Roundtable: The Inspiration Driving Women in K–12 IT Roles
EDTECH: What drew you to technology and an IT position at K-12?
HOWELL: I taught special education for three years and started using technology on Fridays with my students. Writing was difficult for my students who were on an IEP, so I started implementing Google Classroom and Google Docs. My students could choose different topics, start a Google Doc and share it through Google Classroom, and then I was able to collaborate with them on this document.
Their writing improved because they had a spell checker. Some of my students started using dictation. That’s what hooked me: I saw how confidence in my students increased. I was able to customize the comments.
LEARN MORE: Find tips for creating a class and browsing other features in Google Classroom.
MANAHAN: I started my career as a high school French teacher and devoted myself to educational technology because it was a necessity for me. Being a French teacher in the middle of the cornfields, how do I bring this world to my students? We were lucky, even then, to live in a world where technology made it possible.
Then my superintendent came to me when our tech director left in the middle of the year, and he said, “You’re the perfect tech person out there. I’ve seen you do a prom. “I’m pretty sure you can handle all the craziness that this entails.”
TEAMANN: They saw me as a very technical administrator. I’ve always operated in a way that leverages technology to achieve my goals. Technology didn’t intimidate me and I wanted to make sure our students and staff were prepared to handle what was being thrown at them.
When I came across the newly appointed superintendent, he had a chance and asked me if I would be interested. I said, “I don’t know anything about networks, switches, and servers.” And she said, “If you can run a building, you can run a department.”
SCHAFFER: I had been a high school social studies teacher, and even in that role, I had always been a leader in ed technology in my building. I was one of the few people who started and piloted Google Domains for the district. I love education and teaching in general, any subject, any level, and I have always been involved in technology. So I joined as a new specialist in building technology.
EDTECH: What challenges have you faced with your K-12 computer function?
HOWELL: Where I made some mistakes in my career: I started with the problem of education. I would send a survey and, as my job is technological, I would ask, “Do you need help with Pear Deck?”
I quickly realized that I had to start with, “What problem are you dealing with and what tool can we use to help you?” I have learned from my mistakes.
MANAHAN: My tech coordinator is a man. If we go to conferences together and meet new salespeople, they always assume that he is the director. I’ve found myself in some situations where certain audiences don’t take me very seriously. This is usually a one-on-one situation.
Once at a conference, I was co-facilitating a roundtable session with a man, and my questions had no answers. He started talking about something and suddenly people started participating.
DISCOVER: Attendees share their key points from CoSN2022.
SCHAFFER: I have a circle of friends in this space that came together because we were women of color, and we went to conferences and we didn’t see a lot of people who looked like us. We started attracting people to make them feel comfortable, because there’s nothing worse than going to a conference where no one looks like you and no one talks to you.
EDTECH: Where did you get your inspiration from female leadership and technology?
SCHAFFER: All the women in my circle are very similar to me: they are at the forefront of their parts of the world. They are definitely leaders, women like Nicol Howard, Sarah-Jane Thomas, Sandra Paul, Carla Jefferson, Shauna Whitei Tammy Turlington.
MANAHAN: I’m very fortunate to have a great network of men and women, but I’ve also had some very strong female leaders here. In Indiana, in our State Department of Education, our principal was Candice Dodson. She was a great woman who was in building technology for a long time and was really a champion for other women in the field.
HOWELL: I think we have over 3,000 members in our Gold EDU group. It was a vision I had for something small, and it got a lot bigger. And now this piece is able to help many different educators around the world.
TEAMANN: Wendy Eldredge, the superintendent of Crandall ISD, is fantastic, and not a sort of status quo leader. His ability to see the strengths that align with the goals of the position is a great stimulus. With their help, instead of being intimidated by a set of skills I didn’t have, I was able to see the skills I had that could transform departments.
EDTECH: What leads you to continue working in early childhood education at 12 in turbulent times?
SCHAFFER: I love education. I love learning, and I love being able to bring that love of learning to students and teachers and even parents.
During the pandemic, technology specialists were the main ones to help teachers make this transition to the line. Most of my teachers had already been doing all these things, so they were very comfortable.