Incoming CEO Talks about His Past and His Future with ISTE

Posted By Andra Brichacek. Originally published in The Daily Leader

So you think you’ve had a busy week? Just imagine what it was like for Brian Lewis, ISTE’s incoming CEO. Between meeting with ISTE Board members, corporate sponsors, and the press; making appearances at keynotes, receptions, and other events day and night; and learning all he can about ISTE, the native Californian hasn’t had time to meet as many members onsite as he would like. He was able, however, to answer a few questions for the Daily Leader that may also be on some ISTE members’ minds.

Daily Leader: How has your background prepared you to lead ISTE?

Brian Lewis: I’ve been fortunate to work for a unique mix of outstanding education organizations at the local, state, and national levels. I also have relevant private sector experience, including marketing communications work with a regional telecommunications provider. Beyond that, I’ve served on and staffed a number of nonprofit boards, including service as an elected school board member. Education policy, leadership, advocacy, change management, governance, and branding are all part of my background. They’re the skills ISTE was looking for in its CEO search, and they’re the things I’m eager to bring to bear within the organization at this time of increasingly rapid change and growth in educational technology.

DL: What do you hope to achieve with ISTE in the coming year and in the long term?

BL: ISTE has a very clear mission: to advance excellence in learning and teaching through innovative and effective uses of technology. Everything we do must drive us toward fulfilling that mission. The ISTE Board has set a number of goals for itself, including an introspective look at governance, how we advocate, how we listen to and communicate with our members and stakeholders, and how we partner. There’s a lot for me to absorb, and I’ll be focused on working with the entire ISTE community to position the organization for the future it sees for itself. That will be true in the coming year and in the long term.

DL: There are a lot of educational organizations around today, including many that address educational technology and digital age learning. How should ISTE distinguish itself from the others to be the go-to ed tech organization?

BL: Differentiating ISTE in the educational technology space goes back to our mission and particularly the notion of excellence that we articulate as part of our organizational DNA. We are truly a global organization. Continuing to maintain our advantage and grow in an increasingly competitive and noisy landscape drove a good part of the conversation in the recruitment process. This issue of positioning and branding is critically important for nonprofits to address, though not many do. Or if they do, they often don’t do it well. It’s work I love and look forward to doing with ISTE.

DL: You have extensive experience in legislative advocacy. What can ISTE do to better position itself as a legislative advocate for ed tech on the national and international stages?

BL: The legislative advocacy piece is directly related to your question about ISTE distinguishing itself. We have this incredible brain trust among our leaders, members, and staff. We have the strength of international reach. And we have passionate and supportive partners. As technology continues to evolve ever more swiftly, its role in education will be at the center of every public policy debate, both in the United States and around the world. From reform debates like Common Core State Standards in the U.S. to mobile technology that allows greater access to educational opportunities in developing countries, ISTE can be a catalyst, a key partner, and a recognized expert. ISTE will be in all these conversations with policy makers and other thought leaders, mobilizing our members’ expertise and influence on behalf of students.

DL: You also have experience overseeing an association’s governance restructuring. How do you think ISTE’s proposed governance restructuring will affect members?

BL: ISTE is exceptional in having such a visionary board. Its focus on best practices in nonprofit governance is noteworthy, because pursuing these changes in nonprofits is difficult, often controversial work. It takes courage on the part of a board. So the ISTE Board’s adoption of the Carver model of governance is just that much more impressive. It says that how they do their work is as important as the work itself. It undergirds the ability of the board, staff, and volunteers to serve our members and mission. The benefit to the membership is a transparent, mission-focused organization that spends its resources on organizational priorities. The benefit to the broader community is the knowledge that the organization operates with integrity as it does its good work.

DL: What experience do you have with educational technology?

BL: Let’s be real clear about this. I’m not an education technology guru. I’m an entrepreneurial education nonprofit leader. My work in ed tech has been as a policy leader and advocate. Whether it was as a local school board member or as an advocate at the state level or in Washington, D.C., my role has been working with the leading experts and our partners to drive effective ed tech policy and funding, and being able to do so effectively because I understand the process and the people. That said, one of my first priorities will be to immerse myself in the world of educational technology, marrying my skills and experiences with the latest issues, ideas, and concerns of our members.

DL: What excites you most about coming on board at ISTE?

BL: I’m a student-focused education advocate. I believe we can’t lose sight of our responsibility to help students reach their potential. Students are teaching us about technology as fast as we’re teaching them. As these digital natives grow up, they’ll take their place as future teachers and ed tech leaders. Technology will increasingly be at the center of continuous education change, and I’m committed to partnering with ISTE’s members, leaders, and staff to lead those changes. I can’t wait to get to work.

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