Jun 10 2024

Building an Inclusive K–12 Technology Team Starts with Mindset

While districts might not be able to compete with private industry for IT talent, they still have a lot to offer.

If you had asked me a year ago if Sumner County Schools would have a Wi-Fi 6–capable network in time for the start of school in fall 2023, I would have said, “No way.” When we decided to go one-to-one, we knew we needed a network that could stand up to an extra 20,000 devices daily. As we discussed the technical parameters and timeline with my IT team and our director of schools, it seemed like a long shot.

And yet, here we are one year later, and we have a new network. Students in our middle and high schools now have access to a robust network that supports learning on their one-to-one devices.

I’ve seen a lot of change in my 17 years with Sumner County Schools, 11 of which I’ve spent as assistant director for information services. We are in a much better place technologywise than we’ve ever been, thanks to the incredible team that I work with every day.

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While we are not educators, Sumner’s IT team is deeply dedicated to the success of every student. The work that we do, especially our recent network overhaul, helps to prepare our students, our teachers, our buildings and our network for the future.

Because we have such a light team, we at times have to turn to outside vendors such as CDW for our network modernization project, but the daily work is done by our internal team. We achieve the impossible on a regular basis because our team members really care.

Creating an Attractive School IT Environment for Job Seekers

Getting and retaining top talent is essential for any IT team, but finding the right staff in the education industry can be a challenge. According to the CoSN 2024 State of EdTech District Leadership survey report, my fellow technology leaders “cite the inability to hire skilled staff as a top challenge, ranked second behind budget constraints.”

One of the things I learned early as an IT director was that I had to grow a lot of that talent among those I hired. In education, we can’t always offer the most competitive pay; however, we are able to attract and keep staff by recognizing their talent and developing them from within.

RELATED: Learn how a network upgrade improved learning at Sumner County Schools.

This is a win-win. I’m building a team that not only works cohesively, but team members have detailed knowledge of our system, how it all works together and what their coworkers do in that environment.

We also encourage them to get any relevant certifications they might find interesting. For example, if I have a team member who is interested in network administration, I support them in getting those certifications or that training, and then I set them up for advancement on the team.

Selecting Candidates with a Desire to Lead

Part of building a strong, cohesive IT team starts at the very beginning when you’re selecting candidates to work with your crew. You have to think about how their personalities are going to work with the people you already have on your team. I also look for candidates who have a willingness to grow, and as a manager, I commit to fostering that growth. I encourage teamwork and knowledge-building.

DISCOVER: Here’s how education leaders can support their successors.

Every member of my team has risen to the occasion when it was needed. Each of them has expressed from the beginning a desire to not only do the work but also be part of the team. They are all willing to take the lead and see projects through to completion. This is why I can proudly say that the work my technology team is doing today is leaving a legacy that will last for decades.

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Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.