This holiday season, with my young adult children home from college and high school, I had several moments to question my station in life. Not quite at the half century mark, but too close for comfort, I noticed that I could not rattle off all those technical tips, tricks, shortcuts, and “cool” and “impressive” factoids that kept me in their conversation in years past. Climbing the treadmill incline this morning, I pondered this troubling evolution or more accurately degradation in my life.
I serve on the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Commission on Technology (COT). A wonderful group of professionals in the academic, administrative, and information technology sectors of independent schools from kindergarten to high school, day to boarding, tiny to mini-college size, the COT offers a service to members schools to perform a technology review. (Search #caisct on Twitter.) I had the privilege to serve on two and lead one team this past fall. Schools are uneasy but eager to seek support at a time as technology changes. They sense a seismic change approaching and want to be prepared.
Each of these three schools, vastly different in size and scope, had a common theme. The schools had one or more resources to perform break/fix operations. They had specialists to focus on infrastructure and administrative systems. Organizationally, their technology departments were fire departments waiting for the next call, rushing off to drench small blazes, and constantly monitoring potential hot spots to avoid large scale wild fires. The missing piece was a resource to take a long view of all their systems and academic technology. There was no fire battalion. In other words, there was no one serving as a technology generalist, whose mission was to form strategic vision and keep the school aligned to the growing transformation happening within education and academic technology. Devices such as the iPad are forcing all of us to question all of our established paradigms.
As the treadmill increased to incline setting number seven, I realized that I had transformed from a specialist to a generalist. Hired to originally to oversee the school’s help desk and day to day operations, I prided myself on all the small details of my school’s technology operation in years past. Now as director, and in this role I serve as chief information officer, I think and act with a much broader stroke. Several years ago, I attended a Educause seminar in Snowmass, Colorado for new directors of IT. A major theme of the conference was to become the big thinker and allow your other department members to work on the details. For the institution and department to succeed, I would have to perform this metamorphosis. I pause at the end of this calendar year to acknowledge my successful completion of this transition.
Of course my kids want the immediate answers to their questions. They, in fact, attempt to finish my sentences for me. They are not interested in a discussion of educational technology in 24 or 96 months. They are not debating the classroom of the future, overhead projectors versus LCD panels, ubiquitous wireless to accommodate a shifting model towards mobile technology, STEM integration, video on demand, or iPads everywhere. They are specialists in their world. I am a generalist in mine.
A major challenge for small independent schools is to create a position that serves this role. Always a battle and a question of budget, this type of guidance is no longer optional. There is a dedicated resource in all schools to handle finances and perform budget forecasting. To join the exciting transformations facing education today, schools need to have a similar person in technology.