Sadly, EdTech Misunderstands the Best Way to Gain Saturation in the Classroom
Congratulations! You have created the “next big thing” in education and it’s time to share it with the world. You know your goal is to get it in the hands of teachers and have them inspire the world using it so you can begin to build saturation in the market.
How do you do this?
You might think that your first step is to attend conferences. You set a goal to attend local conferences and sign up to attend a national conference such as ISTE, FETC, or TeachBetter. You might spend your time standing behind a booth or, perhaps, setting up a series of 1:1 meetings with district leaders. You notice that the tables where you left your discount coupons are now empty. You wait … you wait … you wait … nothing happens.
You then decide to find the biggest watering hole where you know teachers gather and SPAM it with Tweets, FB Posts, Pins, and Subreddits. This also backfires because you are seen as being “too commercial” and your reputation begins to get tarnished before the first student ever has the opportunity to test drive your “next big thing.”
Finally, you purchase a national database of school building and district leaders and decide to create a marketing campaign that involves sending emails to everyone in the two-comma club sharing the reasons why your “next big thing” is all that and more.
If this sounds like a road that you have been down before … it might be time to change your strategy a bit.
How Can an Educational Technology Company Enter the Classroom?
Traditionally, when thinking about ways to get your product into the classroom, there are two paths:
- Introduce your product to administrators and after purchasing, it gets pushed to classrooms.
- Share it for free with teachers who will then “sell it” to district administration for mass purchase.
Where traditionally, these are good options and ones that are still being used today, there is one option that many EdTech Brands overlook. This one requires a bit more work on the end of the company, but in the end, has a much greater reward and ultimately has the opportunity to turn into a much greater reward for all that are involved (and ultimately, the student)
Who are the Instructional Coaches in a school district?
The first thing for any company to know about Instructional Coaches is that they are all certified and former teachers. Many Coaches enter the profession after completing 10+ years of working with students in the classroom.
Second and equally important is the fact that Instructional Coaches are content specialists. No matter if they are Tech Coaches, Digital Learning Coaches, Science Coaches, ELA Coaches (or other), the Instructional Coaching position is staffed with extremely valuable content specialists.
When a building deploys not just one, but multiple types of Instructional Coaches their teachers walk into the classroom each day knowing that they have an abundance of support in meeting both curricular and digital learning standards as well as having the ability to meet the needs of their administrator and the school community.
When it comes to the relationship that forms between an Instructional Coach and Teacher, it must be one that revolves around mutual trust rather than the concept of “the principal forced us to talk to each other.” Because of this, there is a little part of the Instructional Coach that needs to function as an EDU-Therapist when they walk into the classroom.
It is extremely common for coaches to walk into classrooms and spend 5-10 minutes talking about nothing educational. These personal conversations are what pave the way for more educational and curricular conversations when support is needed. A coach that is strategic can often start a conversation by asking about the weekend or the weather and then weave in a very subtle “I see that you are working on …. how are your students doing with this topic?”
Masters of Adult & Student Learning
If you think spending your day with 25+ middle school students where a new batch rotates every 50-90 minutes is exciting, imagine what it is like working with passionate adults who struggle to find an exciting 3 minutes out of an entire day to go to the bathroom.
What do school districts expect from Coaches?
Masters of the Curriculum
To become an Instructional Coach, educators must first be content specialists. They need to know how to teach their subject, create curriculum for their subject, and most important, think outside of the box on their subject. Tech Coaches or Digital Learning Coaches must be not only able to support curriculum of all subject areas, but they also have the added responsibility of being able to support the infusion of digital learning tools and standards into daily activities.
Co-Teachers in the Classroom
One of the best roles for Instructional Coaches to play in the learning process is as a co-teacher in the classroom. By building strong professional relationships with teachers, coaches when teamed with the classroom teacher provide a dynamic addition to any lesson.
Having an extra pair of hands or eyes in a classroom can not only allow a classroom teacher to be supporting multiple students at the same time, but they also have the opportunity of leveraging the strengths of their coaching counterparts.
District & Building Leaders
In addition to being support for teachers both in curriculum & lesson creation and in the classroom as co-teachers, Coaches are often used as both building and district leaders. This could take the form of being a member of school/district leadership committees or as professional development providers across multiple buildings.
How does Instructional Coaching Work?
Start with a Strong Strategic Plan
When building an Instructional Coaching program, districts must first start with their Strategic Plan. A Strategic Plan is traditionally a multi-level roadmap declaring where the school district wants to be in 2-5 years. Throughout each of the major pillars of a strategic plan, the district sets goals.
From these goals comes the question, “how do we support the district in meeting these goals?”
The Instructional Coaching program usually is one of the support systems put in place to help teachers meet the goals of the Strategic Plan.
Provide a Clear Vision and Performance Expectations
Once the Strategic Plan is created and shared with the community, the district goes into a process where the plan is shared with buildings and classrooms. Each building has specific targets to meet, and each grade level, subject, and classroom have specific target areas to address.
In building a strong Instructional Coaching department, it is important that coaches are set up as the “answer” for how buildings and classrooms will be meeting these goals. By being the “answer,” it not only gives the coaching position a heavy value but also allows them to be the dynamic creators that they are and enables them to serve in their various roles that they can play both at the district, building, and classroom levels.
