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How to Build an Effective & Qualified School Technology Team

January 10, 2017

Finding the Right CTO and School Tech Team Members

School boards, administrators and superintendents often put all of their faith, and budget, behind new technology in hopes of reaching children and improving results. Unfortunately, that’s only half of the equation. Each district needs an effective school technology team to turn all of this new equipment, software and support into a useful endeavor.

Just buying the latest technology, installing whiteboards in the classroom or pushing your records to the cloud does not ensure that grades are going up and costs are going down. Often, a purchase doesn’t even ensure that the new technology will be used at all.

Selecting school technology officers is just as important as filling up on the latest technology — it’s likely more important because qualified individuals need to be on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly, not just the parts that students and administrators see.

A Tale of Two Techies

In education, power is not often shared willingly. You’ve probably seen that with new administrators, expanding roles that clash, disagreements on the school board, and in shifting responsibilities of teachers. That said, we think technology is a place that always benefits from sharing power, especially at the top.

A school tech team is typically in its best shape when there are two leaders, each with his or her own focus. One leader should have a technology background and focus on system requirements and implementation, while the other leader needs an education field background to help make the best choices based on student and staff needs and capabilities.

School learning and productivity objectives are always balanced by the technology budget, and this setup gives both sides an advocate. It gives the district a better shot of spending on the right technology and team that will deliver on those established goals.

A leader with an educational background will provide the school technology team with credibility so that teachers and administrators embrace learning from your team. The education background also provides commonality so that your more established teachers don’t tune out or resent the training, feeling like a non-teacher is trying to tell them how to do their job.

Selecting school technology officers with a technology background will enable them to better work with district IT staff. Commonality here can help ensure IT doesn’t feel like requests are unreasonable, or that new systems will generate nothing but headaches. Your IT department will see an uptick in trouble tickets, support requests and user frustration when a new system is implemented, but training on both the tech and education side can help to mitigate this concern.

Start With District Needs

School technology team building should always start with an evaluation of your district’s needs. This should be followed whether you’re creating an entirely new team, hiring for a specific school, filling a vacancy or replacing an existing team.

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Some of the chief questions you should ask about your district include:

  • What systems are we currently using?
  • What programming languages do we need expertise in to continue using our technology?
  • What programming languages do we need to achieve expertise in to adopt new technology or integrate our systems that are currently siloed?
  • What administration gaps do we have?
  • What curriculum gaps do we have?
  • Are the positions we need to fill focused on administration, IT support, curriculum or in a location that touches more than one of those categories?
  • How many roles we need to fill in order to address our gaps?

These questions can help you look for proper job descriptions, skills requirements and funding needed for school technology team building. Depending on your position within the local or state districts, you may also have some education agencies and centers in your area who can assist with this analysis.

At the state level, education agencies may even have existing lists, job boards, newsletters and other tools that be used to get your newfound job descriptions and vacancies out and in front of top, local candidates.

Characteristics of a Successful Team

Selecting school technology officers starts with building a strong team foundation. There are some characteristics that most winning teams have in common, from the way they handle stress to how they celebrate each other’s wins. Here are a few of the top characteristics that highlight a good team:

In a successful IT team:

  • People participate in meetings. The content is strong enough and relevant enough that you’re making decisions or ensuring policies are followed. If everyone is tuning out, then no one is going to make sure your changes are put in place.
  • They share goals and ask questions to make sure everyone understands what is going on with your district.
  • There is a feedback mechanism for problems and issues. This allows your team to help each other out and provide solutions to problems that anyone is facing.
  • There’s a history of proactive steps to solve problems or address concerns, and your team takes the initiative to solve issues on their own.
  • Team members judge risks, take risks and make evaluations of success together.
  • Your guidelines are followed or questioned, but not openly subverted.
  • Everyone shares the same goals and are willing to address them together.

Now, many of these characteristics can’t be guaranteed with a hiring, but these thoughts can help you choose the right staff. They’ll be more likely to follow a clear vision and select an inspirational leader to guide them — whether that’s you or someone in their own group.

And, to make sure that your team remains strong and effective, you need one common thread: appreciation.

Appreciation makes the world go ‘round, and giving your team appreciation will motivate them to work harder and perform better, according to Glassdoor.

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Start Judging Based on Goals

The best place to apply those characteristics to your district is in your overarching goals. Start with a long-term plan, especially if you’re trying to staff up properly. Remember that a bad hire will cost your district about 30% of their overall salary in terms of future loss.

