May the 4th Be With You 2021

Sorry…. I am old enough to know better, but still too young to resist!!

CoSN and the CETL

Yesterday, I got an email verifying that my CETL certification was renewed for another three years.

CETL Certificate

CETL stands for Certified Education Technology Leader. The certification is offered by the Consortium of School Networking (CoSN). CoSN was founded and continues to be an advocacy group for technology in education. At the Federal level the main areas of focus are: Broadband Access, EdTech Funding, and Data Privacy. They offer a lot of wonderful training in Cyber Security and Data Protection. In April, I was able to spend four days working with CoSN and the State of Florida helping facilitate cyber security training. CoSN is a fantastic organization, and I would encourage any educator from the US to look at getting your district to join. It does not cost that much, and your district is able to take advantage and get some really good training opportunities.

The CETL is the only certification (that I am aware) that looks at all aspects of an EdTech (education technology) job. Certifications like the ISTE certification or Google or Apple, are wonderful, but they look only at classroom practices. This is important, don’t get me wrong, and we need a lot more educators learning how to implement technology in the classroom. The CETL looks beyond the classroom. The certification is based on the Framework of Essential Skills. This framework has three pillars: Leadership and Vision, Educational Environment, and Managing Technology. The Pillars are developed further in 10 specific skill areas:

  • Leadership and Vision Provide leadership while working with the executive team to develop a strategic plan that will support the organization’s mission, vision, and goals with technology.
  • Strategic Planning Possess a high-level view across the organization and work with teams to identify steps needed to transform the educational and operational technology vision into a strategic plan in alignment with the organization’s mission, vision and goals.
  • Ethics and Policies Manage the creation and implementation of policies and procedures relating to the social, legal, and ethical issues involving technology use throughout the organization and modeling responsible decision-making.
  • Instructional Focus and Professional Development Budget, plan, and coordinate ongoing, relevant professional learning for all staff using technologies; ensure or recommend a sufficient budget through the implementation and assessment process of emerging technologies.
  • Team Building and Staffing Create and support collaborative teams for decision-making, technology support and professional learning in support of the organization’s mission, vision, and goals.
  • Information Technology Management Lead the integration of technology into all appropriate areas of the organization.
  • Communication Systems Management Use technology to improve communication and collaboration with stakeholders.
  • Business Management Manage the budget and serve as strong business leader who guides purchasing decisions, and fosters mutually beneficial relationships with vendors, potential funders, and other key groups.
  • Data Management Implement and maintain systems and tools for gathering, mining, integrating, and reporting data.
  • Data Privacy and Security Implement practices and systems to ensure the privacy and security of organizational data.  

The thing that impressed me most about the CETL is that it recognizes that it takes all different backgrounds to have success in technology for a school district. The district must have the leadership and vision to move forward with technology. A district needs to have excellence in education to be able to implement technology so it is more than just a gimmick. Finally, the district needs to have the 1’s and 0’s knowledge to keep things running, and keep the district’s information secure. CoSN realizes that people come to EdTech positions from all different paths. The school administrator that is simply made the CIO. The teacher that loves using technology to reach their student; so she is made a technology coach. Sometimes, it could even be the geek hired to keep the computers running that assumes a leadership role.

Enough of the commercials. Anyway, after posting a tweet yesterday about getting my re-certification, someone asked me to share my story.

MY CETL journey

I came into education through the backdoor. In the year 2000, I was an assistant manager with Target. I really liked working retail, but there was one problem. The company was growing so fast, that consistency in store management was non-existent. I would have a fabulous store manager, and then I would get a manager from HELL. Someone who thought the only way you could manage people was to make them fear you. The other problem with Target was that I was stuck. Their policy at that time was to make the most experienced assistant manager the logistics person, meaning I almost never left the stockroom. I was also unable to be promoted because my wife was making double my salary; so we were not going anywhere for my job, and to be promoted you had to be willing to move. I was the most miserable I had ever been. I do have the absolute GREATEST wife. She knew I was miserable, and supported me making a change. So I went back to school to earn another bachelor degree in Management Information Systems.

SIDE NOTE: One of the best days of my life was telling my boss on a Friday evening, that I was done. I normally would never encourage someone burning a bridge like that. It was the least professional thing I have ever done, but WOW did it feel good.

