My New Year's Resolutions

I am not one who usually makes New Year’s resolutions, for I invariably break them—sometimes before I can write them down. This year, however, things will be different. Instead of focusing on my personal life (lose weight, eat healthy, exercise more, read more), my resolutions will address my professional activities as chief technology officer of the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada. They are as follows:

Emphasize professional development. It is easy to forget about professional development. Equipment is working; programmers are writing code; we are not too far behind schedule on key projects. But right beneath the surface I sense a disturbance in the force that is caused by my myopic view of professional development. Like most, I have been using the same tired approach to staff training for years: very focused training (e.g., mastering new software or hardware) or generalized learning events such as annual conferences. What haunts me is whether or not I have prepared my staff to function effectively in a sea of change. Have I been sending them to conferences and workshops that focus only on today’s issues and problems or on their particular interests? I am shortchanging the district—and my staff—if I don’t sharpen the focus and variety of training so my team is better prepared to accept change, think out of the box, and help move the district and its technology program forward.

Always remember that I work in a school district. This is on my list of recurring resolutions. What separates working for a school district from working for any other type of business is that districts are involved with children ages 5 through 18. Although I have been in education my entire life, including a stint in higher education, I sometimes forget that ultimately everything I do has an impact on students. For example, the money my team helps save by improving a demographics system may result in increased availability of textbook funds. With the turn of the New Year, I have instructed my assistant to kick me in the seat of the pants any time she believes I am not acting in the best interests of schools and students.

Implement a new technology that has some risk. In the IT world, people get their kicks in different ways. For some, developing software turns them on, while for others it may be complex system design or team building. For me, it’s implementing new technology, helping people get started with it, and standing back as they do things that far exceed my expectations. There is always risk involved in such activities. There’s the risk of spending too much money, the risk of not succeeding, and the risk of turning your focus away from projects others deem more important. Yet most studies say successful leaders are risk takers. I am a cautious risk taker; that is, I try to check out the landscape before rushing into new projects. This year I plan to explore how I can get the administrative and instructional teams to take advantage of IP video conferencing and collaboration. It’s a big financial risk. We have already spent a considerable amount on sophisticated MCUs (multipoint control units) and Web-based scheduling packages; now we need to pay for several conferencing systems and dedicated staff support. In addition, there’s the risk of failure and how it would affect my staff’s morale, the future of video conferencing and collaboration in our district, and my ability to lead. Finally, a highly visible project such as this provides fodder for those who are always nipping at your heels.

Don’t forget the heuristics of professional behavior. I know I must be getting older when I am continually amazed at how some staff, and not just the younger staff, behave. The lack of professional courtesy seems to increase on an almost daily basis. For example, I am bothered by seeing those higher up the pecking order avoid virtually all warmth and “humanness” in their routine contact. So, this resolution is to remind myself to remember the rules of thumb that have helped me through the years. The first one is to never—and I mean never—send out an e-mail when I am upset or angry. I did this once 30-plus years ago with disastrous results and have tried ever since to not do it again. When something really ticks me off I will write the e-mail but then save it or put it in a drawer. The next day I tone it down, glad that I didn’t send it out as originally written. Finally, even though I am a generally prompt person who returns phone calls, I am going to try even harder to be on time (and not a gentlemanly five minutes late) for meetings and return calls even more promptly.

As I look at these resolutions, it seems strange that all but one of them focus on the human side of technology. On the other hand, maybe that’s not so strange at all.

Philip J. Brody is chief technology officer/assistant superintendent of Clark County School District in Las Vegas.