Long-term school technology plans (along with pretty much all plans) went down the drain in the spring of 2020. So why suggest a 10-year technology plan when we were recently reminded how quickly our plans are shattered by the unexpected? Instead of creating a rigid technology plan and getting caught up in the details, schools should develop a technology framework. By developing a resilient technology framework, schools will be equipped to make adjustments and shifts on the fly regardless of what happens.
This pyramid represent a framework that is flexible, resilient, and able to adapt to how rapidly school technology changes.
Security + School Mission & Values
It’s vital to note that the entirety of the pyramid and all pieces of your technology strategy should be built on the foundation and through the lens of Security and Diversity/Equity/Inclusion. These core values, along with your school’s mission and overall community goals should inform your more technical decisions. Those overarching strategies will be pivotal in determining how to select and implement your technology solutions. It’s important to “go back to what it is you want to accomplish and then determine how technology can be that lever and help realize your vision and live by your mission.”
For example, as The Overlake School in Redmond, Washington was updating their online hiring process, they made sure to connect the dots between the function of the technology and their mission of better supporting their DE&I efforts. By using the lens of mission/vision, Overlake was intentional in crafting the tool to reflect those goals – building in screening questions for potential hires to self-identify race, ethnicity, gender identity, etc. “It wasn’t just about streamlining or launching better software, but also helping the school reach some of our strategic goals,” says Jay Heath, Director of Technology.
It wasn’t just about streamlining or launching better software, but also helping the school reach some of our strategic goals.
From here, schools can zoom in from the school-wide mission to craft a technology mission statement that align itself with the former. That is to say that your technology mission and values should reflect, compliment, and be in agreement/support of your school’s overall mission. Every department of the school exists to help the school better live its mission. In the case of technology, how easy it is for the department to feel like an add-on or “other” – as if they exist to solve problems in systems they had no part in architecting. To combat this, the closer the technology office can align itself with the school missions and integrate with those goals, the more seamless and intuitive it is to be brought into those foundational conversations.
To communicate this clearly, it is vital that Technology departments create their own mission and vision statements to sum up simply why they exist and what they ideally look to contribute to the learning environment and overall school community. This statement should act as a litmus test for any initiative. It’s not something that you write to put on your website and be done with it, but hopefully it is something that is emblazoned on the walls of your office and used to pass everything you do through.
Culture of Data/Tech Empowerment
“Our Head of School likes to say that “Culture eats strategy for lunch” and I think anyone involved in developing a strategic plan knows that it won’t go anywhere if the culture doesn’t support it,” says Heath. For The Overlake School, creating a cultural shift was a large part of making their transition to Veracross. By removing gatekeepers and making data accessible to more school community members, Jay and the rest of Technology Department hoped that it would support the overall vision for people “to comprehend and control the transformational power of technology.” The departmental vision informed the technical decisions and linked the “why” and “how” or data culture. Heath sums it up, “I really want people to be able to access data for their own needs.” It could be a parent trying to access schedule information for their student or a teacher accessing data to illustrate a lesson on statistics, but all pathways should be as clear as possible to encourage the use and leveraging of data – thus bolstering the data culture.
Our Head of School likes to say that ‘Culture eats strategy for lunch’
Another large piece of data culture falls on the Technology staff. By rejecting the impulse to just provide an answer, the Technology Department can equip users to better command their own data. Heath urges, “Stop infantilizing users by giving them the one piece of data they are looking for, but instead empower users to find the data that they want via live links to workspaces and queries.” Create a culture of learning amongst faculty. Provide full scope, self-service resources for families. Use whatever means you have to instill the value of technology skills and not just the data or end product of the technology.
Focus on the Future
What schools need to focus on are solutions that aren’t built to predict and solve the specific challenges of the future, but solutions that can adapt to whatever the future holds. To do that, there are some simple steps to review your current software solution: conduct a system audit, review your vendor’s roadmap, assess the flexibility of the system, and lastly, emphasize future users rather than current. By looking critically at the cost and impact of applications in place, schools will be better equipped to make decisions for or against current and future student software solutions. The roadmap evaluation will give schools a better look at what promises their vendors are (or will eventually) living up to and where they are (or might in the future) fall short. When it comes to flexibility, make sure to look at not only what the product does, but at what stage the product is provided to you. Do you have customization options? Do you have access to the building blocks or just the final product?