10 Essential Strategies For Leading A Technology Department

Terry Freedman boils good leadership down to a handful of key principles.
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Terry Freedman boils good leadership down to a handful of key principles.

1: Have a vision
This is really important, and the starting point for any leader. You may be one of those people (like me, in fact), who hasn't got the time to mess about in meetings discussing visions. However, you cannot get away from the realisation that, if you don't know where you're going, you will never know when you get there.

Having a vision is essential for everything that you as a leader must do, from pulling your co-workers together so that they work as a team, through getting more money from the powers-that-be, to enjoying the success of your students' achievements.

2: Have a plan
There is one huge problem with many visionaries: they think that having a vision is enough. Well, that's merely daydreaming. After all, you may have a vision of becoming the President of the United States. But unless you get off your couch and actually do something about it, the rest of us won't be holding our breath.

What you need to do is have a plan. Say your vision is that every student will have access to technology whenever they need it, and that by the time they leave your school they will be very digitally literate. What sort of timescale are we talking about? Five years? So what are you going to do in each year in order to realise your goals – bearing in mind, too, that you will need to be ready to change your plans as circumstances change?

3: Have a scheme of work
Those kind of lessons where you decide to do something off the cuff based on a news bulletin you heard on the drive in to work are great. A good teacher can have the kids on the edge of their seats, virtually begging for more when the bell goes at the end of the lesson. But you can't expect every teacher to be thus blessed, and in any case there is such a thing as accountability.

For example, if someone asks you, "How are you addressing No Child Left Behind through technology?", I don't think you really want to be saying "Dunno, We just do whatever lessons take our fancy."

Bottom line: you need a scheme of work that says what the students will be taught, and when, and how that addresses the bigger picture in the forms of the whole school vision, State or national technology standards, and national requirements like NCLB. You can still have the odd inspired and unplanned lesson – but as the exception rather than the rule.

4: Have documentation
I'm a great believer in the staff handbook. For one thing, it tells new recruits what they need to know. It also serves as a point of reference, both internally and externally. For example, a good staff handbook will tell people what the department's marking policy is, and how it demonstrates its commitment to excellence, gender and racial equality and so on.

5: Have a team
By which I mean, of course, that a team is more than just a collection of people. Regular meetings, delegation of responsibilities as well as tasks, openness to new ideas—all these and more make for a great team.

"Ah", you say. "There's just me, so I don't have a team."

Wrong! In that situation, your team is merely less well-defined. You have to make sure other teachers are on your side, and helping you to promote your tech-related goals. How? Well, think about what you could do for them. Courses in how a digicam can enhance any curriculum area, perhaps? An after-school tech "surgery" once a week? Don't worry, you will think of something!

6: Have a budget
It's hard to achieve goals when you don't have a budget of your own. The sort of Principal who says "Don't worry, the money will be there when you need it", is actually not being all that helpful.

You need to plan for capital spending, ie buying the equipment in the first place, and for what is called the Total Costs of Ownership (TCO). The TCO are the costs of keeping it all going, and includes, for example, technical support costs. There is a pretty good summary of it here.

7: Learn from others
I'm sure you work in the best school in the known universe, but you can still learn from others. For example, is there a gender bias in technology examination results school? If so, how have other schools addressed this problem? Are there websites that showcase good practice in your School District? (Local is better than national or even State because there's more of a possibility of visiting.)

8: Have professional development
This is related to #7, of course, but I'm talking here about people rather than an entity called a "department" or a "school". PD should be regarded as both an entitlement and a duty. By ensuring that the members of your team keep up with their technical and pedagogical skills, you are providing a basis for both commitment on their part and, all-importantly, the best possible teaching for the students.

9: Learn to delegate!
This is by far the hardest thing to do if you are a roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-on-with-it type of person. By giving people "ownership" of a particular area, whether that be addressing the needs of high-fliers or organising the PD program or taking responsibility for a particular unit in the scheme of work, you will be building the foundations for some creative and excellent thinking. And you will be less likely to collapse from overwork or stress!

10: Tell the world!
What's the point of leading a great department, if nobody knows? Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope, if the school is providing you with a small fortune to pay for the equipment, don't you have a duty to reassure all concerned that they have made an extremely wise choice?

Invite the Principal in for lessons. Create a newsletter for parents. Offer to give the powers-that-be a report each semester. Make sure the students' work festoons the walls inside and outside your classrooms. Run taster sessions for your non-techie co-workers.

You see, telling the world does not have to be quite as obviously self-aggrandising and self-serving as you might think!

Terry Freedman is a U.K.-based education technology consultant and publishes the ICT in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the electronic newsletter "Computers in Classrooms"

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