve.

Instructional LeadershipThe gap I find is in long term impact on schools and the field in general. I believe a good EdTech leader need to be grounded in IT skills, educational technology integration into learning, and leadership capacity. I’ll talk more about that in a later post.

What this really brings me to is need. I find there is a need for leadership development in the EdTech field. We need a professional development or certification system to helps aspiring EdTech leaders identify their strengths and fill in their gaps. We need a mentorship network where those rare leaders that have skills and experience in the aforementioned areas can help other grow. We need a framework for staff evaluation to help school identify where their leaders need to grow and to identify the key characteristics for potential employees.

Now, there are some programs that do this already. The CTEL program through CoSN is one that comes to mind. I have read through the course materials and met several graduates of the system. These people have found a lot of value in the CTEL certification in their work in the US, mostly at public school districts.

Further, I am sitting next to a woman who runs a CIO/CTO workshop as part of the pre-conference festivities for ISTE. She has a number of existing and hopeful district administrators discuss leadership and salient issues related to EdTech policy in their districts.

Educational Technology LeadershipYet, these don’t fill the needs in SE Asia where I live or in Europe or the Middle East and Africa. These are good programs with strong content and I am sure there are several more, but they are location limited.

I am hoping we can develop a program and network that is independent of space and time where people can connect with an assigned mentor, complete self-evaluations, or take courses within their own contexts. I would like us to create materials that are focused on international school needs. I would like us to draw upon our collective resources to improve the leadership capacity in our school around EdTech.

How do we do it? Please send me a note if you’re interested in sharing, learning, or whatever.

10 thoughts on “The Gap in Educational Technology Leadership

  1. Matt, you have hit on a really great point and one of those unforeseen gaps that are immediately apparent once you realize it. I come from the technology leadership arena myself and constantly rely on strong relationships within our education team (admins and teachers) to make sure our collective vision has the right direction and initiatives to meet those goals. One of them (actually our teacher in the IT department) sent your article to me. 🙂

    It’s difficult to find someone who somehow has the balance of all three arenas. Having an online community of mentors and evaluations would definitely be something I would be interested in being a part of.

    I am a graduate of the CETPA CTO Mentor program, which is an outstanding group and certification/mentoring course they offer in California, USA similar to what COSN provides. Getting plugged into the CETPA network of leaders and collective genius was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. A few of us were at ISTE with you as well. 🙂

    Take care and keep us up to date on how things might get going.

  2. I think you’d need to define what “tech leadership” and “skills” are. I find that many school leaders think that hiring an IT head and a few coaches satisfies the pedagogical knowledge needed to introduce emerging technologies into schools, and that a teacher with “cross-tech” skills (I am one of them) just “doesn’t fit in.” Schools also rarely think about how technology changes pedagogy until they’ve dived headlong into a tech plan that fails. I have a hard time finding jobs in schools because I don’t teach science or math, but can teach and administrate tech. This literally does not compute for school leaders seeking help with edtech.

    Between that and being a woman of color (which matters in international school world) many schools will overlook me as a qualified technology leader. I suspect that others who have humanities, arts, and technology skills find themselves in similar situations. There is an impression of what a “tech leader” is, and it is subject to the same prejudices that other technology fields are, despite the evidence that teachers who self-style as tech leaders can be of many backgrounds.

    1. Pilar, do you envision “tech leadership” as an administrative function or a teacher-leader function? I see it from both sides, but the basis of my post was more from the administrative/management angle. I think you highlight some very important aspects of this gap that need addressing. Would love to hear more about your thoughts on female of color leadership in international schools.

      1. I have no problems discussing my personal experiences and sharing some materials. I did want to address the teacher/leader versus administrator with a simple question:

        “How many humanities or arts teachers become tech administrators?”

        Even in cases where humanities teachers show leadership at the classroom level, they don’t have on their CVs the “tech background” that most school leaders look for.
        The focus on STEM as the basis for edtech has made it very difficult to create alternative paths to edtech leadership or even different conceptions of what edtech leadership can look like. A consequence of that is also that tech leadership at the administrative level has been predominantly male because of the biases that exist in STEM subjects. School leaders are more likely to appoint the “IT guy” a pedagogical leader after sending them to a couple of workshops than acknowledge an English teacher might have the tech background to fulfill similar roles. Tech-savvy humanities teachers sometimes move to librarian positions, but their leadership is often undermined or underestimated (which shouldn’t happen either.)

        I think this is a missed opportunity for both school leaders and the teachers who might thrive as edtech adminstrative leaders in their schools. I definitely want to see more school leaders with solid tech backgrounds (this may become a natural consequence of generational change) but I also want to see school leaders take a hard look at who is “tech-savvy” in their schools, and how different paths to tech-savviness may produce very different leaders. If we assume that “every teacher is a tech teacher” this should be fairly simple to do.

        We’re not there yet.

  3. Leadership is an output of a team and I agree, it’s critical for the profession to ‘come together’ in placed and spaces which are free from influence by organisation, employer or even geography. We are soon to launch such a place or space which draws on our background in ed leadership and understanding of the impact of communities of practice on longitudinal professional growth. Matt, you think like us! Possibly we should coordinate an early ‘guest pass’ for you?

  4. Matt, this is a pertinent post and one that resonates personally. I am currently completing a MA in Online and Distance Education and I have to say that I see the qualities you are asking for among several of my cohort, all of who are acutely aware of the confluence of pedagogy, decision making and educational technologies.

    My own experience started in IT management (and media), added teaching at compulsory level, added more teaching at HE level and now am moving into the larger educational landscape in the hope that these experiences are needed.

    Your post makes me think I am on the right track. Thank you.

  5. Really great article Matt, you’ve hit a number of key issues on the head.

    A lack of any formal training and support pathway to EdTech leadership is a huge problem in the UK. Around 70% of UK schools now have iPads or tablets, yet there’s only a very small niche who could say this technology is impacting meaningfully and measurably in their classrooms.

    You may want to take a look at the MTTEP project here in Europe I’m working on this through my company and it’s prime purpose is to start transforming initial teacher training to include EdTech modules. It’s a bottom up approach that will take a long time to come to fruition but it’s a start.

  6. Hi all,

    I am particularly interested in IT instructional and BI support of higher ed internationalization processes… Although focusing on high school level, this has been an illuminating article on some of the underlying leadership problems with instruction. Any other suggestions for me to read?

    Thx, Lea

  7. Hi Matt & thanks for this relevant & timely post. I agree with your assessment that most technology leaders fall within one of three categories. Personally I would welcome the opportunity to take part in a certification program (in Asia) that would allow me to become a more well-rounded technology coordinator. Setting up such a program would take time but in the meantime it would be great to develop a mentorship program for those who are new to the role or who have skills gaps. If this initiative gets up and running I would love to provide my thoughts & opinions. Keep us posted!

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