Educational Technology Leadership Today: Advocacy, Planning, Communication and Empowerment

July 27, 2017

This article was written by Dr. Chris Diggs, Director of Technology Services at Columbia Public Schools.

Leadership in today’s 21st-century education technology departments is a fast-paced, continuously evolving enterprise. The effective education technology leader must be capable of leading others to support school district needs effectively. The ed-tech leader must also understand technology’s role as a catalyst for personalizing education. As technology is integrated into all areas of school districts, from classrooms to the board room, locker rooms, departmental offices, and student and teacher homes, it impacts every student, employee, and parent. The increasing demands on technology departments coupled with rapidly emerging technologies require visionary leadership guided by a clear sense of purpose. The effective technology leader serving today’s educational environments must be capable of serving as an advocate, a strategist, a technologist, effective communicator and team builder who empowers others.

As an advocate, the effective education technology leader can motivate, inspire, and support employees around a common purpose.  Daniel Pink (2009) discusses purpose as the key for intrinsic, authentic motivation. Today’s technology leader must be able to hire and develop employees who are committed to supporting and furthering the school district’s vision as their ultimate purpose. It requires a sound understanding of the educational environment and razor sharp clarity of purpose to make the constant decisions requisite within the fast paced technology landscape. A technology leader who is sensitive to the needs of others and can facilitate responsive support is one who will ensure the best customer experience as technology becomes increasingly “forward facing,” impacting all areas of both instruction and operations.

Operationally, today’s education technology leader must be a strategist capable of leading both adaptive and constructive change. It requires the ability to align staff around continuously evolving demands and roles. Strategic planning for efficient and successful systems implementations as well as accurate budgeting, resource allocation, and asset life cycle planning are essential requirements for the 21st-century ed-tech leader. Time management, budget management, asset management and the ability to balance innovation with wants and needs are also important skills for the successful strategist who can respond to changing needs and the increasing “forced obsolescence” from hardware manufacturers. Additionally, knowing when to monitor events and when to take action are important  for managing and directing efforts in support of goals and objectives aligned with the school district’s mission and vision.

As an effective communicator who can define the technology department’s role in support of the school district’s vision, the education technology leader must be able to communicate across diverse stakeholder groups, leveraging emerging technologies to communicate efficiently and clearly. Being able to clarify purpose and understand the use of symbolism to focus efforts are other elements of being a successful communicator. Articulating the vision for technology’s role in education and being able to gather, analyze and organize data to communicate technology’s impact on the educational environment is also essential.

As a technologist, today’s ed-tech leader must be able to understand and interpret technical concepts, including principals of systems security, information security, disaster recovery, network performance measures, as well as compliance and accountability requirements. The successful education technology leader must also to stay abreast of emerging technologies in support of continuously evolving instructional initiatives. Increased digital learning initiatives require reliable, optimized network infrastructure 24/7. Learning can happen anywhere, anytime. Therefore, being able to deliver and support reliable, equitable access to digital resources are critical requirements for today’s technology departments and their leaders.

Finally, being an effective team builder who can develop and empower cohesive, functional and cross-functional teams is essential for today’s technology leaders so their departments can deliver responsive, agile support for their students, teachers, and parents. Fostering teamwork requires team building skills, conflict management skills, and utilizing progress monitoring tools to promote shared responsibility for effective collaboration. The leader must demonstrate strong ethics in order to promote trust because trust is an essential part of high functioning teams (Northouse, 2010). Motivating teams around shared goals dedicated to furthering the organizational mission will result in a 21st-century technology department that delivers value to all areas of the school district.

Today’s education technology leaders navigate an ever-changing technology environment while balancing wants and needs with constantly emerging innovations. As an advocate, the successful leader must remain sensitive to the attitudes and feelings of others, empowering them to reach their fullest potential. As a strategist, the effective technology leader must be a skillful planner and negotiator capable of managing and balancing conflicting demands for resources. As a technologist who efficiently grasps and understands complex technical concepts, the successful ed-tech leader can translate those concepts into action. Moreover, when serving as an effective communicator, today’s 21st-century educational technology leader can build effective, agile teams capable of supporting instruction, operations, and personalized learning initiatives for today’s schools.



Northouse, P.G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Pink, D.H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books. New York, NY.

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