"Let us move forward with boldness and not retreat back into the comforts of the past." - David March
Since Ms Singer addresses the need for full disclosure, I want to begin this post by explaining my connection with various products and personal branding.
Below are the products that I proudly serve as an ambassador for:
So with all of that said above, I endorse products and tools that work for students and teachers I work with. I support companies and tools that address needs in education. I support any product, tool, or community that brings educators together. I think this is the most important thing for education today. Teachers who are connected to a broader network than their own school and community are better able to serve their students in my opinion. I endorse any level of "personal branding" as Ms Singer mentions if it will help educators be better equipped to work with students.
And now I will address various parts of her article.
Unfortunately many teachers have to work second jobs to make ends meet. For those teachers that have been savvy enough to market their efforts outside the classroom into something that benefits the educator community as a whole, I applaud them. Sure there can be a serious conflict of interest if educators start letting district purchases be influenced by companies. But lets be realistic here, a free premium Seesaw account for a classroom teacher is hardly going to turn into major misuse of tax payer money. In most cases teachers are not even involved in large purchasing decisions (that is a point for another article entirely). A teacher being able to use a product for free, because they share it with others is a win win for everyone. How many other corporate business agreements are done over free tickets to sporting events and fancy dinners? This isn't anywhere close to what takes place in every other industry.
I won't even go into the research component of this, but will instead bring up the bottom line that technology WILL NOT EVER significantly improve student outcomes by itself. This is perhaps the most glaring point made in the article that fueled this blog post response. Technology can't improve student outcomes without bigger philosophical changes toward modern teaching practices. Technology is an important component of that, but it is not the sole piece. We have proven that the industrial age education model is failing our students already. The problem with student outcomes not improving stems from a system that is too slow to adapt. Teachers of Influence are the ones who are actually creating changes to the outdated, and unsuccessful practices, and now those same teachers are accused of selling out. Innovation is much more than technology. Teachers that are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit that in a small business would be applauded, are now being criticized. Something is wrong with this concept.
Ms Singer addresses an important topic with this part of the article. Educators should explain when they are speaking on behalf of a company or product. If they receive compensation this should be a part of their disclosure. I have heard and seen many educators that do that exact thing at conferences. I am sure there are others that don't, but in most cases, those educators who are paid or supported with travel perks are already users and believers in a product. In the past I was approached by a product that I used in my district. Because of our success with the product, they asked if I could fill in last minute for a staff member that was unable to make a trip to a local district. I presented a few sessions on behalf of the company and during my sessions I stated I was there on their behalf but that I also was an active user. This is a pretty simple thing to do and we as educators should be as transparent as possible in these cases.
All products have the same opportunities to market and engage with educators for feedback. Educators do not have time to mess with products that do not work in their classrooms. Of course they can be influenced by various tactics, but I am all for anything that gets teachers access to having a voice in what is selected. And as for digital tools possibly being selected over traditional textbooks, is that really a bad thing? Traditional textbooks have NO PLACE in classrooms. They will be outdated well before the end of their life cycle. Digital tools, including digital textbooks have the ability to be updated and remain useful where hard copies are one of the greatest wastes of money in education today. Ms Singer, I would love to see an article focused on the open educational resources conversation. Millions of taxpayer dollars are sitting in closets and on shelves because their content is old and inaccurate. When we need to learn how to replace the power supply on our computer, which textbook did we use? Or did we "Google" it, or use YouTube, or any other number of digital resources?
In the interest of transparency, let's be honest. We all know every company that can get their product in front of kids will try to do so. It is all part of their most important marketing strategies. Get kids hooked early and you have a win for your product. This is an important and real concern. How many school districts now allow some sort of advertising around their athletic or other facilities? How many schools have vending machines with products made available to kids or within their view? The free Seesaw teacher account is not the problem here. Marketing and advertising is a topic of conversation that is real and should be addressed by districts, but if their tool serves a specific classroom need, and they can get it free, more power to them!
We all know these companies want to get their hook in student early on. That is inevitable but not a reason to avoid partnerships with these corporations. Instead lets continue to partner with the most innovative groups out there. Education lacks innovation in so many ways, we would be better served if we would continue to learn from these companies. Each of the big 3 mentioned here are doing amazing things for educator professional development and should be applauded. If they are smart enough to stop wasting marketing dollars and instead help educators better prepare students for the workforce that they are a part of, then we should be applauding their adaptability and should be looking at that as a model for change.
