20 Years in Edtech, 20 Lessons Learned

Curt Lieneck is legendary among independent school technology leaders. When he began posting tweets last Fall gleaned from his decades of experience in the field, we paid attention. Happily, Lieneck has allowed ATLIS to collect his wisdom into this blog post. It's actually 21 tips, but who's counting. -- SD [10-minute read]


1. Don't excuse yourself from tasks your team members do. When hundreds of laptops arrive, you help offload and inventory them.

2. It’s OK to say you don’t have “a few minutes” if you don’t. Being infinitely available puts you behind on big stuff. Set up times for quiet work. Stick to them. Let others know when you’ll be free to follow up with them.

3. Tech support can be mind numbing. Feed good people opportunities to grow. What are their strengths? Can those be extended? Are they ready for more stimulating duties? Staff turnover is costly. Don’t let drudgery be your enemy.

4. The best vendors build true partnerships with clients, not just buying and selling. They make you better, you make them better. Candor and trust make it work. If you have to settle, so be it. But seek the enlightened ones first.

5. Context is king: When sharing communication, always provide your audience with some “why”along with the “what.” If you don’t, be ready to clean up the mess that invariably occurs as people make up their own “whys." 

6. As IT leaders we are eager to empower others. But some people aren’t the least bit interested in being empowered. If you’ve made genuine efforts to move someone along with no results, move on. There are better uses for your time.

7. Build a solid relationship with the Operations team. Snowing hard? Help shovel. Invite them to IT celebrations. Do carline if they're short staffed. Your school will be well served if both groups work in total harmony.

8. Lean into uncomfortable conversations. Avoiding them causes things to fester. Do prep work ahead of time. Practice what you want to say. Questions > than statements. Earn others’ trust by being calm yet direct. You can do this!

9. When you or your team repeatedly encounter the same obstacles to progress, it’s not the people. It's school structure. Success should result because of structure, not in spite of it. Stumped? Look for structural issues.

10. Be sure to celebrate wins with your team. If it’s OK with your CFO, squirrel away some budget funds to pay for snacks, simple decorations, etc. Doesn’t need to be fancy. Keeping morale up is important.

11. IT should for sure fund pilots for divisions looking at new curricular tech tools. If fully adopted, divisions need to own them like they do other tools. Having skin in the game ensures new tools get used. IT retains $$ for other new pilots.

12. Book as many meetings as you can on 1 or 2 specific days in the week, back to back to back if possible. It helps meetings end on time and allows for big chunks of time for project work on the days with no meetings. 

13. Sometimes IT leaders get trapped in a cocoon and aren’t sure of decisions they are pondering. Find a few level-headed, candid, trustworthy people outside your team who will speak truth to you. Their input is invaluable.

14. Purchasing practices in schools vary. Work with your CFO to be alerted when tech purchases others want to make cross his or her desk. Inventory, support burden, and privacy issues could arise if you don’t.

15. Team members should be coached on how to disengage from ill-mannered user behavior. You as tech leader need to protect your team. Follow up promptly with the user. If necessary, include the user’s supervisor and/or HR. Do clear and concise documentation and share it with those involved.

16. PD days for faculty and administrators sometimes neglect other staff members. New challenges in tech are part of their workload. To recognize their important role in the school community, schools need to design PD sessions for their specific needs.

17. How many hats do you wear at school each day? School parent, friend, tech director, project lead with vendors, budget manager, coach, dorm parent? Be clear about which one you are wearing at any given time. It’s easy for communication to become snarled when hats get mixed up in the close-knit communities of independent schools.

18. Want a more effective admin cabinet? Give the tech director a seat at the table. The TD works with *everyone* and brings a school-wide perspective siloed groups can’t. If your TD isn't at the table, you’re missing a valuable asset.

19. Avoid Sunday night blues. Use Friday p.m. to review weekly goals met. Set goals/plans for the week ahead. If you must work weekends, so be it. If you can choose, only do it if it helps you, not to please others. Stay away from your inbox.

20. Weak links disrupt teams. Give team members regular feedback; don't wait for annual reviews. If termination is on the table, engage HR to ensure proper procedure. Seek candid feedback on your performance as a leader, including supervisor, team, those you serve.

21. Tech Leaders need each other to traverse this crazy IT landscape. Last lesson by way of Bill and Ted: “Be excellent to each other.”


Curt Lieneck is a retired tech director and teacher, from University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. He was an early member and supporter of ATLIS, as well as a member of the original ECATD faculty (now the ATLIS Leadership Institute). He was honored as an ATLIS Pillar Award Winner in 2018.

You can follow him on Twitter @CLieneck.

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Comments on "20 Years in Edtech, 20 Lessons Learned"

Comments 0-5 of 2

Jason Ramsden - Thursday, February 25, 2021

Wise as always, Curt! Well done, sir. Cheers.

Mike Taverna - Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Thank you for your inspiration, Kurt! It was so good working closely with you during the early days of ECATD. Cheers! Mike

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