Reason #1 You Aren’t Selling Schools

Market Insight
Classroom Implementation—Getting Past the “Doesn’t Want to Change” Teacher and Effective Professional Development for Your Product
LeiLani Cauthen

This is the final installment of our “5 Reasons Why You Aren’t Selling Schools.”

For the #1 Reason, let’s just say to get your software tools and digital curriculum products implemented in schools you need to have teachers willing to use them and make your product work in the classroom. If it doesn’t immediately help classroom learning and fit in to the pedagogy, then whatever you are selling will receive push-back and could fail.

In my meetings and surveys of Superintendents I’ve heard every way that implementation has gone—mostly bad, unfortunately. So read on for some tips and “behind the curtain” know-how that just may save that sale and the company.

(NOTE: In the week’s following iSTE the Learning Counsel will be publishing an illustrated e-book for reps and sales staff on all five points preventing adoption of digital curriculum and content—so watch for it!)

Reason #1—Classroom Pedagogy Professional Development

Classroom pedagogy professional development is a barrier of “teacher doesn’t know how to change their usual teaching methods to use new digital resource software or hardware, etc.” Another barrier, rarely identified as such, is the desire to individualize learning and use technology meeting up with the sheer number of students and subjects and new standards and testing—it simply overwhelms the teacher.

There are dozens of ways to overcome these problems, and it’s not just arm-twisting the so-called “don’t wanna” teachers.

The professional development issue is most usually a time issue. In-service professional development is a giant buzz kill for most teachers. In many instances it doesn’t work, and part of the reason it doesn’t work is the way it is done includes new rules and compliances coming down from higher powers. Once all that stuff is sorted through there is precious little time left for teacher technology use make-overs.

How do you overcome this?

First of all, keep it simple and light

There’s no reason to get overcomplicated with pedagogy professional development for your product. You probably think you’re solving everything with what you want to teach for eight hours, but trust me, you’re not. Teachers are dealing with way, way more than just how-to-use-tech or any individual product. They are tasked with individualized instruction goals and personalized learning maps, so simple and gracious is best. Their pedagogical shift is not product specific but more time-management and the total architecture of their digital apps, videos, digital courseware and odds and ends of content being organized that is the real issue.

Buy or give some Time

A cool thing you could do is offer to “buy some time” for a school and either donate-a-teacher-day with a qualified volunteer teacher being paid for a day to use and show your product or software, preferably live in class. Or, some other nifty donation to the school’s Foundation that is the equivalent of time being saved for teachers and real help.

Don’t Lose Their Attention

This isn’t brain surgery, when we get right down to it, it’s simply using some technology for teaching and learning. Sales staff might mention the neuroscience behind the hardware or software, but they shouldn’t be using words like “neuro-determinism” or “user-interface” with the average educator to teach about their nifty digital curriculum. Nor should they wax poetic about all the analytics tools. That’s just asking for disinterest-because-of-misunderstanding and too-steep-a-learning-curve. Trust me, if an educator doesn’t understand some term or thinks what you’re telling them are bonus buttons beyond their immediate need, they may skip over it. They will nod and smile, and get just enough understanding given the context of what you are saying to do one or two things—and perhaps miss the entire point of your product. This jeopardizes renewals and additional purchase.

Their pride as an educated individual is a possible barrier here. They consider they will lose face if they indicate they don’t know something. So they reject the product, and you, simply because they don’t really understand. You’re continued attempts to make them understand are only going to drive them further away. People don’ like to admit they don’t know, it’s the same as admitting they’re “wrong” in many minds. So keep it simple and keep your conversation all about inspiration. Try to draw out a native desire to learn the product through overwhelming enthusiasm.


As already stated, the real pedagogical shift is not product specific but more time-management and the total architecture of their digital apps, videos, digital courseware and odds and ends of content being organized that is the real issue. The Learning Counsel typically suggests that teachers reorganize with a 20-30% lesson-time-used selection of screen-learning products so they mostly free up that time. They then use this mostly-supervisory time, a lot like the “study period” of old, to learn and use tech and individualize instruction and do all their reporting.

This is the missing link that most teachers haven’t thought of—that they can use the fully-loaded digital courseware to log-in their students for all their digital math or language lessons or reading requirements and more, and get back much needed lesson development time. There’s a whole lot that digital curriculum and content now cover with full courseware and analytics built in. Once the student logs in, they are pretty much on auto-pilot with some minimum teacher “gating” or allowing the student into the next level, or not.

Of course, there’s also a whole lot of subjects and topics that aren’t covered with this type of high-value courseware that will need content selection or build by the teacher. This will probably be true for another 3-5 years while the industry and open educational resources catch up with the really great animated and intelligent learning engine design for all subject areas—or perhaps we will forever deal with a piecemeal approach as we always have.

Our survey respondents have indicated this is their number one issue—pedagogical professional development. How to teach with technology—but without specific observations or comments beyond that. Conversations with leaders indicates that when they visit most of their teachers they see “one-offing” of single Apps or device functions, or a handful of the best teachers actually consistently using some technology. They do not see wholesale revisioning of pedagogy.

We think leaders mostly expect to see interactive whiteboards and kids using their iPads while a teacher lectures and kids download a textbook pdf—the vision of what the tech can actually do to replace lecturing with self-driven lesson achievement by students is missing. It’s sort of like expecting an apple to be an orange. First you have to see how they are different things.

We would contend that an expectancy of consistent tech use for every lesson and every subject is proof positive that many teachers and leaders have not thought through the massive complexity of embedding the full glory of digital curriculum into learning. This would cause the individual teacher, especially if the aim is to increase individualized learning, the work of ten people. Who can run 20-30 individual employees as direct-reports with all different roles well, and write an action plan for every one of them every day? No one I know, so how could we expect that of teachers with children.

If you’re selling to schools, bring this up as a conversational point – that pedagogical professional development may well be a shift in what’s doing the teaching for what subject and topic, and “buying time” with technology is not evil but something all the other industries have been doing for years. The 20-30% shift-to-screen-learning is already working wonders for places like Alt School in San Francisco.

Finally, Market Straight at Pedagogy Shift

You need to be a real solution for an ever-changing teacher pedagogy. Complexity is your enemy to being a real solution. Give simple and practical examples—this will go an amazingly long way to help you sell more. And help to show them how your product works so you don’t lose them with a mis-understanding. In fact—just a little tiny plug here—I suggest you let the Learning Counsel run some 30-second to 2:00-minute video clips with some “how-to” action from our experts. Good old-fashioned Show and Tell! Then we get that announced with editorial to our 100,000 readers and whaaa-laaa, more sales for you. We have the technology, the research and the audience already in place. We make it a simple solution for you to make known your simple solution.

Another solution is to give little handbooks with how-to and step-by-step screen shots, or even posters with how-to examples that hang in the teacher lounge. What would be the harm in hanging up a pretty piece of art that has some step-by-step on how to synch with a projector, for example? Really good “media” pieces are a specialty of the Learning Counsel, so call us if you’re stumped for nifty artsy ideas or you want us to create and distribute some printed piece for you. Print is still awesome when it’s a user-guide and/or art at the same time.

Okay, there you have it. See you soon at iSTE!

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