Professional Development

What Can Ed Tech Certification Do for You?

A variety of programs can help K-12 technology professionals boost their knowledge and prepare themselves for the expanding demands of their jobs.

Certification Teaser

When Frankie Jackson moved into her current role as CTO for Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in Houston, she knew that her strong technical background and computer information systems degree would both serve her well. As a computer programmer who had worked her way up through the ranks for 20 years, Jackson also knew that she had no instructional experience — which she would need to guide Cypress-Fairbanks into the 21st century.

To fill that gap, Jackson completed two different technical certification programs. The first was a voluntary program of professional certification and continuing education offered by the Texas Association of School Business Officials. According to TASBO’s website, the program provides “recognized standards of professional competence for school business administrators, officials and specialists for the state of Texas.”

Then, on the day that Jackson was offered the position at Cypress-Fairbanks, she sat for CoSN’s Certified Educational Technology Leader test. “It was just kind of uncanny that it occurred that way,” Jackson said. “I had a unique opportunity to take these new skills that I had learned through the CETL program and directly apply them to my new job.” According to CoSN, CETL is based on “a body of knowledge defining the skill areas critical to today’s education technology leaders: leadership and vision; understanding the educational environment; and managing technology and support resources.”

Together, these two certifications helped Jackson round out her skill set and learn about classroom teaching, student challenges and how to maintain instructional focus in an era where technology is literally changing everything. Jackson says she also sharpened her communication skills, particularly when it comes to expressing tech-related visions and missions to school superintendents and boards.

“Superintendents typically come up through the educational/instructional environment,” Jackson said. “It’s important that scientifically inclined CTOs be able to talk at their level and do a better job of communicating with them. The certifications have helped me to do that.”

Connecting Technology and Learning

Today’s K-12 technology professionals have access to numerous certifications designed to expand and explore new areas beyond just technical know-how. As CTOs like Jackson have already learned, national certifications like CETL, Leading Edge Certification and ISTE Standards (formerly NETS) — as well as state-specific options like TASBO — help bridge the gap between technology and learning.

Keith Kruger, the CEO of CoSN, commented, “Whereas a lot of technology leaders hold Microsoft- and Cisco-type certifications, these options increasingly don’t make sense for today’s CTOs.” To earn the CETL designation ($299 for CoSN members and $499 for nonmembers), technology professionals must take an open Internet test based on the organization’s online prep guides. Completion time varies based on the individual’s pace, according to Kruger.

“The course framework is the basis of both the exam content and our study materials,” said Kruger. “While no one resource will ‘teach to the test,’ all materials are aligned.” In return for their investments, individuals come away with a national credential that must be kept current (via a regular renewal process) and that is recognized by 70 percent of K-12 superintendents and heads of HR, according to CoSN’s internal research.

From her CETL certification experience, Jackson said she learned core values and skills related to effective communications and how to be flexible and adaptable in the changing K-12 instructional setting. She uses that framework to establish strategic objectives for IT, and then quantifies the results based on those specified objectives.

Certification also established her as a lifelong learner. “I’ve been in this field for 20 years,” Jackson said. “What's there not to say about why it's important for me to continue to remain current and hold certifications that are valuable to my district?”

Competency-Based Credentials

According to a recent survey by the Texas K-12 CTO Council, school technology leaders are well aware of the changing nature of their jobs. When asked, “What are some new job expectations that are required of you as your district's technology leader?” respondents said that they are being asked to do more with the same staffing levels and budget they had 10-plus years ago.

Also, according to one survey respondent, “In years past, we were focused primarily on the technology components of what it took to keep schools operational, like finance, SIS, Internet access and communications. We didn't have to go deeper and further — it was operational in nature.” The contemporary CTO, by contrast, needs to be integrated in all aspects of education, including budgets, planning, IT and instruction.

Five years ago, Mike Lawrence and his team from the Leading Edge Alliance started exploring the various certifications available to K-12 CTOs and IT directors. “At the time,” he said, “the only program we found was the CTO Mentor Program run by CETPA in California.” Seeing an opportunity to build out its own offering, Leading Edge rolled out an online and blended teacher certification in 2010, with Lawrence as its founding chairman. Leading Edge has since introduced additional offerings geared to administrators, digital educators and professional learning leaders.

Lawrence says the goal of the expansion was to go beyond the typical IT training approach and focus on classroom learners from a holistic perspective. For a fee of $450 to $750 (depending on the specific course) and a time commitment of roughly six to 12 weeks, tech leaders can learn about digital citizenship, digital literacy, responsible use of online tools (by students), best practices for 1-to-1 implementations, project-based learning and mobile learning, among other subjects. (The first three subjects are posted online here. Click on “explore the curriculum” to see more.)

Throughout the Leading Edge Certification course, learners build out portfolios that are reviewed by three different people who decide whether to award the certification … or not. “They give feedback, advice and suggestions,” said Lawrence, “and give students the chance to redo their work if it’s not up to par.”

Those who pass Leading Edge’s muster are awarded a graphic badge that can be displayed on a blog or website, or in an e-mail signature. According to Lawrence, “It’s a way of recognizing expertise that goes beyond the typical master’s or doctorate-level experience, and it gives technical professionals a way to distinguish themselves in a way that doesn’t require a multi-thousand-dollar commitment over many years.”

The 12-Week Initiation Strategy

CTO Jackson, who has reaped numerous rewards from her own professional certification approach, believes that the investment of time and money will pay off handsomely for the IT professional who wants to go beyond technical competency. “I basically refer to the CETL as my ‘12-week initiation strategy,’ ” said Jackson, who helped secure a $1.2 billion bond ($218 million of which was allocated for technology infrastructure) shortly after coming onboard with Cypress-Fairbanks. 

“The certification program not only helped me transition into my new role, but it also provided a foundation for working with a large community in an expanded setting that included many different stakeholders,” Jackson added. “In short, I came into it feeling well equipped to start managing this district.”