What District CTOs Can Learn from Curriculum Coordinators
Perhaps no educational role has evolved more quickly than that of the school CTO. With more applications being cloud based and students using their own devices, the “IT guy” is dealing less with maintenance issues, and more with synching technology with school learning goals. According to Keith R. Krueger, CEO of Consortium for School Networking, only about 20 percent of a CTO’s job is technical. “The other 80 percent is providing leadership, vision, and an understanding of the educational environment and the actual technology.”
As a result, schools are bringing CTOs into senior leadership discussions as members of the superintendent’s cabinet, and hiring those with education and curriculum backgrounds. As CTO roles overlap with curriculum coordinators’ duties more and more, there are several things CTOs can learn from these coordinators, who have been perfecting their role over years.
Efficiency with Budget and Time
A good curriculum coordinator implements strategies that are impactful, and yet work within dynamic school environments. Any change must fit into the pace of the school.
When adopting anything new, school leaders must shop smart. "With budget crunches and reduced human capacity in many districts, administrators want to see that anything they invest in is aligned to the district's general mission," says Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education. And you can’t shop smart without collaborating first. "We'd go out and buy something, but if we didn't ask anyone if it was instructionally relevant, it might not be used," says Bailey Mitchell, chief technology and information officer in Forsyth County School District (Ga.). Change takes time. Being a coordinator or CTO requires thoughtful decision-making to make the best use of that time.
A Collaborative Leadership Style
It goes without saying that when a leader’s style is collaborative rather than top-down, the adoption of anything new goes much smoother. Jill Tsoukalas, kindergarten curriculum coordinator for West Aurora School District (Il.), approaches teachers as an equal: "I'm not coming in here to tell you to change things and I could do it better. We're going to work together.”
Being relationship-driven is key. Effective coordinators develop connections with teachers, students, and school leaders. This helps break down historical silos and create bridges between departments. Rather than being punitive and calling people out, a good coordinator is supportive. “My job has nothing to do with catching people or being a judge against somebody," says Brian Aycock, elementary curriculum coordinator of West Aurora. "It's all about if I can see a way to help support you, I will."
CTOs can follow suit, and form technology adoption committees that consist of a diverse group of parents, teachers, administrators, and even community members. This helps ensure no one will feel territorial or defensive. "There can be conflicts between the technology people and the curriculum people," says Connie Louie, instructional technology director in the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "Those departments are not always talking to each other.” By holding regular meetings between technology and academic departments, relationships can be forged, and conflicts resolved.
A Learner Mentality
Curriculum coordinators continually seek new information to support current practices and develop new ones. CTOs can merge their start-up mindset with curriculum coordinators’ learner mentality. Leo Brehm, learning evolution officer at Central Massachusetts Collaborative, rebranded the Newton Public Schools (Ma.) IT department a “research-and-development team.” This try-fail-and-try-again mindset was at the heart of a three-year effort to incorporate technology in the curriculum.
Effective coordinators continually collect and study student data to drive decision-making. This has proven especially useful with at-risk students. After Gary Brantley, chief information officer at DeKalb County Schools (Ga.), used data to identify students at risk of dropping out, his district adopted software to identify at-risk students. During a six-month period, the software identified approximately 900 students, which helped the district develop programs to support these students.
Today’s school CTO is just as involved in curriculum decisions as a traditional coordinator is. They similarly need to stay on top of current pedagogy and curriculum research, all while practicing the softer social skills of collaboration and relationships. They must constantly think about how a new technology will contribute to the school’s efficiency and mission, and be smart about how they use money and time.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the role of curriculum coordinator were completely absorbed by CTOs in the near future - but curriculum coordinators know that effective change comes from a clear description of the results desired, one that can be articulated to the entire school community. This helps get everyone—teachers, school leaders, parents, students— on board. It also guides, without losing focus, what might be a lengthy process. For both curriculum coordinators and CTOs, early identification of goals is key to successful collaboration.