By Diane Doersch, CIO Advisor
Recently I was asked to answer some reflection questions regarding my job as a chief technology and information officer (CTIO) for a book an acquaintance is writing about different types of jobs available in the field of education. The reflection question was, “Describe your prior experiences and the path you took to get to this career.”
While many people say they were always interested in technology, electronics, or other shiny things, my career pathway was a journey with the following experiences giving me the skills for what it takes to be a successful CTIO today. I think those experiences may surprise you:
- Farm Kid - I learned the value of hard work, endurance, and teamwork. The farm can be unforgiving, requiring round-the-clock work that doesn’t have snow days or summer vacation.
- Young Mom - Being a young mother taught me how to multi-task, how to separate home life from my professional life, and time management. It taught me the human side of myself and the young ones depending on me. Thus the start of my teaching passion and mission.
- Server / Bartender - I learned vital “people” skills as well as customer service. I used my bartender opening lines at my first interview that landed my teaching job.
- Classroom Teacher - Working with children reinforced in me that I had chosen the right profession. A way to impact the future is to help our youth develop into independent thinkers and learners. I drew inspiration from my students. I learned about all the resources it takes to help our children reach their learning goals.
- Teacher Leader - During the 21+ years I taught I took on leadership roles within the district that helped me learn about systems and the development, management, and sustainability aspects of the technical schema or system in general.
- Adjunct Faculty for Universities - Those experiences taught me how to work with educators and administrators in a leadership role. It helped me build my professional learning network, resources, and research-based pedagogy. The experience allowed me to hone my organizational and presentation skills.
- Organizer of Professional Learning Events - I have organized professional learning for students, staff, and community. This has helped me to create learning experiences for all types of learners. Differentiation in instructional methods and opportunities for personalized learning has helped me reach larger audiences in the work I currently do.
The educational journey that eventually got me to the CTIO level may be typical or atypical:
- I taught grades 4 and 5 for 11 years.
- I earned my Master's degree in educational technology through a two-year weekend cohort-based university.
- I taught computer applications for grades 6-8 for 10 years.
- I became the technology leader in my original school district and the director of technology one year later. after earning my technology coordinator certification in a two-year program.
- I moved to a larger school district as CTIO. I now manage 12 teams and a technology staff of more than 40 people.
If you look closely, notice that I said nothing about learning how to use Ethernet punch tools, how to assess a wireless network, or how to write RFPs. All those things came as just-in-time learning on the job. In fact, my best training for items like these came from my job as a homeowner when my husband and I met with various contractors for a new air conditioning system.
To be a CTIO, in my opinion, you need to have grounding in the art and science of education. After all, educators and students are most of your end users. You have to be an open vessel for learning, with one foot in systemic thinking/planning and the other foot in the management of a variety of teams who all work toward a common goal: providing technology to a system that educates students. Part of the job is as an active translator, being about to explain the technology vernacular so all stakeholders can understand what is needed to help reach our goals. Another component of the job is the communications aspect. Because technology is one of the major systemic supports of the school system it is important to keep everybody informed with relevant information and a clear view of our direction. Lastly, you have to be a lifelong learner full of curiosity and “what ifs.” Not one day goes by where I am not learning something new from my staff, from my Twitter professional learning network, or from new material I read. A constant desire to build efficiencies in our system and my “wonders” always lead me to new thoughts and adventures.
I often say I have a great job because I appreciate the variety of people and topics I work on. I did not begin my journey as an educator with the goal of becoming a CTIO. As my love for students and teaching grew, so did my awareness of technology’s potential to transform the educational process. By combining my passions for technology and the learning process of our students, I have been able to carve out a pretty cool niche for myself. The job of a Chief is a grueling job and not one for the person who wants an 8-to-5 job, but for me, it’s been a magnificent journey that brings great reward. Every day at work validates that—yes—the experiences in my past combined with my existing passions has brought me to this place of excitement and innovation. I’m definitely in the right place!
Diane W. Doersch is chief technology & information officer at Green Bay Area Public School District in Wisconsin. Follow her on Twitter as @DoerDi.