Hiring across the longer term allows you the time you need to hire high-quality staff and plan out the path of your district. This will help you address coming IT trends and ensure that you have people willing to meet new challenges.

While you should let hiring goals run over a long term, don’t let the hiring process run longer than it needs to for your district. Fill up your school technology team when the right candidates appear to help you get top staff and not lose desirable candidates to long streams of red tape.

If you’re struggling to look at what those long-term goals are, look at the work you’re outsourcing or are considering outsourcing. The more you can bring in-house the better positioned you’ll be for the future. Also, bringing recruitment teams in-house — or using your in-house teams to find new recruits — can help hire people that better fit the culture and existing school tech team.

Improve the IT Hiring Processes

When looking at building out a complete IT staff for your school, it’s best to have a checklist in front of you and to review before you send out the first job descriptions or start the interviewing process. The hiring process itself can be difficult when you’re trying to balance everything while also maintaining your current IT infrastructure and keeping those digital trains running on time.

Districts that are the most successful in hiring school technology teams start with an attitude and openness that attracts talent, compares everyone fairly in different evaluation elements and looks beyond the resume for a holistic view of your candidates and where they fit within existing teams.

Here are a few leading tips to have a more successful school tech team hiring experience:

Double-Check Job Descriptions

Let’s go back to job descriptions again. These will determine what kind of applications you’ll receive. You might consider listing every single thing that you think could be important, but all of those responsibilities and attributes might get in your way. We’ve all seen jobs asking for 10 years of experience that only needed two years, but laundry lists can also do generalized harm to your candidate pool.

A report looking at the U.S. and Canada hires found that long lists of requirements actually alienate some of the best candidates for a position.

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Look at Social Media Interactions

School tech team members aren’t guaranteed to interact with students, but there’s a significant chance that they will. And, they’re virtually guaranteed to work with sensitive information about the kids in the district. Part of your vetting process is looking for red flags, and today many can be found on social media accounts. A quick look at public profiles might show inappropriate content or inappropriate interactions.

Add New Media Skills

Most school districts look at younger employees because they come with recent IT skills and tend to demand lower salaries. If you’ve got new-enough equipment that things won’t be too unfamiliar, this can make sense for your district, too. To help attract those younger users, you’ll want to appear to be a tech-savvy institution.

But now, new media demands are bleeding over into more age groups. For job-seekers aged 22 to 60, the vast majority want to work for organizations that are digitally focused and create digital technology opportunities. This includes social media, cloud development, database management and governance, plus new media advertising and communication elements.

Include Soft Skills, Too

Programming is often the thing that district leaders want to focus all of their attention on, because it’s the backbone of your position and teams. That’s definitely important, and you want to make sure that anyone hired has the right programming and development expertise that fits your needs.

However, narrowing the funnel once you have a large pool of applicants that seem to have the coding know-how is the perfect opportunity to start digging in to soft skills. Hard skills like programming can be taught and improved, even some very early on with training. But, personalities and characteristics typically cannot be adjusted or changed easily.

Look for candidates who have a medium to high level of social intelligence, because they will be interacting with a wide variety of stakeholders and staff. There are a lot of situations they will need to be comfortable in and, because IT can be frustrating, they’ll need to be able to handle stress and complaints that come from multiple angles.

This isn’t to say that you should foster an environment that beats up on your IT staff. It’s just about accepting the true nature of the IT space, especially in areas where people are interacting with new technologies or old infrastructure.

Turn Interviews Into Conversations

There are a whole host of interview improvement techniques, guides, lists and articles that you can use to get what experts feel are the perfect conversations for school tech teams — and every other position under the sun.

Instead of repeating that advice here, we wanted to leave you with one more thought: conversations tell more about people than checklists. Open up the format to more than just a Q&A by inviting the candidates to interview you and ask you questions.

Be open and honest about what’s going on in ther district. Honesty can help set reasonable expectations and make it clear what it’s like to work with your district and with you as a leader. Not only is it the best policy, but it helps to make sure you hire staff that stays on longer when they’re honest, too.

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Always Come Back to Education

School technology team building is educational at its core. Regardless of the way of building out talent and intelligence teams, the main focus will be creating, deploying and maintaining technology that is all tied to improving educational outcomes.

The more staff who come with a background in education, the easier it will be to meet those goals and improve operations at the same time. Education technology is a growing field and many new students are training for it right now. Practitioners who have grown with this technology will have an easier time relating technology to the learning experience, which will help your students.

If you keep education as the main focus, selecting school technology officers will help ensure district success for your team and your students.

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