Is Education Reform Marketable?

I have never considered myself a good salesperson. Selling Girl Scout cookies door-to-door when I was a child was a traumatic experience that has carried over into adulthood. So I went into education–no peddling of goods, no hawking of wares, no schlepping of items to convince folks to purchase. Educators do not need to “push” education—after all, to teach is to touch the future, to mold children’s lives, to impact humanity in positive and infinite ways—who can argue with that? Being a teacher is safe—right? Wrong! Over the past couple of decades, I have come to realize through experiences directly related to selling educational resources, that we in the education profession do sell something—ourselves, our ideas, our philosophies—and it gets manifested through the way we teach and learn. Sometimes the need to “sell”  is in the policy arena when public schools are constantly labeled “failing” by the media, by politicians, and others.  We must constantly remind everyone that teaching is based on social research and we are not producing widgets. Each child is unique and teaching effectively encompasses a high degree of skills, talents, knowledge, and heart. Sometimes the need to “sell” is to find adequate funds to innovate. As public dollars become scarcer, educators must turn to more and more fundraising to accomplish their jobs. Unfortunately, grant writing is a way of life for educators. In fact, David Warlick asks “Why has education in America, become institutionalized begging?” Good question for the politicians and law makers to ponder.

So when you are innovating effectively in the classroom with a particular set of beliefs, tools, and personnel that are not in the budget basics and worried that once the money is gone, everyone will move on to the “next big thing” that gets funded, how do you “sell” your initiative so that funding continues and others not aware of your initiative understand its value and purpose? Sometimes we must go outside of our profession for possible solutions. One place to start is with Seth Godin. Seth Godin is not an educator but a marketing guru. He always has thoughtful, progressive, insight into the impact of human nature as it applies to the business of buying and selling. A worthy piece of advice is to create a story that resonates.

“Every person in the market has a worldview when it comes to what you’re selling. It might be, “I don’t care about that,” or it might be, “all big companies are evil” or it might be, “I love new stuff.” When your story aligns with my worldview, we have something to discuss. When it doesn’t, you’re likely to be invisible.”

So the tricky part becomes how to align your initiative with the worldview and take on the competitive advantage. What is the truth you believe in? What assumptions do you have? How do you see the world? The really hard part then is to accept that others may not have the same worldview as you—and begin to figure out how to tell your story so that you are visible. Are you doing what people say they care about? Are you connected to the community? Do you have access to hard-to-replicate talent? Do you have hard-earned skills? How will technology enable you and your colleagues to help your story resonate and maintain an advantage?

A colleague recently sent me a video that was amusing at first. It shows an elderly woman dealing with the digital conversion of television signals. 

Kinda cute, huh? However, the more I think about it the more uncomfortable I feel.  Somehow it is ok in our culture to be technically challenged.  I can understand that not everyone knows how everything works under the chassis of the computer, but would we have videos of people struggling to learn how to read?  It reminds me of the huge perception difference in the ability to read and the ability to “do math”.  How many parents have brushed off Johnny’s poor achievement in math by saying they were not good in math either? Would they say they could not read so openly and unashamedly?  I fear the same is true for digital literacy.  The digital immigrants are using the  same excuses to hide heads in the sand about transforming education to teach digital learners.  We know that “developing critical thinking skills and authentic literacy skills is certainly not a new idea– educational thinkers like John Dewey and Paulo Freire wrote about these things many years ago and in great depth.” (W. Fryer)  But the education landscape has changed dramatically due to technological innovations and we need for this skill development to be within the technological context of the twenty-first century.

In the meantime, we need to rethink how we filter our own thoughts and perceptions about those who we think are better at technology than us–the “geeks”– and those who we think are more interested in technology than us–the “nerds”.  We must all become “geeks” and “nerds” with a healthy curiosity and willingness to go where no teacher has gone before–preparing students for THEIR futures, not ours.

Author’s Note: I wrote regularly in a blog over a decade ago on a platform that no longer exists. However, I was able to save some of those posts and found them recently while cleaning out some old digital files. It is amazing how many of the posts, even the links from 2008, could have been written today, illustrating the glacial rate of change in the education system. So I am recycling some of these old posts in this new platform, even keeping the original links, if they still exist. Welcome to my time capsule!