The changing role of the CIO (Part 2)

A look at how school technology leaders can be ‘schizophrenic chameleons' by managing processes and procedures while taking risks and pushing boundaries


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.
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.

In the first part of this series, I discussed how the landscape for every organization is changing quickly. This change is driven by consumer digital technology and automation, and is causing organizations to reevaluate how they are doing business. I also talked about the type of technology leader you are: traditional or transformational. In today’s K-12 environment, technology leaders must be both. We must be able to manage our organization’s expectations against the reality of our current state. To do this, we must be able to lead by:

  1. improving (the traditional CIO role)
  2. influencing (a bridge between traditional and transformational roles)
  3. transforming (a new role)

For the remainder of this article, I will address the ways technology leaders can begin moving beyond improving so they can start leveraging and enabling technology to help change how their districts operate.

A couple of months ago, I read an article discussing how the role of technology leadership needs to change. In it, the author said today’s technology leaders must be “schizophrenic chameleons.” Part of their role is grounded in very traditional brick-and-mortar technology activities such as governance, best practices, process and procedure. The other part now focuses on disrupting, taking risks, making changes, pushing boundaries and including emotional change management.

The first step in embracing the technology leader’s new role is to deeply understand the K-12 business. As the leader, you must spend time learning about curriculum and instruction (C&I), finance, school management and facilities. The key is to learn from the perspective of the business, and not from the perspective of technology. Spending time learning what the business unit is focusing on and trying to accomplish will be the foundation from which you can begin talking about technology and possibilities. I would suggest starting out with the C&I department because that is where the most change should take place and where technology can be an asset to transformation.

I challenge each of you to identify three people in the C&I department: a superior, a peer and a subordinate. Begin building a relationship with these individuals. Learn about their roles and the goals they have established. Talk about the challenges they are facing and, specifically, any technology issues they might be experiencing. You will be building the influencer bridge. Don’t try to change the world immediately. Take your time to build credibility with these individuals. This might require spending time back in the traditional role of addressing and improving any foundational technology issues they are experiencing, but this is a good thing: Time spent on improvements helps build credibility.

As the technology leader, you can begin having transformational conversations once you have established a strong foundation of credibility and you understand the goals and challenges of C&I. The key to having successful transformational conversations is to embrace collaboration and communicate in terms that C&I staffers will understand. For years, I have heard people discussing “techie talk” and how we, as technology leaders, must be able to speak in terms that others can understand. I fully embrace that, but I think we need to go one step further. We need to understand C&I terms. The transformation will occur once technology and C&I departments come together to think outside the box and solve problems differently. This is where you can be a storyteller, opening your business partners’ eyes to what could be. Transformational conversations are dependent on you becoming an advocate by communicating the art of possibility.

One word of caution: When you begin to have these transformational conversations, remember that as the leader, you must balance the desired state (what could be) with the current reality. Helping your colleagues understand that transformation is an evolutionary process is one of the most difficult challenges you will face. If you embrace a collaborative mentality, the evolution will be a partnership and expectations will be aligned. If you don’t embrace a collaborative mentality, the evolution will become “us vs. them.”

In conclusion, I go back to that old Midas commercial with the expression: “You can pay me now or pay me later.” Changing how we lead isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. We, as technology leaders, can be proactive and help guide our school districts to really embrace transformation. Or we can be reactive and find ourselves experiencing:

  • shadow IT emerging across the organization
  • marginalization of the IT department
  • compartmentalization of the IT department into a break-fix role

Be patient; building relationships takes time. In the end, the relationships are what matter most.

Read: DA’s CIO Summits to focus on changing roles

If you want to learn more about this topic, I am excited to announce District Administration‘s new professional development series for CIOs. As a former CIO, when I attended an event, I wanted it to be thought-provoking, to challenge me on a strategic level and to provide takeaways for my district.

The theme for our 2019 CIO Summit series is “The Changing Role of the CIO.” We have engaged a powerhouse lineup of speakers who will provide practical leadership and strategic practices that you can take back to your district. 

Beyond our speakers, our summits will provide hands-on learning activities that will allow you to dig deeper into the content presented. You will also spend 2 ½ days working closely with your peers and establishing new and, hopefully, long-lasting professional relationships. 

For more information, I invite you to visit

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 the Future of Education Technology Conference®.

Lenny Schad
Lenny Schad
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.

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