I spent the next two years going to school part time, and being a full time father to our son and daughter. After graduation, I ran into another little snag. You see most of the employers in our area were letting their IT staff go. They hired a lot of people for the Y2K problem, and two years later were still downsizing. No company wanted to hire someone who was pushing 40 and had no IT experience. So I approached the Hortonville, WI School District about volunteering two or three days per week. I figured I could count it like an internship. I could gain some experience and I could help our the local school at the same time. After a few months of volunteering the District Administrator told me about a job opening in another district and he would put in a good word for me if I was interested. 17 years later I cried when I left Winneconne for the move to Switzerland. We had accomplished a lot together, and the people I worked with made it a joy to go into work almost every single day.

My first couple of years at Winneconne, I really had to learn about IT before I could learn about education. My degree prepared me to be a programmer, or an analyst. My ideal job back then would have been to work in a development role, where I could have been the bridge between the programming team and the end users. Instead I found myself breaking the network during my second week on the job, because my boss wanted me to knock a hole in the firewall for an application the district had purchased. We were only down for about three hours, but it was the longest three hours, and I was sure I was going to be fired before I got my first paycheck. 🙂

After I became comfortable with the 1’s and 0’s of my job. I started working on the mission of the district. I was frustrated that here we were in the 21st Century, and we were using technology as a game. I started seeking out educators who were embracing technology in their districts. One of my mentors is Diane Doersch. I may be a little off on this timeline, but I believe Diane had been working as the CIO of Green Bay Schools when she earned her CETL. Diane is the one that introduced me to CoSN and the CETL. She knew I was looking for a way to continue meshing my IT role with the mission of education.

Working towards the certification helped me fully embrace what a school does. I started spending a lot more time in the classroom. Working with teachers, and helping to find ways to integrate technology into learning instead of simply using it as a gimmick. Another big way CoSN helped my district was teaching me about funding and budgeting. One problem that a lot of schools have is they look at technology as a cost center. When budgets get tight it is an easy place to find money. You know, why update the server farm? It is working, it has been working for 9 years. This cost could literally pay for a teacher. All of those things are true, but just let it ride, and what happens when the server farm dies, and you can’t write checks, or transfer money into the payroll account? The stuff gets real then! Working towards the certification led me to spend months working with our business manager to come up with a sustainable technology plan that allowed us to get computers into the hands of almost all our students K – 12th grade, as well as keep our VMWARE farm current, we also were able to start work on getting a 10GB backbone in place within and between school buildings. One of the things I am most proud of, is that when I left Winneconne, I knew that my replacement did not have to worry about figuring out how he was going to pay for upgrades, and that there was a really good plan in place to keep the district moving forward in regards to technology for at least the next five or six years.

The test was not easy. It took me over two years of study to pass the exam. In fact I failed it the first time I took it. The focus on the CETL is not that there is one right answer. The focus is on the process to get the right answer. The first year or so I studied, I looked at this like any other certification test. It was like beating my head against a brick wall. Once I was able to embrace the concepts that are preached all of the time in education.. You know what I mean Collaboration, Cooperation, Communication… Then I finally had the breakthrough and was able to pass the test.

My final anecdote about why every EdTech Leader should work towards this certification. It encourages and almost causes you to work with all the important people in the district. You learn to work with parents, teachers, administrators, and even students when you are rolling out new initiatives. When it comes to any new initiative if there is not enough acceptance for the change it will never get off the ground, and in technology change is the only constant. We all know the world kind of shut down last March and April. Last May I got an email out of the blue from one of the teachers in my old district. I am going to paraphrase the email she sent: I just wanted to take a moment and say thank you. When you were here, I used to think the training you wanted us to do was a giant inconvenience. I was wrong. I’ve been talking to my friends in other districts as they are struggling to do this remotely. I do not have those struggles. I would much rather be teaching in person, but you made sure we know how to use the tools, and that is paying off right now.

I have spent only a few days in front of a classroom as a substitute teacher. I am convinced, though, that I had a pretty big impact on the education of the students in the Village of Winneconne, WI for almost 20 years. I owe a lot of that to CoSN and the CETL. The certificate encouraged me to come out of my network closest and embrace using technology to help in the education of our students.

If you would like to learn more please visit If you are in the US you can find out if your state has a chapter of CoSN by clicking here.

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