How IT leaders can start the school year off right
The beginning of a new school year is always an exciting time. For a district’s IT department staff members, it is the culmination of all the hard work completed over the busy summer months. (Here are my recommendations for a summer IT work checklist.) For the IT leader, it is a great opportunity to set the tone for the year ahead and the expectations for the team.
Evaluating metrics, reviewing targets
The new year is also an opportunity to review metrics—such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) from the previous year—with the district’s leadership team. The IT leader will address the metrics’ targets—if they were exceeded, met or not met.
If the metrics’ targets were exceeded, the leadership team can evaluate and discuss the reasons why. They should also ask: Can what we did be applied to other areas? Is this metric still relevant, for example, or do we need to modify it? If it is still relevant, what new “stretch” targets should we set for the upcoming year?
The leadership team must also evaluate why any metrics’ targets were met and what might have prevented them from being exceeded. Among the questions to address are: Is this a relevant metric? Do we keep the same target, or do we feel the team is ready for a new stretch target?
The leadership team should spend the most time evaluating the metrics’ targets that were not met. It is important to first determine if the metrics were the right ones. As the former CIO for Houston ISD, I often found that the metric itself was not appropriate. It wasn’t that the team responsible for the metric didn’t meet expectations; it was that the metric was not aligned correctly to the body of work. But if the metric is relevant, the IT leader should meet with the responsible team and discuss why the target wasn’t met and determine what the barriers might have been. At this point, the IT leader, the leadership team and the responsible parties can plan a path forward. Does the target need to be lowered or kept the same? I rarely lowered the target, and instead focused on identifying what we could do as a team to achieve the target.
Celebrating achievements, setting expectations
Once the KPIs and SLAs have been reviewed and targets have been set for the upcoming school year, the IT leader should schedule a department meeting and discuss expectations for the new year. It’s important for the IT team to hear about departmental visions from the leader. What I found is that in lieu of real information, people will make up their own visions and versions of expectations.
The leader should set an agenda for the meeting. I liked to start with celebrations of the previous year’s achievements. The head of each area quickly highlighted some of their major accomplishments. Then, I would highlight the major accomplishments of the department, including recognitions, awards, articles and presentations.
The next step for the IT leader is to reiterate the department’s vision and highlight any modifications or changes. I always started the vision discussion with our guiding principle, saying: “We are a service organization.” I liked to talk about the goals of the school district and what those goals meant to the services we were expected to provide. I always made it clear that what we do each year is dependent on the district’s priorities. Our responsibilities: to be agile, to adapt and to deliver the right services.
I always made it clear to IT staff that what we do each year is dependent on the district’s priorities. Our responsibilities: to be agile, to adapt and to deliver the right services.
When I was at Houston ISD, our vision was to be the best K-12 IT department in the country. During the meeting, I would identify two to three departmental goals for the upcoming school year that would help us to achieve our vision. The heads of each area would also outline their goals. By doing so, the entire team could see how their goals and work aligned with the overall department’s goals. I would wrap up the meeting talking about our approved budget, staffing, and the issues and priorities of the district’s cabinet and superintendent.
At the end of the meeting, the IT leader should always leave time for questions or concerns. I think it is important for the leader to create an environment in which team members are comfortable asking questions and even challenging the leader on ideas and strategies.
After such a meeting, my office sent an email to all stakeholders communicating the upcoming school year’s KPIs and SLAs.
IT leaders should consider holding at least two more similar meetings, using the information outlined in the first meeting as the foundation.
To provide more strategies about leading a technology team, I am excited to announce that registration is open for District Administration’s first CIO Academy. The academy is a five-day professional development series divided into two 2 ½-day sessions. The first session is October 17-19 in Chicago, and the second session is December 12-14 in Chicago. The academy is intended for CIOs, aspiring CIOs, technology leaders and leadership teams. Discounts are available for districts sending multiple participants. To register, visit District Administration CIO Academy.
Here’s to a great 2019-20 school year!
Lenny Schad, one of the most prominent voices in K-12 technology leadership, is District Administration’s chief information and innovation officer and technology editor-at-large.
Interested in edtech? Keep up with DA's Future of Education Technology Conference®.