Nervous, excited, anxious. Butterflies. Playing sports all my life, it was a very familiar feeling, but this time, it wasn’t on any court or any field. It is 6:53 in the morning and I am walking into my first day of school not as a teacher but as an administrator in the technology department. It was a move that has and will continue to excite me beyond words. My first week had lots of challenges to speak about, internet outages, computer troubles, logistical issues, but there was one thing that I learned from that week and it is something that I believe should resonate with any and all technology integrators. Technology leadership is not about the devices, the network, or some other nerdy technology-related ideas, but rather it is about people.
Over the last 20 years school districts across the country have tried to grapple with the vast changes that define 21st century learning. One of the obvious differences is the ubiquitous nature of technology in our society, and it is logical that schools, in the spirit of preparing our students for a digital world, try and adopt new methods that teach students how to use technology. It is in this train of thought that the problem lies. Simply placing devices in the hands of students, teachers, and administrators is not enough to guarantee success. Nor is it enough to host training after training and expect everyone to become technology geniuses overnight. Like any leadership position, it is helping people realize their greatest professional self by leveraging the tools available to them. It’s always important to reflect to gain perspective on your current situation and reevaluate when and where to move forward, and through this process these three ideas have resonated with me over the past 2 months since that first day.
It’s A Journey
Technology brings with it a tremendous amount of change. Year after year the pace seems to be moving quicker and quicker, and the reality is that NO ONE is able to keep pace with everything all the time. Having said that as educators we all have a professional responsibility to our students to continue to push our own learning on this front for a couple of reasons. One, digital is their world. To disconnect from this world entirely severs an important commonality that we have with our students, one which is so very important to our students. I recently attended a function with some high school athletes which I coached this past season, and even as a technophile myself, was shocked to see 15 kids sitting at a table all messaging through Snapchat. It is these fundamental differences in the way kids connect that we must acknowledge and understand, NOT AGREE WITH NECESSARILY, but understand. Two, we must prepare them for the reality that is a connected work environment. Now having said all that, everyone is at a different place on this journey, and as a technology leader, it is important to understand this. As we move forward what is most important is that we keep moving forward. It is not a race, but our students need us.
Understanding that this is a journey and not necessarily a race is important step to being empathetic to the current skills, understandings, and dispositions that we encounter when working with others. To be dismissive of other perspectives in the interest of speed is a mistake. Looking at many great organizations in both public and private sector will reveal that dictatorship over empathy brings much resistance. To quote one of my favorite businessmen and thought leaders, Gary Vaynerchuck, “People work way better when you deploy honey than vinegar.” The quote also used as apart of the title is a reflection of the notion that as a leader you must be empathetic to the needs of those who you work with. Empathy is how we deploy honey.
Clouds and Dirt
Yet again to draw on some of the messages I have seen through the work of Gary, the idea that leadership involves two main perspectives. The Clouds and the dirt. The clouds being the large macro view of things. Being globally minded is important in any leadership position, but it is not enough to stay there. Staying in the clouds has it’s own pitfalls as it contrasts the work on the ground, the dirt. In any leadership role being a practitioner is incredibly powerful on so many levels. In technology leadership knowing what they tools are, how they can be used, and most important, why we use them is an obvious tenant of any technology leader. It is the marriage of the two, the clouds and dirt, that can help drive the vision, by staying grounded.
Over the last couple of months I have learned a tremendous amount about technology leadership, but my journey is only beginning, and I have much more to learn. However, I think a firm grounding in the tenants above are a good starting point who is currently in or looking to break into the field.