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Top 10 Digital Skills for Education Leaders

Here's what one educator expects from other school leaders.

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What level of technology expertise should we expect of our district and school leaders? To be clear, I’m not asking about their support for technology, or how highly they rate technology’s value to their schools and students. I’m talking specifically about what we should expect our school leaders to be able to do with technology. What technology skills should we expect of them to ensure their professionalism and credibility?  

Not to wax nostalgic, but I remember when district and school leaders were considered tech proficient if they could answer their own email. And later, when a few could create a PowerPoint presentation for a meeting, their staff was very impressed. But how far have our expectations expanded since then? What are the tech skills our district and school leaders need today?

District and school leaders have very demanding jobs. And most have little time during their days or their after-work hours to acquire significant new tech skills. So some leaders may wisely choose to have assistants and staff close by who can support and complement their tech deficiencies. That was certainly my modus operandi as I moved up the district administrative ladder. Even if it was something I did have the skills to do, I often didn’t have the time, and there were usually people around who could do it faster and better. Web page design? No thanks.

Still, I believe all of today’s district and school leaders should know and be able to do certain things with technology. Here’s my list of the top 10 things:

1. Respond to group emails without hitting reply all (unless appropriate). 

You may think I'm just kidding here, but really … this is a must.

2. Be proficient in using their district’s data systems

Most districts have online student information systems, learning management systems, HR and finance systems, and probably others, so leaders need to be competent users of these resources.  

3. Know how to use the Web to efficiently find credible information and resources. 

Good search strategies are a basic skill for all.

4. Know what technology tools to use to solve a particular problem or to meet a specific need. 

If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So leaders should be well versed in what’s possible with technology, even if they don’t yet know how to do it all.

5. Be able to evaluate quality digital instructional curricula. And also know how to successfully teach and take an online course. 

To be a good instructional leader, it’s important to know what defines good digital curricula, and also what constitutes good online instruction.

6. Be proficient in accessing and working with district, school and student data

Some leaders will be avowed data wonks, but all leaders should know, at a minimum, how to access, manipulate and analyze digitally available data resources.

7. Make a digital presentation that primarily uses engaging images and minimal text. 

Death by PowerPoint continues to be a common issue among educational leaders. So leaders need to be adept at delivering strong presentations without ever having to say, “I know the text is too small for you to read anything on this slide …”

8. Be able to Skype or use other live digital video communication tools

Leaders need to be adept in setting up and using digital video communication tools for interviews, remote collaborations, etc.  

9. Know how to use digital collaboration tools

Online collaboration tools, such as Google Docs, are a powerful resource that all leaders should be comfortable using.

10. Know how to effectively use mobile devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) and to select the productivity tools necessary to be most efficient in the administrative aspects of one’s job.

Leaders must be proficient in using digital tools to maintain and thrive in their work: collaborative calendars, virtual note taking tools, email management and the many cloud-based tools that can help leaders stay organized, connected and sane.

And here’s one more that I’m adding for bonus points:

Leaders need to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Leaders should be in control of how technology rules their lives. Leaders who are constantly distracted by their intrusive smart phones set a poor example for their staff. And leaders who are so immersed in their digital devices during meetings that they don’t fully engage with those present also communicate a message that needs to be reconsidered.

Others making such a list might also include the need for proficiency in social media. Sure. Leaders should be able to get connected with a virtual community of people who can inspire, support and help them grow in their work. And even if they’re not so actively involved in it, an awareness of what’s going on in the social media realm is important for educational leaders.

So that’s my list. What’s yours?