Why CTOs at FETC are saying their roles have changed for the better
On the opening day of the Future of Education Technology Conference in Orlando, Eileen Belastock, director of technology and information for CoSN, and Diane Doersch, director of technology for the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools Initiative (VILS) with Digital Promise, hosted a packed house of CTOs, educators and others to interface and share the experiences of the past nearly two years since COVID turned traditional learning on its ear.
All agreed their roles have undergone substantial changes, most of which, while born of pain, are positive.
“Everyone has had issues,” Doersch said. “Every day has been a dumpster fire for all of us. We all went into on-call mode 80-90 hours a week. I was thrown into showing how to use Google Meet while on a Google Meet—impossible! We gave our cell phones to teachers and staff and even parents to make sure they had tech. That has all changed, but the burden and the stress continue.
“Still, the mere fact that your kids are coming back to school or learning at all is a victory. And we’re here to share and celebrate your victories.”
One of those victories: CTOs have a seat at the table they didn’t previously have. “We’re no longer just the ‘IT people,’” said Belastock. “We also deal with vision, budgeting, strategic planning. We’ve had to up our game and our goals, and it’s good—but it is a lot.”
One CTO from a small district in the Northwest elaborated, adding, “One thing we do now is we get together with the purchasing and finance departments, and now they have to check with us before technology can be purchased. It helps save time in the end, because we vet it first, and it’s working out well.”
Belastock also noted how having parent engagement coordinators onboard, like VILS does, is a major help because they can reach out to families that need their assistance with technology issues. As one attendee pointed out, “When people buy a new phone and they want to watch YouTube on it, they figure it out,” which drew knowing laughs from fellow attendees. “So they don’t always need the CTO if the problem they’re having is a simple fix.
“We’ve also found that student tech teams are an immense help because they can often take care of minor issues teachers, parents and other students have,” she said. One CTO said his school’s student tech team is paid to do the work, while another said the students on his tech team earn credits and other rewards. “And it doesn’t take much to train them,” Belastock noted. “These students can also show you where your vulnerabilities are. The kid who’s the hacker is probably one of your best student tech team candidates. You want him on your side. It’s a great way to empower students.”
And one lesson that Belastock emphasized drew unanimous agreement: Support your team. “I’ve had staff in my office crying from being burned out. If they need some time, give it to them. Do outings with them. Advocate for your team. I tell mine that I love them every day.”
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