What Are CTOs’ Biggest Communications Challenges?

Charlene Blohm and Dennis Pierce led our first CETL Summit at the 2015 Annual Conference. This is the first post in a four-part series reviewing communications strategies discussed during the Summit. 

According to an informal survey, school district chief technology officers (CTOs) find it more difficult to communicate internally with their superintendent, school board members, principals, teachers, and other district employees than with external stakeholder groups such as parents and the media.

Before the first-ever CETL Summit in Atlanta on March 19, we queried participants about their biggest internal and external communications challenges. More than half gave us their opinions.

  • Respondents said their most important internal communications goal is getting their boards and superintendents to understand technology’s value and budget accordingly. The toughest challenge rated 3.56 on a “challenge scale” of 1 to 5: getting principals and teachers to understand, support and try new technologies.
  • Superintendents are the most important internal stakeholder group for CTOs to communicate with, the survey suggests—followed by principals and then school boards.
  • We also asked CTOs for advice in communicating effectively within a school district. Their keys to success include: persistence, celebrating success, holding regular face-to-face meetings, and making sure that all stakeholders understand the district’s ed tech vision and know their roles in making it a reality.
  • As for communicating with external stakeholder groups, survey respondents said their most important goal is earning community support for their ed tech initiatives. This also was considered the hardest challenge, followed closely by being seen as a thought leader or innovator. But these challenges rated only 3.12 and 3.08, respectively.
  • Respondents ranked external stakeholder groups by descending importance: parents, community leaders, voters, the media, colleagues in other districts, and state officials. They considered themselves least effective in influencing voters and the media.
  • Eighty-five percent of respondents have been contacted by the media. Their lessons for dealing with the press include: being positive, being truthful, crediting others, being brief, and choosing your words carefully.
  • Sixty percent of CTOs have been involved in a communications crisis. They advise responding quickly and letting all messages flow through a single, articulate district spokesperson.
  • Forty-six percent of CTOs have submitted an article for publication in an ed tech trade journal. They recommend writing clearly, being concise, and using the pronoun “we” instead of “I.”

During our CETL Summit presentation, we suggested attendees maximize their value as a school district CTO by communicating more effectively with both internal and external stakeholder groups.

The Certified Education Technology Leader (CETL) program is a CoSN-led initiative to certify the skills and qualifications of school district CTOs. There are 135 CETLs from 22 states. To learn more about this designation or to register for the exam, go to http://www.cosn.org/certification.


Charlene Blohm is President and CEO of C. Blohm & Associates, a public relations firm specializing in the education and special needs industries.The former Editor in Chief of eSchool Media, Dennis Pierce is now the owner and Chief Content Officer of Pierce Publishing, a freelance writing and content marketing consulting firm.

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