Monday, September 21, 2009

The role of the ICT leader in Schools

This is an abridged version of the research I did into the role of the ICT leader. The readings blew me away - the role is perceived by ICT leaders or co-coordinators as complex and extremely difficult - and generally very frustrating. I thought that I would like to share some of the key ideas I found in my readings.

Research investigating the perceptions of their role as primary school ICT coordinators including exploration of their experience working within their role provides interesting incites. (Lynch, Wendy, Hobbs, Barry, Hollanders and Henry, 1999). This research suggests that the “ a picture emerges of highly unfavourable conditions making it unlikely that co-coordinators will be able to adequately fulfil their role.” (1999, p2).

This research goes on to identify three key areas for schools to be cognisant of. Firstly – the co-coordinators own anxiety around the challenges of the task. The levels of anxiety reported by ICT leaders in this study were high. Unless contained this anxiety can be transferred to others as frustration and criticism which is counter-productive to being able to empathise with the struggles of colleagues trying to come to terms utilising new technologies for e-learning opportunities in their classrooms.

The second feature identified was lack of training for the ICT coordinator. Training that is given tends to be around the technology, not around leading change in teacher practices.
Stratford and Brown (2002) suggest that there is a prevailing definition of ICT that is technocentric , rather than the leadership practices associated with the technology. New technologies themselves will not improve pedagogy of teachers or educational outcomes students . What is needed is professional development opportunities for ICT leaders around leading teachers to engage in e-learning pedagogy focused on improving learning and teaching.
“Successful implementation of change in ICT is not about equipment or software, but in influencing and empowering teachers, it is not about acquiring computer skills, but supporting teachers in the ongoing engagement with students and their learning.” (Leithwood and Riehl, 2003)
The third key area identified is the continuous pull into the role of technician and away from the role as ICT leader, leading learning. Many ICT leaders in this research reported that they were pulled in the direction of technician rather than leading learning. Most of the coordinators in this research had the belief that their priority was to work with staff to develop their confidence and competence but the reality was that their day was mostly spent troubleshooting. “The core need to keep the computers working and accessible to children meant that the time available for planning schemes of work and supporting colleagues was severely diminished.” This issue in turn increased the coordinators anxiety. “If his or her only way of dealing with the situation is either to succumb with inwardly held resentment, or to resist with outwardly expressed resentment at being put in such a position, the interpersonal processes that need to be understood if the role is to be properly fulfilled may be missed.” (1999, p 2).

However, the reality is that is important to ensure that everything that is working actually as it should be. While this task is non-educational it is still a vital part of the role. Teachers and students will not persevere and continue to try to use equipment that is either faulty or difficult, so keeping the systems problem-free is a means to enable the vision for ICT to become a reality. However this does not mean that the ICT leader should be the technician who is actually doing the troubleshooting. Schools may need to consider outsourcing technical issues to enable the ICT leader to fulfil their role effectively as well as training staff to take responsibility for simple day to day issues themselves.

Kennerwell et al report that ICT leaders often feel they lack the status of a school leader and that the size of the role should warrant. “They are usually appointed to the same level as the head of a small department, yet they have a very different and much bigger role……Furthermore, they feel that senior management does not understand the nature of ICT capacity, its place in the curriculum, or demands that its co-ordination makes on the post holder. (Kennerwell et al, 2000, p51). This research also reported that many ICT leaders had other roles in the school as well, such as full time or a significant class teaching load, many were either Deans, Deputy Principals, Team Leaders or Subject Leaders where they were expected to co-ordinate these roles as well as the complex role of ICT leader. An example of is given of a primary school teacher, “teaching a Year 4/5 class and co-ordinating special needs, PE, Games, Science, D & T and IT. The IT role was by far the most demanding and difficult to manage effectively. The school had two different platforms, unreliable printers, resistant staff and an old building whose layout and wiring encouraged teachers to point out the real organisational difficulties. No release time was available for the coordinator to deliver staff curriculum developments in the classroom, and there was little enthusiasm or incentive for teachers to remain after school to develop personal capability.” (Lynch et al, 1999, p2). The ICT leaders in this research considered they were undervalued in terms of resourcing their role and their status in the school, which undermined their ability to perform their leadership role. It was seen as an “impossible job”. (Lynch et al, 1999, p2). Kennerwell’s (2000) conclusion was that it was not the nature of the tasks that made the role difficult but the sheer number. “They do not see any one task difficult, but the fact that one person is often expected to do all of them, as well as being a specialist teacher either of ICT or another subject poses a challenge. They have inadequate non contact time, often no technical support, and frequently encounter a lack of understanding of the issues on the part of senior management.” (Kennerwell et al, 2000, p51)

In conclusion the role of the ICT Leader is the complex. Schools are different in the way they are implementing ICT in teaching and learning, but what is clear from the research is that the role of promoting and co-ordinating e-learning effectively in our classrooms requires careful consideration of how they are meeting the needs of the ICT leader. The role has competing demands upon time and resources. This is a high level leadership role, and should be resourced and rewarded accordingly. The ICT leader requires continuous support from both the principal and members of the leadership team. They require specialised professional development around leading a school culture that facilitates change in teaching practice. There also needs to be support given to ensure that the ICT leader is not the lead technician ensuring that they have time is to support teachers in leading learning.

Schools need to develop a better understanding and provide the support needed to meet the complex and increasing demands that are being placed on ICT leaders. The way students learn today has changed. The ICT leader provides a vital way forward for teachers to integrate e-learning in a meaningful way that engages and motivates our students as learners. It is important to identify exactly how supporting the ICT leadership role is best achieved in each school to enable this to happen.

The challenge is how do we do this within the resourcing and staffing that we have available to us? Any creative suggestions appreciated!


Kennewell, S, Parkinson, J & Tanner, H. (2000). Developing the ICT capable school.
London: Routledge/Falmer.

Leithwood, K.A., & Riehl, C. (2003). What do we already know about successful
leadership? Annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

Lynch, W., Hobbs, B., & Hollanders, H. (1999, November). Dancing on quicksand:
The role of the ICT co-ordinator in the primary school. Retrieved September 3,
2009, from

Stratford, R. & Brown, M. (2002). Towards a political understanding of New
Zealand's ICT strategies. Computers in New Zealand Schools , 14 (2), 3-9.


  1. Hello Sandy,

    ICT leadership in higher education is my orientation. There appears to be similar problems like the ones you researched and found. I am wondering if it is wise to shift to ICT identity in place of leadership!


  2. Hi Nicholas, Thanks for the post - I found this article on the role of the ICT leader really interesting - its a wonder anyone wants the job!

    Dancing on Quicksand

  3. Hi Sandy,

    There are a lot of excellent points mentioned. Senior Managers play a critical role in the implementation of ICT in schools. There needs to be a strong working partnership between the Principal, the ICT Leader and the teachers. Relationships play a critical role in this. Support needs to be given to ICT leaders especially around working with teachers, this could be through release, professional development and in class support. If there isn't then there could be reluctance to use the technologies and a lack of buy in from other staff members.
    Job Descriptions need to be made clear from the beginning over what the ICT Leaders job consists of and what is expected from the ICT Leader. As it can be easy for ICT Leaders to become technicians rather than focusing on the important aspects such as integrating ICT into teaching programmes/school wide, quality teaching, promoting the use of Web 2.0 programmes etc.