Your 20th Century Sales Pitch Of A 21st Century Product

I was already pretty comfortable with this metaphor but reactions to my initial post (which examined a tech coordinator perplexed by her faculty’s disinterest) have essentially tossed a goose-down comforter my way and invited me to bunk down with it.

Hang with me for a second:

A teaching group is receding – retiring, in some cases – and I won’t miss them. These teachers don’t fit any specific archetype – you can find them in any school, in any content area – but they do share one characteristic: they put the burden of engagement on their students.

If their students aren’t engaged, their students should simply pay closer attention or, should the teacher accept any responsibility at all, it’s for more frequent notebook checks, parent phone calls, and tougher punishment for distraction. They’re the ones who bemoan students who “aren’t there to learn,” the ones you hate sitting next to during all-district professional development. Anecdotally, I notice them leaving the job and I know that no one but their own kind will mourn their departure.

The link between some technology coordinators and these teachers seems altogether obvious to me right now.

Some technology coordinators expect teachers to meet them halfway or farther in their efforts to integrate technology into the classroom. They expect teachers to share their passion, to carry water up this hill alongside them, and when the reality of the thing closes in – teachers equally beholden to content-standards and the clock – they tend instinctively toward punitive measures: negative evaluations, citations, administrative sanctions, notebook checks.

It never occurs to them to develop a more persuasive pitch. (ie. tech units which better streamline into a teacher’s existing standards-based curriculum.)

I don’t mean you, of course. I get that some of you people put up with recalcitrance so severe it makes my hesitations look like the freaking 2020 vision over here. But there exists a line in every teacher and tech coordinator’s head, a threshold past which they say, “I have done everything I can. They need to bring it now or reap the consequences.”

Personally, the longer I’ve stalled that declaration (which is to say, the more responsibility I have assumed for my kids’ engagement) the better my classes have become. I have done my best to reject that threshold entirely, in fact, and the result has been a desperate search for engaging approaches to centuries-old material. That desperation has inspired the hungriest work of my life. I’ve never been prouder of anything.

Given that they sit on a rickety teeter-totter between both skeptical kids and skeptical teachers (while I deal with only one group of skeptics) I reckon tech coordinators have that threshold-rejecting process even rougher. What they oughtta realize, though, is that this makes hungry, persuasive salesmanship more essential to their job description, not less.

Extremists: Bad

On one end, you’ve got Graham Hughes dismissing persuasive tech salesmanship as “trick-turning and t-shirt giveaways,” tossing out firestarters like …

What we need is a big stick for when they spit the carrots out.

… and all but declaring jihad on resistant teachers with this comment:

2008 is going to be different because we are taking up the fight a little more vigorously and we are not going to let them get away it [sic] any more!

Extremists: Awesome and Awesomer

  • Leigh Blackall drops some knowledge at the end of his comment:

    At the moment we are focusing on these technologies as tools to improve a teacher’s learning long before we ask that they be used in a classroom.

    So great. Turn the teachers into users and then into pushers. So canny. Personally, and for just one example, I’m much more inclined towards blogging solutions in my classroom after such a satisfying year playing with it on my own terms.

  • And then step five of Scott’s Turn Your Luddite Administrators Into Tech-Driven Pod People article:

    Show RSS in Plain English. Then show the administrator the RSS aggregator you’ve created for him, with feeds already set up for woodworking, hiking, and pugs (replace with whatever the administrator’s interests are!). Show that you’ve also seeded the aggregator with some administrator-oriented blogs too, so that the aggregator can be used for both professional and personal interests.

    I mean, my word, how many of you tech coordinators have ever taken such a stealthy, guerrilla approach toward your customers, ingratiating yourselves into your faculties’ lives to the point that you could tailor a feed reader to their interests in advance of your sales pitch?

    I mean, I realize that kind of effort is beneath tech jihadists like Graham up there but, I promise you, if you can stomach the work, there’s only so much of that kind of persuasive salesmanship an obstinate, 20th-century educator can resist.

But I mean, regardless of these two posts, good luck. I believe in your cause – I really do – even if your sales pitch is outdated.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Oh dear, now I’m an extremist. Well I’m sorry if it came across that way. I don’t think I am………I don’t think I have ever been. Your original post on this topic was a massive over-generalisation which impugned the efforts of many coordinators. I stand by the fact that most of us have tried most things and continually search for and share new ideas.

    I’m quite happy with teachers that just poke their toes in water and at least give it a go. The others……yes I am losing patience.

  2. Nice :) cracked me up :) I’m your pusher man.. I like it.

    That’s a good idea to set up the reader for someone. You don’t really have to go to too much length. Just add your best 10 blogs. I think I’ll try that. Let us know if you get any more marketing ideas.

  3. Dan, thanks for highlighting that comment of Leigh’s. Love your rephrasing with the terms “users” and “pushers”, and I think you’re definitely onto something in highlighting how a tech coordinator could go about their job in a different way.

    I wonder, though, about the whole “outdated sales pitch” metaphor. You say that the core issue is about “threshold-rejecting” – where the responsibility begins and ends – and that tech coordinators need to accept responsibility for what happens in a faculty.

    The thing is, you really can’t compare your math classes to the faculty a tech coordinator works with. It’s very easy for you to control all the factors in your classroom. It’s very easy for you to take a lot of responsibility for what happens inside your classroom.

    However for a tech coordinator they do not have a classroom. All they get is maybe a few hours a month at the end of the day or during an in-service. It’s not unreasonable to assume that a given body of professionals will be willing to meet you halfway.

