Written By: Robyn Shulman
As a former classroom teacher, edtech startups and their communities fascinate me. In the past few years, dozens of edtech startups have approached me in need of guidance, questions, product reviews or simple advice. I’ve met amazing entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in students’ lives.
Most edtech startups reach out to me for one or more of the following reasons:
Basic advice, asking questions
Software trials and feedback
To understand the culture of K-12 and higher education
To figure out how to approach the public or private education system and what to expect
Contacts or connections in the field
Curious to know why it is challenging to talk with someone at a district
I’m always happy to help where I can, however, I consistently notice one concerning pattern: most edtech startups reach out to me right before the live launch of a product, and many never even spoke with a teacher. Is this true of all edtech companies? Absolutely not. However, if you are part of the edtech startups movement, please consider how a teacher can improve your odds of success. An abundance of knowledge in the education field can be critical to the progress of an edtech startup.
Why do edtech startups need teachers for an edtech product or service? Here are a few good reasons:
Teachers Understand The Dynamics And Infrastructure Of A Classroom: If you don’t have a teacher on your team, how can you possibly identify or define the needs of the students? For example, when I taught 6th grade, I served gifted students, academically challenged students and the ESL/Bilingual population-all in one classroom. In addition, I focused on social, emotional and developmental needs. How will your product help all of these unique students succeed? How would you know that a classroom has such diversity?
Teachers Understand The Culture: Effective teachers do not have sales quotas to meet as part of their job description. Their role is to assist and guide students in order to learn, grow and become confident, successful adults. Effective teachers care about their students and understand the culture of the school. Relationships between teachers, students and parents are the fundamental building blocks in education and school culture can vary greatly. You can have an amazing product, however, if it is not offered to truly improve student outcomes, you will face many challenges. An educator can guide you through this space.
Teachers Understand A District’s Mission: If your product does not fit in with the district’s mission and goals, you will find it challenging to explain how your product can make a difference. Keep in mind, one-size-fits all does not exist in the classroom. It would be in your best interest to read the mission statement for every district you contact. Do your homework; research the cultural and academic needs of a school to garner a better understanding of student needs. Demonstrate how you can solve a problem a school may be facing. Take a look at the school’s website, teacher pages, programs, clubs and events. Are they struggling to meet some requirements? How will your product help them? A teacher’s background knowledge and experience in this area can improve your prospects.
Don’t be a salesman/saleswoman-be a problem-solver, a storyteller, a connector. You are there to make a difference in the classroom-and that is a priceless gift.
Teachers Can Potentially Provide Connections: Odds are that the gatekeeper of a school or district would prefer to listen to an educator about a classroom product, rather than a sales representative.
Teachers Know Curriculum: Most likely, teachers have built curriculum (some schools provide specific curriculum plans to follow). For example, when I created school projects for my students, I used a specific curriculum strategy called backward design.
The backward design process of Wiggins & McTighe begins with the end in mind and answers three questions:
1. What is worthy and requiring of understanding?
2. What is evidence of understanding?
3. What learning experiences and teaching promote understanding, interest and excellence?
Any technological program, app or software company can benefit when they know how educators plan their lessons, as it can help to align goals. Effective teachers are pros in this area.
Teachers Know The Process And Destination Must Be Student-Centered: Educational startups, if you are creating a product for the classroom, it must be in an area that provides true growth for students. If you want to sell thousands of applications to teachers without understanding their needs, please think again. Teachers care for technology that encourage and enhance student learning and outcomes.
Teachers Know The Reality Of School And Can Help With Your Vision: If your product was not designed to benefit the students, effective teachers can notice immediately. Bringing a dream into the market is important, and this is where many edtech startups begin to fall. You need the right players on your team early on in order to define your audience. It is not a safe bet to create a product based on assumptions, or your own education history as a student. Land a teacher before long before you launch.
The stakeholders in public education are students, parents and communities. Education startup companies must understand that deliverable outcomes and objectives in public education are not measured in sales quotas or financial investments-but rather in the success story of each student.
There are many teachers looking for work outside of the classroom. Their background knowledge, experience and advice can increasingly improve your odds of launching a successful product.
Bottom Line: Authenticity, transparency, student success and relationships matter in the classroom-be the one who brings it.
What are the top education startups for 2015? How about Edtech Accelerators? Can you please share any Edtech News stories, Edtech Awards or share your knowledge about the best new tech startups?
Please share your comments about edtech startups and edtech awards. How are these new lines of technology working for your classroom and your own students?