opinion

Ten 'Feisty' Tips on Connecting To Educators

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Warning: feisty blog post below.

I get it. Everyone has an agenda. Some people need to sell products. I personally happen to promote the ideas and work of people and products that I believe in. I don’t support crap-- and I’m not particularly tolerant of thoughtlessness and mediocrity.

As a long-time educator, consultant, and participant in social media, I’d like to share a few ideas with the ed tech community that might help improve the techie-teacher dialogue.  

We've got to start with quality. 

Asking educators to mindless retweet or promote "solutions" they haven't seen or tried defies what educators really care about--improving learning. 

Events entitled “Marketing to Schools” or “Selling to Schools” may sound merely descriptive to people in the business world but are phrases that make most educators’ skin crawl. Generic, boilerplate press releases (which now seem to overload my inbox) that include pleas for me to look at something or talk to some CEO (sorry titles don’t impress me) about a world-changing product also misfire. (At least people, get creative! Look at the the Anchorman 2 marketing campaign for inspiration. Can’t you do better?)

Still--I believe in the power of tech. The right tech. So with SxSWedu kicking off today, I wanted to share a few tips that I hope will help further the conversation between educators in the field and those outside who are trying to better understand their needs and develop products that are both needed and wanted. As blogger/educator Stephanie Sandifer points out in this post, there will be opportunities to engage on how to improve connections between educators and the business world. Or check out this post from June Labs, a startup designed to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs and educators...a much more artful depiction of what's going on in the ed tech world. 

And of course, please feel free to add your suggestions below. 

 So here goes:

  • Just like successful teachers do with their students, build authentic relationships with teachers. Support (and even attend) teacher-led, grassroots events like EdCamp or apply to one of EdSurge's well planned and thoughtful education summits where you can engage.

  • Educate yourself about education. Understand the history of education and contemplate the implications of ignoring the past. Read the research. What do you know the history of education reform? What do you know about pedagogy and curriculum? How would you do on the Audrey Test? (A classic blog post in my opinion!)

  • Respect and value experience. I’m sorry, but if you’re 25-years old and taught for two years and then got a MBA from some highly ranked graduate school, it does not make you an education expert. Educational expertise comes from YEARS of working with kids in a classroom and from a great deal of professional development and discourse.

  • If you want teachers to go gaga over your thing/service/idea, create something that is extraordinarily useful and/or excellent to today’s overburden teacher. No one is going to champion your product if it sucks. And, please, no more drill and practice stuff. That’s what worksheets are for. Let’s have more products out there that really help to develop creativity, collaboration and communication skills… the pillars of work life in the 21st century and beyond. Or, solve a huge problem that is plaguing teachers… like develop a kickass system to easily and affordably purchase digital books and put them on devices across all platforms.

  • Until you have an established, positive relationship with teachers, don’t ask anything of an educator that takes too much time. Teachers are busier and more beleaguered than ever if you haven’t read the memo on ed reform lately. Respect their time.

  • In your next marketing meeting, don’t suggest another educator champion group. I belong to two and they have changed my life for the better, but again, be creative and think differently. Isn’t there another way you can support these users of your company/product? How are you going to support users who are not necessarily on the bleeding edge? You need to be careful, too, and not to exploit people who are your champions. Copying another company's idea isn't my idea of innovation either. 

And advice for approaching education “thought leaders”:

  • Do your homework about the education bloggers/journalists/thought leader you are approaching. While this Quora post by Robert Scoble does not specifically address education, I think it offers some wise words for those who want people in our field to listen to them. Here’s another set of tips for approaching journalists that could be applied in the education world as well.

  • On Twitter, I’m not going to follow you if you have the word marketer or visionary in your title or use the word “solution.” Act like a humble human, please, and avoid trite language in general.  And, don’t blanket the Twittosphere with generic, cut and paste Tweets inviting my participation to your event. Invite me once via email, and if I’m interested, I’ll consider it.  It is crucial not to waste everyone’s time with multiple communications. (By the way, I’m astounded by the number of press releases I receive and generally ignore, only to have PR people circle back, two and even three more times. Generally, if you don’t hear from me, there’s a reason. 

  • Be wary of those Twittering numbers! just because someone has thousands of Twitter followers, it does not necessarily mean that they are an expert by any means.  Find people to connect with who are really good and smart at their day jobs. You might have to do some research to find out who fits this bill, but it will be well worth it when you do connect to thoughtful educators.

  • Don’t ask people you’ve never met or previously interacted with to pass on your promotional material, research, information, etc. It’s not nice to use people and it just seems like a lazy way to disseminate your work. Again, if your stuff is great, it will take off virally. Follow educators, hope that they follow you back and put your stuff out there via your Twitter stream.

What else would you add? How do we demystify the world of an educator for the corporate world (and maybe vice versa) so that we can make a difference for the group that matters the most….our students and children? Chime it! 

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