“Relationships” are a hot topic. Social media is all about streamlining and scaling social and business relationships; social relationships are studied closely for their effects on psychology and health, and “building customer relationships” is a frequently discussed goal of both startups and established businesses. This certainly applies to the education technology world as well--building relationships between schools and technology providers is critical in driving the disruptions and growth we’re all striving for.
Simultaneously, a thoroughly established “pain point” in education is a lack of time for teachers to develop relationships.
Gunnar Counselman even recently wrote on EdSurge about how teachers struggle to maintain deep relationships with the very, very many students they are tasked with educating. Although Counselman’s article is ostensibly about teacher-student relationships, much of it applies to teacher-edtech relationships, as well. To quote the EdSurge newsletter introduction to Counselman’s article: “There's a natural limit to how many bonds teachers can create and maintain.”
Take these two points: (1) customer relationships are critical, and (2) teachers are so overwhelmed with lack of time that even maintaining relationships with their students is challenging. Based on those two points, the current most common method used by well-meaning technology providers to reach out to new customers makes absolutely no sense. From where we sit, that method seems to be cold-calls declaring a hot new product “perfect for your classroom!” and requesting beta testing, watching informational videos, or even setting up a
coffee date. This is the opposite of relationship-building.
We (Lindsey and Steve) are two enthusiastic and vocal classroom teachers, who probably expend far more energy than is really sustainable on our pursuits of excellence in driving forward innovation in education. We hope that this means that, being so visible, we receive far more of these cold-calls than our beleaguered colleagues. They come in every online format--Twitter, email, LinkedIn, and more--and are relatively constant at about one per week. Often, they are for products with little relevance to our classrooms, demonstrating the clear shot-gun approach being used in sending out the requests.
As we see it, this social media method of reaching out to potential customers has some of the following effects:
- Teachers are fatigued by the constant onslaught, resulting in less willingness to try any new technologies
- Teachers are less likely to become an advocate for the product in the future, left with a bad taste from the impersonal introduction
- Receiving few responses, technology developers may continue to sit in the myth that teachers don’t care enough to try new innovations
We are working hard to support stronger, more lasting and meaningful relationships between teachers and developers of those products that are meaningful to their classrooms. Steve co-moderates the #edtechbridge chat with a partner who works at
BrainPop, building a great community to develop the authentic relationships that will ultimately provide a larger impact towards creating an understanding / buy-in for new education technology products. Lindsey co-organizes the Seattle EdTech Meetup with a partner who works at Seattle’s ActivelyLearn. We both spoke--on separate panels--on exactly this topic at 2014’s SXSWedu. We continuously try to support positive interactions, including trying to explain to shotgunners why their emails were poorly received.
We have a few ideas for how to support building the kinds of relationships that will connect education technology developers with teachers who will become their advocates and even partners.
- Target recipients of your contacts carefully, and describe why they are the type of teacher you are looking for. Comment on something specific about that particular teacher that caught your attention (and not just that it said “teacher” on their LinkedIn profile).
- Start conversations, rather than jumping straight to the “ask.”
- Even better, before sending any emails in the first place: immerse yourself in teacher conversations as a fellow learner, and get to know the individual contributors to those conversations. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites all have great conversations happening every day. (See the second sentence of this opinion.)
- When you do ask for feedback, do so in a way that will elicit deeper answers. (Reading the answers to boring questions is almost as miserable as answering them.)
We believe that innovative technology has the power to genuinely disrupt education for the better, improving learning outcomes for all students. We are strong advocates within our schools and in the larger edtech community for driving the meaningful use of technology throughout the learning process. And we are dismayed when our colleagues express fatigue at being hounded by too many options in finding the right technology tools for their classrooms.
We continue to hope and work towards strong, positive, and deep relationships between teachers and education technology developers. We hope to see more developers thinking critically about how to reach out to teachers in a way that builds relationships rather than generic shotgun emails--again, as Gunnar Counselman said--“for the sake of efficiency, making them cold, transactional and unmotivating.”
Additional contributors to this article:
Steve Isaacs has been teaching for 22 years. He started his career in Special Education and has been teaching Technology courses for the past 16 years. Currently, he is continuing to develop and teach courses specifically related to Video Game Design and Development at the middle and high school level.
In addition to teaching, Steve has been very active within the EdTech community and co-founded #EdTechBridge with Katya Hott. EdTechBridge is a community designed to help build collaborative relationships among EdTech developers, researchers, educators and students in order to develop more effective EdTech products. EdTechBridge hosts weekly tweet chats using the #edtechbridge hashtag on Wednesday nights at 6pm ET. In addition, Steve maintains the EdTechBridge blog (http://edtechbridge.blogspot.com).
NOTE: This post originally appeared on Lindsey's blog.