Tech Talk Live Blog

Essential Skills for K-12 Technology Leaders

Ed McKaveney

In the rapidly advancing world of ubiquitous technology use, there is no shorta​ge of need for technology expertise.  Changes over the past decade have seen chief innovation, privacy, and security officers added to the ranks of the more common Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) positions.  For those looking to hire for these positions or to advance within the profession they will find that degrees, best practices, and product certifications abound. Furthermore, product and technical skill certifications, governance practices, and management processes are often seen as requirements for the job.

Similarly in the field of education, advanced degrees are seemingly commonplace, as are varied teaching and administrative certifications. While many certifications are state specific, National Board Certification for teachers and the National Superintendent Certification Program recently developed by the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) are increasingly recognized as achievements among peers and a standard of quality in the profession.  Even with these degrees and certifications, the effective implementation of student learning is not a guarantee.  Teachers and administrators are continually tasked with professional development as they focus on implementing best practices in curriculum design, data analysis, and other aspects of a robust rigorous learning environment.

Now consider a technology leader working in education.  Looking back more than a decade, technical skills were the primary requirement for the job, and technology was typically not central to a K-12 school district’s strategic goals.  This often placed technology and technology leaders in a secondary leadership or management role with little collaboration across the organization.  While this is sometimes the case today, educational organizations increasingly leverage technology as an innovative means of carrying out the mission.  Currently, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) reports that on average only 20 percent of a technology leader’s job is technical. Furthering this change, technology coordinators of the past are increasingly part of the core leadership team under the CIO, CTO, or Technology Director titles.

To ensure success in a 21st century education environment, these education technology leaders must be versed in a range of technical and educational skills, but also in political and interpersonal skills tied to the business of education.  As the premiere professional association for K-12 technology leaders and teams, the Consortium for School Networking has been working to build this human capacity in education, as it seeks to effectively leverage technology within engaging learning environments.  To this end, one increasingly recognized effort of the organization has been the identification and development of the body of knowledge known as the Framework of Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO.  The Framework of Essential Skills is comprised of three primary professional categories (Leadership and Vision, Understanding the Educational Environment, and Managing Technology and Support Resources) with ten essential skill areas under these.

The ten essential skills include:

  1. Leadership & Vision
  2. Strategic Planning
  3. Ethics & Policies
  4. Instructional Focus & Professional Development
  5. Team Building & Staffing
  6. Stakeholder Focus
  7. Information Technology Management
  8. Communication Systems Management
  9. Business Management
  10. Data Management

While the framework illustrates the changing role of the CTO and the need for collaborations among stakeholders, it can be readily used to self-assess one’s own knowledge and expertise.  It also clearly describes the role of the CTO, can aid in the hiring process, validate CTOs already skilled in these areas, and serve to map out a professional development pathway for CTOs looking to further develop their own skills and knowledge.

To put the framework’s national focus into the context of school technology leaders in Pennsylvania, one can easily make connections with the PA Comprehensive Planning requirements, where technology is integrated throughout the strategic planning process.  To this end knowledge of best practices such as those in the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence can help leaders to thoughtfully build a quality plan.  Furthermore knowledge of the Federal e-Rate program and priority 2 funding rules and regulations serve to ensure schools are including appropriate language in the plan to meet Federal requirements in a way that will help ensure they pass an audit should one occur.

In our increasingly public and litigious society where technology innovation frequently outpaces laws under which we seek to operate and various communications and information pieces are subject to open records requests, it is important for leaders to be both ethical and thoughtful in their daily decision-making.  At the same time technology leaders must be versed in emerging trends as well as growing concerns such as those of student data privacy as they work to develop policies that are appropriate for the needs of today’s learning environments.

Looking at instructional focus and professional development, technology leaders are versed in technology staff training needs, but at the same time they must increasingly be able to work with faculty and administrators to ensure the success of technology-rich programs designed to enable deeper learning and personalize instruction.  It is critical that technology leaders are knowledgeable about the growth and best practices in 1:1, BYOD, and online learning initiatives across the country as well as the impact of electronic assessments on infrastructure, resources, and bandwidth, not only within school buildings, but at home and throughout their community of learners.

Lastly, the overlapping areas of IT, communications systems, and business and data management are frequently tied to interconnected systems and services that benefit from a more structured governance strategy.  Knowledge of industry frameworks such as ITIL or Project Management certifications readily applies here.  From an implementation viewpoint, knowledge of growing school data warehouses with intuitive dashboards that serve as a means of empowering teachers and administrators to quickly analyze assessments, achievement, and other factors as they make informed decisions impacting student learning also ties into this.

Building on this framework and the knowledge and skills it encompasses, CoSN developed the Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) program. The only program of its kind, there are now over 100 certified education technology leaders across the country.  As awareness continues to build, the CETL program is rapidly gaining traction and recognition within states and education departments across the country.

Exactly how is knowledge measured in the CETL exam and what in the CETL certification qualifies individuals to lead in the rapidly changing world of education and technology?  To answer this, CoSN has readily available details on the value of certification, the value of CETL for superintendents, eligibility requirements, the framework, self-assessments, and a number of certification resources on its website​ as well as a new CETL Exam Preparation and Online Collaborative Learning Site.​

On a closing note, as professional learning communities grow in education, the expanding number of like-minded, CETL certified, technology leaders across the country is serving to grow a valuable professional network for technology leaders.  Within Pennsylvania, the PAECT, as the CoSN state chapter organization, is working to help build and support this professional community through its varied programs and initiatives.


Watch Ed’s complete Tech Talk Live presentation, Essential Skills for K-12 Tech Directors, here.​

Having worked with educational technologies and media in higher education and K-12 his entire career, Ed McKaveney has been continuously focused on operational success, faculty development, and the advancement of student learning through technology.  In addition to being the Technology Director at Hampton Township School District, he is the Chair of the PAECT Chief Technology Leader Council, working to advance technology leadership across the state of Pennsylvania. Ed is currently working to complete his doctorate in educational leadership and management.

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