Give Coaches & Teachers Time to Support Each Other
As classroom teachers are working throughout the year to help students meet the needs of curricular standards and building/district goals, the coaches can play an important mentoring role to teachers. They can be used to develop curriculum, plan student activities, co-teach, and even model full lessons in classrooms. Each of these opportunities is designed for teachers and coaches to build strong professional relationships with each other that not only will aid in meeting the goals in the Strategic Plan but ultimately, will support students in the classroom.
Sit back and Watch the Magic Happen
The Instructional Coaching position is not an exact science. Districts budget for and hire Instructional Coaches and expect things to happen just because the position exists. This simply is not a reality. However, with the proper structure, district support, and administrative encouragement, the combination of a classroom teacher and a dynamic Instructional Coach can create curricular magic when paired with highly engaged students.
It is important to remember that these changes do not happen overnight. A coaching program for some teachers has the ability to blossom in a matter of hours, days, or even weeks, but when built properly, a coaching program should really be given a 3–4-year opportunity to grow roots.
How can Edtech companies support Instructional Coaches?
By being the one member of the school community that floats between the classroom world and the administrative world, it is often common that the coach is put in a position to research, meet with, and interact with educational technology companies. This puts them in an extremely unique position.
By being both the conduit for what the goals of the Strategic Plan are as well as the needs of the dozens of classroom teachers they serve, the coaching position acts as a conduit for the needs of the students.
Knowing and understanding the platform that the Coach represents, there are several things that an educational technology company can do to support coaches.
First: Keep the Lights on.
This one might seem like a no-brainer. If Coaches are using your tool in the classroom, they need support. The best way to provide support to Instructional Coaches is by having a strong social media presence that also acts as a Tier 1 support system. Pretend you are a Coach working with a teacher and a question, feature request, or product support issue comes up. Sure, you can take the time to stop the day, visit a website, write in a help ticket, and then hope that someone in the company picks it up and takes action on it but … who has time for that.
The best way to support coaches is by being on a social platform such as Twitter or a Facebook group and having it checked as often as possible.
Bottom line: More Support = More Use of the Tool in the classroom!
Second: Build a Community
This one goes without saying and is generally considered a standard for the industry. While having a dedicated support presence on Twitter is important, another way to support your product and be supportive of Coaches is to build a platform where your community can easily communicate with each other. In the past, this was a forum or message board. More often than anything else, today's community forums take the shape of Facebook Groups.
If you build it … teachers will take over it!
Third: Create Multi-layered Resources
Put yourself in a coach's position. A new tool comes into the district. You are asked to attend a meeting in your administrator's office and given the task of teaching that tool to the entire school district. What do you? What happens next?
This is traditionally when the coach starts to comb through a series of Google Searches, YouTube videos, and Twitter posts. This is not only time-consuming but usually ends with coaches being faced with the daunting task of creating brand new training materials to use during a presentation to then pass on to teachers who probably will never open them in the first place.
Who has time for this?
Let’s create a new scenario…
You are an instructional Coach who is tasked with introducing a new tool to the school district. You first go to the company website and in the top menu, you find two tabs, one that says, “For Coaches” and one that says “For Teachers”
In the “For Coaches” section, the coach finds information, PDFs, videos, and other items that not only help them get up to speed on the company and the tool, but also can be directly used in slide decks, video tutorials, and handouts. Better yet, the company supplies a playlist of 60-90 second videos explaining major features of the tool that can be shared by the coach on Newsletters and on Coaching Websites.
In the “For Teachers” section, the tool is broken down at the curricular level so that when researching the tool, the teacher can directly see and understand how it can be used in THEIR classrooms.
Creating materials that a coach can link to or use in presentations not only helps save a coach valuable time and energy but helps them to look like rockstars in their districts when it is time for presentations and other PD opportunities.
Let’s Work Together!
Recently, I had the opportunity to present on this topic to a number of Educational Technology companies, each of whom is striving to introduce their products into the classroom and grow market saturation. It was a fantastic session and the questions that came out of the conversation supplied valuable feedback for this blog post and a few that will soon be published on TeacherCast.
When trying to drive adoption and integration into K12 classrooms, the process is not that difficult. Your tool needs to be simple to use, easy to introduce and help districts meet the needs of their strategic goals. If it does not do these three things, there simply is no need for it in the classrooms.
An Educational Technology company can improve its chances by doing (at least) one of three things: being available for support Tweets, creating a community for teachers to interact with each other, and providing easy-to-access and easy-to-use resources and training materials for coaches to quickly pick up and share with their school community.
If you are an educational technology company looking for added support in getting into K12 classrooms I would love to meet with you to continue this extremely important conversation. Please check out my booking form to set up a conversation with me about this topic or to learn how you can participate as a featured guest on the network.
If you are a coach looking for support with your program, please know that I am always here to help you. I encourage you to subscribe to my weekly podcast “Ask the Tech Coach” and my weekly newsletter “Digital Learning Today.”
Until next time … Keep up the great work in your classrooms, and continue sharing your passions, with your students!