While the concept may be similar I believe this connection to be a bit of a farce. Am I more likely to suggest Flipgrid to someone over Recap, which I am not an ambassador for? Yep, because I am more comfortable with what Flipgrid does. This would be true whether I paid for my premium account or it was given to me. I also highly endorse Loom, and Rebrandly and other products that have never given me anything. I endorse those over other similar products, because they are what I use daily. I believe people are swayed by these processes, but I also believe that in education they are more swayed by what allows them to get the learning task completed more so. To compare the two is unfair as the amount of money involved in the pharmaceutical conversation is much different than a teacher account. I understand that education is a HUGE revenue market for companies, but again the classroom teacher account isn't the problem here.
If a district of school is using one of these companies platforms, we would want the teachers to be proficient in that platform. If an heart surgeon worked in a hospital that used specific equipment, I would want that doctor to be well trained and "certified" for use of that equipment. If we are going to bring technology into our schools, we have to have a digital platform to organize our use. This argument in the article is poorly made and has no value. Yes I would be deeply concerned if my doctor was Google Certified. But if my children attend a Microsoft district, I want the teachers to trained in what is available to them through Microsoft products.
Bravo to those educators that are valued for their hard work in education. It is great they are recognized and given the opportunity to capitalize on those skills. There are numerous educational related products and people that have profited by establishing educational programs well before this digital wave. This is nothing new, and I fully support the idea of educators showing that they are able to lead and model what it means to be problem solvers. They are addressing needs that clearly are there, or they would not be hired to train and speak.
Again the idea of educators profiting from leading a training is nothing new. Teachers have long gone to workshops and conferences that were led by "the next great thing" in education. Someone was profiting from these workshops! So why is it that a teacher that trains or endorses new products is any different. I really do not understand the point of this part of the article. Every industry has companies that pull people from their customer base to come work for them and train others. Why is this practice shocking in education? And I applaud Ms. Delzer for sharing her classroom success with others and working out a special contract that allows her to do so. I am sure her students and their parents are glad she didn't leave education completely to get rich with all her other opportunities. Why is it so bad for teachers to step up as leaders, to be recognized as leaders, and to be entrepreneurs? Why is this applauded in small businesses or other industries, but when a teacher leads and flourishes it is bad. I know students are involved, and I do not endorse anything that uses them as pawns, but an educator spreading great learning opportunities and sharing with other educators is NEVER a bad thing.
So a company is giving this teacher equipment that eliminates the traditional classroom, and we think that is bad. I would say that anything we can do to make students comfortable should be embraced. Teachers all over the country are spending their own money and working hard to find used furniture to do this same thing. The bottom line is we should be working to do anything we can to change the learning spaces within our classrooms. Flexible seating and learning spaces should be the norm. If we really are concerned with what will make an impact on learning outcomes, lets look well beyond the technology. There is so much more that goes into it all. Again she should be applauded for setting an environment that welcomes and encourages her students to engage in their learning. I don't care how she gets the furniture for her room. And again, she isn't going around selling a company's furniture, she is promoting flexible and alternative learning spaces. The teachers she shares these ideas with, don't care which company she endorses, trust me. Will some buy that company's furniture, sure they will, but many others will be looking for the most cost effective way they can replicate what she is doing, and they won't give a flip which vendor they use.
So I ask, what really is the point of Ms. Singer's article?
Sure I would agree that transparency is important and educators should be diligent in establishing standards and expectations around these types of connections. I will also say that we should be more concerned with politicians and their connections with various vendors and groups than we should be about teachers and other educators and the free Seesaw account or tshirts they may receive. The attack on public schools and funding by politicians who want to profit from their connections with for-profit education is much more alarming, The New York Times article has no meat to it, that is really all there is to it. I would be much more concerned about the company or companies behind state testing and their connections to the politicians and others that set things in motion on a much larger scale.
I think educators working on networking and sharing their ideas via social media and conferences is good for education. If some of them get a free account, or they push a product because they love the free t-shirts, I just don't see that being newsworthy. In the end educators that share great ideas are doing so with whatever product they have access to or feel most comfortable with. I learn daily from those using Google products. My teachers and students do not have access to Google but we take the great ideas they have and we make them work with Microsoft and the other products we do have. Educators don't have time to worry about the tool, they have to focus on the learning, and then find the tool that works for them and their students.