ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, June 16, 2021: Exploring New Roles and Responsibilities

In this gathering of the ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, participants pondered the changes that have come to the leadership role of technologists in independent schools, including acting as trusted guides for the many complex technologies that are now desired at their schools.The technology leader has a new sense of authority, but also new responsibilities. Leaders need time to reflect and reassess the nature of technology at their schools alongside other school leaders, but they also need to look to their teams and assess what to keep and what to let go. [10-minute read, 1 - hour video]

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ATLIS Virtual Town Hall, June 16, 2021

The ATLIS 2021 Undaunted Retreat on July 24-27 in Seattle presents a one-of-a kind opportunity for technology leaders to set aside the time they need to think about where their schools are now and where they need to be in the future. We asked some of our VTH participants why they are planning to join us. Here are some of their answers:

  • The need to get away and think
  • Connecting with colleagues 
  • Structured time for reflection and “doing the work” that needs to be done
  • Revisiting the ideas and information presented at April’s Virtual Conference 

At our last meeting we discussed how schools are redefining themselves, the expansion of AV support under the aegis of tech leadership, and summer planning (R&R for tech team vs.needed tech updates).  We asked our VTH participants to tell us more about what is happening at their schools regarding leadership shifts.

Leadership Shifts

How are the conversations about technology different at your school since the pandemic? What shifts have you experienced in your role as a technology leader? What are you focusing on improving in your own leadership skills repertoire?

Technology leaders now have a raised visibility. Along with this comes new pressures to succeed. Technology leaders have gained new responsibilities throughout the pandemic and must take the innovation part of the job seriously, planning for the future and strategizing. The pandemic also gave school stakeholders more confidence that the tech leadership can actually handle the responsibilities beyond just plugging things in and making things work. 

Technology leaders have learned todraw clear lines about what others need to do vs the tech team. They don’t need to be babysitting Zoom all day. They need the time to actually do the reflection to develop a vision of a path to the future.  You’d be surprised how quickly you can learn to say no if you are truly focused on customer service. There is a new authority in this, and constituents are now able to hear that no.

One way to do this is to brainstorm with other leaders about what the new normal really  is. Not just a wishlist, but a new vision of what existed before. There needs to be discussion of what school leaders want the future to look like and more talk about the big picture, not just tech team but a conversation for everybody. 

Previously, members of the school community had little understanding of the complexity of their requests. The pandemic has made senior leadership reflect more holistically in their decision making. They now know they can’t just leap to accommodating learning right away. 

There has also been more publicly stated recognition of that complexity and the work of the technology team. Other school leaders are getting better at articulating why tech happens a certain way at our school, even if it looks different elsewhere. We pay greater attention to privacy issues, for instance. And we’ve become better at explaining the why as opposed to just saying no. 

Concise, accurate documentation of our technologies has become paramount -- and it is now important to distribute this information across divisions. We are employing greater standardization across the board, rather than reacting to the individual needs of vocal parents or students.

New Challenges Ahead

What are the particular challenges arising for you and your tech team as your school transitions into its “new normal”?

  • Leveraging outdoor spaces
  • Staffing 
  • Expectations for constant success

Being successful during the pandemic has been a blessing and a curse, creating its own problems of expectations that are not sustainable.

We need to think about what we need to abandon. What do we keep or expand? Do we really need Zoom for all the things we used it for? Maybe, maybe not. Parents now expect to be there without being there. We need parameters around this. 

How will the school handle streaming of events? Will this new AV expectation fall under the purview of the “tech empire”? What new skills are required? How does this affect the budget? What are we taking away from the team’s responsibilities if we are not adding new staff to do this? Or would it be better to outsource this responsibility?

The shift to more AV gives us an opportunity to educate entire school about copyright -- and find the funds to support buying rights when we need to. Maybe this is essentially a communications issue or the tech is needed for the Athletics and Fine Arts departments primarily.

People Power

Staffing has been a concern all year. How do we get the talent we need when there is a scarcity mindset? Taking on more responsibility as the director means we also need to protect the team. Ultimately we have to ask how we are going to spend our “people power.”

The technology leader provides a reality check. When someone bring on a new initiative, it’s the tech leader’s job to let them know just how complex it is.

One problem that remains in technology departments specifically and senior admin more broadly is the lack of administrative support. If we had someone to handle password changes, deal with vendors, and use basic skills as a helpdesk assistant, that would be great. Right now many tech leaders may be the highest paid help desk personnel on the payroll.

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