Tips for CIOs: How not to return to normal

'We are going to have to ask people the question, 'Was the way we did it before effective?"'
By: | June 28, 2021

Returning to normal may be the biggest challenge facing CIOs and other school tech leaders as they help students and teachers reacclimate post-COVID.

But, says former superintendent Peter Gorman, figuring out how not to return to normal is the real dilemma administrators face in the 2021-22 school year.

“You are going to see a huge amount of gravity to try to get back to the way it was before and we are going to have to ask people the question, ‘Was the way we did it before effective?” said Gorman, former superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, during the June sessions of District Administration’s Technology Leadership Academy.

Gorman, superintendent-in-residence of the District Administration Leadership Institute, joined the virtual professional learning academy to talk to CIOs and other participants about committing to continuous improvement as the education system emerges from the pandemic.

He noted that classrooms have changed very little over the past 100 years, which is not all bad. Instruction is still driven by teachers—and that’s a good thing—but other aspects have grown outdated, a situation that’s become even more glaring since the COVID-driven shift to online learning, he said. “Normal wasn’t so great for a lot of kids,” Gorman said. “We’ve mythologized the ‘good’ old days.”

Forward-thinking CIOs and other ed-tech leaders should be working to help teachers master technology that will further personalize learning and allow students a greater degree of independence in their studies. CIOs must advocate for such initiatives with the superintendent and the cabinet to prevent a “return to normal,” Gorman advised.

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He cited as an example districts that are breaking the mold of grade levels and instead grouping students based on the standards they have mastered. Administrators in these schools are pairing these initiatives with expanded digital coaching for teachers.

“The snapback will happen, but how far it snaps backs will be determined by what goals the cabinet sets,” he says.

That’s not the only threat

Cyberattacks are another major challenge that, though not directly related to COVID, will only intensify in the months and years ahead, Gorman said.

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To better protect their computer networks, CIOs should deliver monthly reports to the superintendents detailing any cyberattacks or hacking attempts against the district, Gorman recommended.

“Cybersecurity can’t be a budget afterthought,” he said. “It has to become a priority for the superintendent and at the school board level.”

The good news is that COVID revealed how deeply educators rely on technology, which has given CIOs a new level of influence over district leadership decisions, Lenny Schad, District’s Administration’s chief information officer, said during another academy session.

Schad and Tom Ryan, chief information and strategy officer for Santa Fe Public Schools, gave CIOs tips on establishing tighter governance in their departments.

“Calling it ‘bureaucracy’ can be an excuse for not implementing governance,” Schad said. “Governance is hard work and it takes a lot of courage.”

Governance can help establish that culture of continuous improvement and help break down silos between other departments in the district. It can also help CIOs ensure that other administrators, teachers and staff are not adding technology without the tech department’s knowledge, Ryan and Schad said.

For a CIO, establishing strong governance can be the difference between becoming a true leader or remaining only a manager, they said.

“If you’re the one that’s looking down the road toward the future, you’re shaping a culture around leadership,” Ryan said. “The role of the leader is to shape culture through change.”


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