What happens in Dubai, stays in Dubai, right? Wrong.

What happened in the bustling, modern sandpit that is Dubai last weekend was too inspiring not to share. I was in town for the first ever JESS Digital Innovation Summit, which took place at the fantastic Arabian Ranches campus of JESS Dubai – who just happened to be Hable’s first ever customer in the UAE…

Saturday was a day for teachers and Sunday was for Heads. This split worked well and whilst the teacher’s day was amazing and very well attended – what I really loved was their approach to day 2 and their determination to make it a “pure” Headteacher’s event. In the UK, there are lots of events aimed at Heads, but to get the numbers up they also register other members of school or college leadership teams: Assistant Heads, Deputy Heads, Bursars, Business Managers, IT Directors – anyone who is on the Senior Leadership Team. If it’s a technology event, the people who attend are usually those who have been given strategic responsibility for IT by their school – and that, very rarely, is the Head.

So what? Why can’t Heads just get someone else to understand IT?

Because if they do that, then they will never learn about technology. And they really need to start understanding technology, if they are to be a successful leader of a modern organisation.

Okay, so why can’t they go along to the event, but take their IT expert with them? (which seems to be standard practise for many)

Because if they do that, then the Heads feel embarrassed about their lack of knowledge and “clam up”. They don’t take a full part in the day. Also, all the speakers (like me) can sometimes veer off into technical language to keep the IT experts happy – and then the Heads get completely lost.

It takes a brave leader to reject registrations from Deputy Heads and IT Directors – saying that they are not welcome at the “Leadership Day” of a conference. But that is exactly what Mark Steed (AKA The Independent Head) did for the JESS Summit. He explained to his fellow Heads at the start of the day, that he was sorry if anyone had taken offence at not being allowed to bring their Deputy – but said he firmly believed that they would get more from it if they were in a “safe environment” – away from the IT geeks and the techno speak. This allowed the Heads to put their hands up, without feeling embarrassed – and to ask those important questions about IT, which almost certainly everyone else in the room was wanting to ask too.

If you want to find out what happened at the event, then take a look at the Twitter hashtag #JESSsummit – there are stacks of useful tweets and interesting people who took part in the various streams. These ranged from iPads to Office 365 and from Coding to Future Schools.

But if other conferences could take anything from this event – for me, it would be a lesson in how to engage properly with Heads. Or for that matter, with any other “non-technical” business leaders in whichever market you operate. Get them thinking about technology and learning about it. Get them discussing how technology is impacting their organisations – and don’t, ever, blast them with jargon and make them afraid to ask “why”?


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