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Education Technology Leadership: Bridging the Divide Between the IT Department and the Classroom

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 -- Sean McDonough

District and school technology administrators are asked to fill many roles in leveraging technology in schools. In this series, we are taking a look at how edtech leaders are meeting behind-the-scenes challenges of digital learning. In the first installment, we introduced managing IT concerns in education and in part two, we focused on questions district tech directors should ask about any new program.

Technology has become an important part of every classroom. How effectively it’s implemented and used has a big impact on how smoothly teachers’ days go, and how successful students’ learning is. And often, it’s technology administrators who are ultimately held responsible for this. We’ve already talked about the role of tech admins in evaluating new programs, but the day-to-day maintenance of those programs may be the most critical part of the job. And success in this arena comes down to one key component: communication. Here’s six best practices for effective partnership between IT departments, other administrators, and most importantly of all, classroom teachers, to drive meaningful use of technology—and reduce stress for everyone involved.

1. Get a regular meeting with other administrators on the calendar

Too often, technology administrators feel like the last to know about new projects, initiatives, and purchases. This is especially problematic when you’re being tasked with installing or managing a new program without having been included in the evaluation process. Getting a monthly meeting on the calendar to connect with other department administrators can go a long way towards keeping lines of communication open. A regular sit-down helps everyone stay up-to-date on projects, determine the best way to work together, and have productive conversations instead of facing surprises and urgent requests.

2. Be there for ALL teacher technology trainings

Technology trainings may be facilitated by a wide range of individuals outside of your department, including building administrators, vendors, and teacher team leads. Whether or not you and your team is directly facilitating a given training, it’s critical to make sure that you’re involved. In addition to providing basic set-up and troubleshooting throughout the session (and sharing in all the positive feedback that follows a smooth session), you can glean valuable insights on how the program will be used in the classroom and anticipate future support needs.

3. Clarify who’s responsible for different support needs

Districts, schools, and individual educators and students use many different programs on a regular basis. Your team’s life will be made much easier by taking time at the beginning of the year (and whenever a new program is adopted) to clarify who will handle support issues for all of the programs you use. Do you have a big enough team to manage support issues internally? Will you rely on vendor’s helpdesk and support teams to resolve issues that arise? Will you take different approaches for different programs? Every IT department will have their own answers to these questions—the key is to clearly identify the appropriate support channels for all of your technology, and make sure that information is communicated district-wide.

4. Make classroom connections

Let’s be honest—there are some stereotypes about people who work in IT. It’s possible that members of your IT team will be happier to sit quietly behind their computers than engage with teachers. However, building strong relationships with those educators will help overcome those stereotypes and forge and an effective partnership between your team and the classroom. Consider having your team make short visits to classrooms at the beginning of the year or during other high-need times such as marking periods to show support. Taking the time to put faces to names and chat about any concerns will make a noticeable difference.

5. Find your technology champions

Enlisting the support of a few of your most enthusiastic and tech-savvy teachers is a highly effective way to support all classrooms. Work with administrators to find teachers who are the most seasoned or skilled users of classroom programs and develop them into your “champions”. Offering extra professional development opportunities to those faculty members will enable them to provide an initial level of tech-support to their colleagues before coming to you. Your champions can identify pain points and areas of improvement in the implementation, along with being the most credible voice in encouraging teacher buy-in for new solutions. One last word of wisdom—it may surprise you who fills these roles. Look beyond your traditional classrooms, and avoid making any assumptions about which educators are making the greatest use of classroom technology.

6. Use your technology vendors as a liaison

Communication is a consistent challenge across all kinds of organizations—so it’s important to use all the resources available when working to improve your own practices. The simple reality is that the roles of technology administrators and IT departments are very different from those of educators, and bridging the divide is difficult. Technology vendors can bring a unique perspective of how technology, curriculum, and instruction interact, and plenty of experience working across all three areas. Take advantage of this expertise whenever possible, by checking out your vendors’ best practice resources and working with their consultants. Just as with the teachers in your building or district, working with your vendors is most effective when it’s a true partnership.

Looking for more resources to help you find, implement, and achieve success with the right technology for your school or district? Check out our EdTech Buyers’ Guide, and watch for the final post in this series next week, when we’ll take a look at how Edmentum’s online programs for practice, assessment, individualized learning, and online courses have been designed with technology administrators in mind!