Who should lead on digital in your school? It’s a question I’m often asked. Many think it should fall upon the shoulders of the Head of Computing, as that’s the most logical person to carry forward any digital projects. Some think it should fall to somebody with teaching and learning responsibility. Some think it might be the bursar or the designated safeguarding lead or the data manager in the school. Whichever way you look at it though, some of them will have the requisite skills in isolation however cumulatively, many will not. As demonstrated in this recent tweet from someone already in post, the role is broad and complex:
Digital strategy, DR Plans, Critical incident plans, DPIAs, Data Protection Policy, Confidentiality policy, AUP for staff, students, visitors, business continuity plan, staff handbook, school handbook, t&c, SLA, escalation policy.
Yes, all I do is turn it off and on
— Matt (@msetchell) May 12, 2021
Take for example a Head of Computing. For sure, they will be a technical expert in the use of software and programming linked to the Computing curriculum, but are they really the right person for the role? Sure, they’ll be technically proficient, but are they best placed for the role? Bear in mind too, due to the shortage of staff of their calibre, it may be a false economy to dilute the primary purpose of their role by having them take on a wider leadership project that would significantly reduce their time in the classroom. Plus, do they have the relevant acumen for the other aspects of the job? Whilst they may have technical experience and knowledge, are they mindful of teaching and learning strategies beyond that of their subject area? Good use of technology for learning is often far removed from the various aspects of the Computing curriculum. There are many aspects to the role to consider.
It is therefore fair to say, that the ideal candidate for a Digital Leader is someone who is a bit of an all-rounder, who of course understands digital, cares passionately about pedagogy, teaching and learning and more, but who also has the additional experience that embraces areas such as:
- Financial governance
- Digital citizenship
- Using technology for learning
- Information services
- Data protection
- Data Privacy
- Network management
It’s not an exhaustive list and for the most part, digital projects aren’t solely about technology. It’s more about its implementation, application and sourcing, as well as relationship-building, negotiating the best deals, getting buy-in from staff and seeing the bigger picture of the possibilities it can bring to all areas of your school or Trust. From the classrooms to your admin offices – and for everyone from students, teachers, SLT and receptionists to the site maintenance staff there are many aspects to consider.
In his book, ‘The Leader Who Had No Title’, Robin Sharma says,
“Basically, to lead without a title is to derive your power within the organisation not from your position but from your competence, effectiveness, relationships, excellence, innovation and ethics.”
That’s an excellent starting point for a Digital Leader. But if they are to be successful in the role, schools should really consider making them part of the leadership team. This will give them the agency to drive the school’s technology vision forward and the message to other staff will be that the school is serious about improving its digital impact. It then follows that they will have more respect for what the leader is trying to do and will be more likely to work with them and lend them their support.
Working with others
Knowing what a good one looks like, seeing how the school can improve on what it already does with technology and being aware of the sources of advice that are readily available to the school are essential for the role. It’s sensible to call on external people for checks and balances; there’s no rule against doing that! So whether it’s using your governors’ contacts in the industry or a specialist consultant, a Digital Leader can validate your school’s approach. They don’t have to work in a silo. It’s about them using their nous to ensure that the school’s money is being spent wisely, that what it’s spent on has had a proven impact in other schools – and working with specialists outside of your school is a natural part of that.
Being finance savvy
Of course, with digital projects, finances play a big part and ongoing costs need to be factored in. It’s not just a case of buying your solutions and paying for training – you’ll need to consider your refresh cycle, so a long-term view is essential. For example, it may be tempting to choose cheaper hardware, but it’s a false economy if it only does half of what you will need it to do in the future as your project develops.
A Digital Leader will be proactive and savvy enough to know, for example, that many hardware resellers will allow you to negotiate a bespoke trial deal on multiple devices, wi-fi or other hardware purchases for your school. There’s nearly always a deal to be done there if the reseller is potentially going to get a sale out of it further down the line and then there’s the knowledge of procurement processes, procedures and rules, due diligence, so forth and so on.
And of course, knowing what areas will invoke ongoing costs is essential to prevent any surprise demands on your digital budget in the future. Here it is also important to be mindful of what you are entitled to or want in any SLAs (Service Level Agreements) you might have with your providers.
So, I would suggest that the Digital Leader should be someone who has a firm grounding in business knowledge, as well as a thorough understanding of what’s needed when it comes to teaching and learning, digital citizenship and safeguarding and so on. In other words, just like your curriculum, someone whose experience is broad and balanced, to ensure the best value, returns and implementation can take place. It’s a tall order!
Finding the right fit
It doesn’t need to be the person with in-depth knowledge about every detail; rather, they need to have an overarching understanding of the requirements for each area, have business acumen, be a facilitator and able to work closely with those in the school whose roles can be enhanced by technology use.
Many schools will consider firstly any existing members of staff who can present a wide skill set for the role and elevate them when they prove things can work. However, if there is nobody in your school that fits, then think about recruiting specifically for the position and develop a job description and person specification that covers the attributes and experience you need. Every leadership project will inevitably hit bumps in the road, but getting the right person from the start gives your school the best chance of digital success later on.
If this post is of interest to you and you’d like to learn more about my approaches, offers to support schools and more, please do not hesitate to get in touch via the comments or via my contact page.