For education companies, earning teacher buy-in is a critical piece to finding success within a school district.
Without that buy-in, it becomes much more difficult to ensure that a product is properly implemented in classrooms, widely used, and contributes to positive student outcomes.
During EdWeek Market Brief‘s recent virtual summit, a panel of teachers and district instructional leaders talked about the factors that lead them to accept and embrace new ed-tech products, and what leads them to reject digital tools.
Here are four key questions that the panelists said have a significant impact on teacher buy-in:
1. Is There an End Goal?
When making a pitch to teachers on why they should dedicate time and energy to learn and implement a new product, there needs to be an end goal in mind, said Julie Garcia, STEM director for San Diego Unified Schools in California.
For example, will the tool contribute to a particular student outcome or project? Does it complement the work teachers are doing with their content area leads? Will it help keep students more engaged? Will it streamline a process to save teachers time?
Providing that direction from the beginning provides a purpose for implementation, Garcia said.
“We have to pitch it to teachers, why they want to use it,” she said. “There’s an end goal. We don’t just use technology or tools for the sake of using tools.”
2. Does the Product Promote Creativity — or Just Consumption?
There are an abundance of tools in the marketplace that are based around student consumption of information, said Nikki Jones, an instructional technology coach for Prince William County Schools in Virginia. What she looks for instead are tools that support student problem solving, interaction, and creativity.
Products based around consumption often only can be used in one way, or serve one purpose.
Those focused on creativity, on the other hand, can generally support Jones’ classroom in a variety of ways, across different lessons.
“We don’t need another tool to check a box,” she said. “We need to really focus on those components of getting our students creating and making meaning of the learning that they’re doing in the classroom.”
3. Are Students Bought In?
Student buy-in is critical, said James Hausman, a PBL/STEAM coordinator in the South Fayette Schools in Pennsylvania. Typically, if students don’t feel ownership over a platform or application they aren’t going to use it, he said.
And if they aren’t using it, complaints will start to roll in from teachers struggling with implementation.
Ultimately, the programs that don’t win over students are the ones that don’t make the cut in his district, Hausman said.
In some cases, students are given an even more direct say over what technology they use. For example, Amanda Ruch, an 8th grade math teacher at the Cesar E. Chavez Multicultural Academic Center in the Chicago Public Schools, ran an informal poll of her students at the end of the school year asking which of two different supplemental, practice-based programs they preferred.
“Thirteen and 14-year-olds have a lot of opinions,” Ruch said. “They’re at a good age for thinking through their own agency and they want to feel successful and they want to feel like they are learning.”
4. Is There a Community of Support?
Districts often don’t have the capacity to provide professional learning on a new platform or tool, said Hausman, of South Fayette.
Between the abundance of products in any district’s technology ecosystem and staffing shortages making it difficult to pull teachers out of classrooms, there isn’t time for school districts to provide hours or days of training.
In that case, Hausman said, the most successful tools end up being the ones that attract a group of teachers who quickly develop experience using them. Those early users become a strong support system that smooths the implementation process.
Companies should focus on building communities and support networks — either within a single district or across many of them, via social media — so that teachers can connect with each other and troubleshoot problems and brainstorm, he said.
Learning communities also give teachers access to real-world scenarios and classrooms, conditions that panelists said are more helpful than simply being told in a PD session how a tool functions.
“It would be nice if companies provided some of the support, because district administrators have lots to do,” Hausman said. “If you have teachers that are leaders in tech integration, I would like to see them championed.”
Image by Getty.