It's a new year and, although that doesn't actually mean a lot in education, where the year is only halfway over, it always makes me a bit reflective. Add to that an email I received over the holidays asking for advice for a young tech director and you get a list of the 10 most important principles, precepts, bits of knowledge, and pieces of advice that I think are worth sharing with fellow Ed Techies. As always, chime in on the talkbacks with your own!
- Read. Read everything, both about technology in general and about cutting edge pedagogy and approaches to education. Everything from Thomas Friedman to Jim Collins to Karl Fisch to PC Magazine to Make Magazine (and, of course, ZDNet). You need to be a passionate expert on all things tech and all things ed. It's a hugely tall job, but being able to speak with authority is possibly the most important quality that will allow you to do your job. Go to trade shows and stay utterly current, while accepting that utterly current may not always happen in Ed Tech. See if you can get your school to send you to NISL training, while you're at it.
- Make sure that you're bilingual. Not English and Spanish, but Tech and Teacher. You need to be able to speak to teachers in terms that resonate with them and in ways that are relevant to what they do in the classroom. Technical jargon + Teachers = Glazed eyes + lost opportunities.
- Spend time in the classroom. Watch, coach, mentor, help. Do it for all 12 grades. And special education. And vocational education. And whatever other programs are unique to your school or district.
- Build consensus and get buy-in. The biggest catastrophe of any project I ever took on involved a unilateral decision on my part. The project, which should have been an utter success, was a complete train wreck. Many thousands of dollars of train wreck.
- Network. Get to know your colleagues and learn from what they do (and don't do). This also applies to developing positive relationships with vendors and service providers.
- Be visible. Be at school committee meetings (every single one, whether you want to or not). Be in the hallways, meet with parents, be friendly and engaging. Don't be the stereotypical grumpy, disheveled tech guy. Even if you're horribly introverted and would rather spend your day in front of a screen, be friendly and outgoing. Drink more coffee if you need to fake it.
- Empower those around you. Teachers, administrators, students, parents, and your support staff. Teach them to do whatever they can. Give a man fish, he eats for a day, teach a man to fish...
- Get your hands dirty. I never wore decent clothes to work, much to the chagrin of our superintendent. I would have rather made him grumpy than not be able to jump into a wiring closet or get down on the floor with kids and some computer pieces at a second's notice. While your job is to direct technology, there are many times when you're it - you simply have to get the job done.
- Find awesome systems to support what you do, but, more importantly, to support teaching and learning in your school. Great library systems, great databases, great student information systems, great helpdesks, great web hosts...you get the idea.
- Get student interns. As many as you can reasonably mentor, manage, and delegate to. They learn a ton, you get free labor, and you build serious good will (not to mention, a whole lot of good karma). And make sure that administrators understand that it will take a couple of years to work out the kinks and make a tech intern/mentoring program truly successful.
You should probably also learn to love coffee or tea if you haven't already. There are never enough hours in a day and there's no point wasting time sleeping. My personal recommendations? Dean's Beans Ahab's Revenge
(the highest caffeine content of any organic, fair trade coffee) and MarketSpice White Peony Tea
(not a huge amount of caffeine, but smooth and high in antioxidants to keep stress-induced illnesses at bay). I should probably have made that #1...I can't over-emphasize the importance of caffeine. Good luck in 2011!