A guest post by Sara Shenkan-Rich, Principal of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Daly City, CA.
As a principal, I get pinged by edtech providers almost every day. Everyone has a new solution that is going to “disrupt” my school. Most of the time we ignore the emails and phone calls, but every now and again something breaks through the noise and catches my interest. When we talk to edtech companies to learn about what they have to offer, there are a few main questions that I am thinking about as I listen to their pitch.
1. Which of my million problems does this solve?
Being a principal means first and foremost being a problem solver. I have to tackle everything from getting substitute teachers in when someone is out sick, to dealing with discipline issues for students, to helping families connect with social services when they are in a moment of crisis.
I am in a state of constant triage trying to prioritize which problems I am going to spend time and money to tackle, so the first question I ask myself when I hear about edtech is: Which one of my problems is this going to help solve?
2. Will my teachers think using this thing is a chore?
Getting me to believe that something will help our students is one thing—getting the rest of my team is entirely another. Teachers work incredibly hard and are asked to do an unbelievable number of things every day. I spend most of my time trying to support them in being great at what they do, so the last thing I want is to add something to their very long to-do list that feels like a burden.
When I hear an edtech pitch I’m asking myself: How this is going to help my teachers do what they do better, and make their lives easier? I am looking for products that will be viewed as a support, not another on a long list of thankless tasks that teachers are asked to do.
3. Are the benefits you’re telling me about real?
A lot of times I hear incredible promises about what this new technology is going to do for my students. I’ve bought these magic beans before and I am experienced enough to know that whatever studies you have done were averaged across lots of kids and schools. How do I know that my school is going to be one of your case studies, and not one of the situations you hope gets washed out by larger amounts of data?
4. How would I pay for this?
I’ve been a principal or assistant principal for ten years. In six of those years, I was dealing with budget cuts. The hardest part about my job is trying to do more with less every year—and knowing that next year’s budget will probably be worse than this one’s.
A lot of edtech companies look at school budgets, see big numbers, and think their products would take up only a tiny percentage of that amount, right? But the reality is most of my budget is tied up in personnel and facilities costs. The discretionary budget I have available for what you are offering is much more limited, and in very high demand. Why should you be at the top of that list?
5. Seriously, how would I pay for this?
Supposing I actually want to buy this, it’s not just a question of whether I have room in my budget—it’s what specific dollars I can use. School budgets are incredibly complicated and there are a lot of lines that have special restrictions—dollars I can only spend on specific things, or with specific approvals.
Every school and district is different, but in my experience the buckets I most commonly go to for edtech products are professional development, curriculum and assessment, English language development, and family engagement. I also oftentimes have some flexibility with funds for after-school tools, either through 21st Century (federal) or ASES (California) programs.
Bottom line: I’m not just thinking about my budget as a whole when I’m thinking about buying edtech, I’m also going over all the lines in my budget and wondering if they could be used to pay for your services. Helping me think about that, or sharing what other principals have done is a big help.
6. Are you going to love me and leave me?
It has happened more times than I can count: someone comes to my school, tells me they have some great new thing that is going to help my students, and as soon as I say “yes” I never see that person again. In the better cases, I get handed off to another person on the team who is meant to be my implementation lead—but often I get billed, get my onboarding packet, and then never hear anything again. Until it’s time to renew the contract, of course.
Deciding to purchase an edtech product should be the beginning of our relationship, not the end. I’m looking for partners who are not going to look at me as another sale towards their quarterly targets but who are going to work with me on my team as we roll out in the school and solve the inevitable problems that will bubble up once we do.
This blog post first appeared on EdSurge