    I don’t know for sure, but I feel like the view from the admin side of the fence looks a lot different than it does from the classroom. Teachers have to be willing to compromise with management, to remember that they’re only one stakeholder among many. Students come first, and students need the best teaching they can get.

    As to exactly how much technology a “best education” involves, well, that’s a much bigger discussion, ennit.

  4. I believe you’ve made some really good points here and the analogy between certain teachers and tech coordinators is good, as far as it goes. However, I think it is important to remember that teachers assign grades, which is a bit of a stick whether we like it or not. The best teachers, the ones that truly work to engage their students continually, don’t see grades as a stick and hopefully their students don’t either. But, they are still there looming in the background.

    You’ve got some interesting marketing tips here. It’s a post many of us could mull over and learn from.

  5. As an technology instructor in a district where every teacher and student has a laptop, “selling” lesson ideas has been my crusade. I’ve tried doing things that aren’t my job (setting up printers, helping with Outlook) just so they would think I was nice and might take me up on a lesson idea.

    That doesn’t work.

    I have a blog with lesson ideas. That doesn’t work.

    These were bottom-up ideas. So now, I’m trying something different. Because we have laptops, each department is supposed to have technology goals. So I get each department to create goals (English will blog, Foreign Language will podcast, etc . . .) and I will train and give lesson ideas on how to do this successfully.

    It still doesn’t work.

    Once that door shuts, as if nothing else that’s been said matters anymore. It could be because of time, standards, whatever. But I’m still stymied on how to get teachers to integrate more engaging lessons.

    It amazes me for example that English won’t blog. I just don’t get it.

  6. I think it comes down to what a teacher thinks “engaging” means. Some teachers who have been around forever think that since they learned that way and have taught that way for 20 years, it’s the students’ fault. Others, thank goodness, don’t believe that gets it done. Anyone interested in engagement should check out the work of Phil Schlecty who proposes several qualities to push lessons toward student engagement. They include: clear and compelling standard, choice, variety, protection from adverse conseqences, working with others, etc. This philsophy views students as volunteers of their work and time. Anyone who’s tried to convice a ninth grader to do grammar definitely knows this is true. Basically it comes down to purposefully examining your lessons to see how you can improve them and engage more students. Dan and other great teachers do this on a daily basis on their own. Others may need a checklist. The importance is the effort.

  7. >>there’s only so much of that kind of persuasive salesmanship an obstinate, 20th-century educator can resist.

    This reminds me of the way friends of mine have dragged me into any number of online social ventures I initially had no interest in… It works! :-)

  8. Thought provoking post, but then again, since I’ve discovered your blog (in the last month), I’ve found most of your posts to be thought provoking (refreshing to say the least!). I’ve also pondered this issue and have reached a couple of conclusions:
    1. There is no ONE way to deal with this issue. Some teachers work best w/ ‘bottom up’, others with ‘top down’, and yet others want to meet you on equal ground.
    2. Sometimes we techies need to step back and realize that not EVERYONE is as enthused by the latest and greatest widget as we are — and guess what?!? That’s OK…..
    3. My 2008 resolution? ‘Reuse, reduce, and recycle’ — in terms of technology and spend less time in front of my computer and more time in personal interactions so that I can discover what makes my ‘clients’ (teachers & students) tick.

  9. I’m the guy.

    I use my record player more than my i-pod.

    I don’t know what an RSS is (are?)

    I’m smart and good at what I do.

    I’m not a knee-jerk-this-won’t-work-with-THESE-kids fellow, but I need to be convinced that the upfront time involved in tech, especially in teaching the usage of tech to my five-years-behind-grade-level, CELDT-2 7th & 8th graders is gonna pay off. Seriously. Show me how and show me where, and then I’ll go spread the good word. But you need to show me, and you better be good.

    You better be good because I’ve sat through enough shit-ass PD time to choke a goat (or any other variety of hooved mammal). Also, I keep getting tech flyers in my box that suffer from awful design, and promise the acquisition of life- and classroom-changing skill sets with titles like “A Picture DOES Say a 1,000 Words!” and “Say it with Thought Bubbles!”

    I’m a gilted lover with trust issues.

    This ain’t your fault, but you gotta deal with it. Not up for it? Cool, but then I’m gonna keep on keeping on the way I do. This isn’t laziness; it’s resource allocation.

  10. By let the kids use it, I mean let it be an option, but not the only one. Lessons I designed that required PowerPoint or required someother “technology” typically produced less-than-stellar results. On the other hand, if I left it open and let the kids decide what to use (maybe giving technology suggestions), it’s much more successful.

  11. Here’s my point: They don’t know how to use technology.

    At the beginning of the year roughly half my kids were unable to turn on a computer. They hit the monitor button and waited. And waited. And waited. “It doesn’t want to turn on!” they moaned. “Try another strategy,” I suggested, allowing the kids to teach me. There were no other strategies in their toolboxes.

    I’m not kidding. It was carnage.

    They can’t hit alt-ctrl-del to log-in. They can’t double-click. They are such poor typers and spellers, they are unable to log-in to the online grade program, because they misspell their names, the shool’s name, and screw-up the cap sensitivity of the log-in.

    Blogging? Powerpoint? Pod-casting?


    So I go back. Can the time necessary to teach these skills be justified in the face of all else they need to learn? I chip away where I can, because I believe this is important, but the mountain is tall and time is ever short.

  12. Sometimes you know a message won’t go over well, but here we go.

    Tech coordinators need to help us (teachers), to give us what we need, not what you tell us we need.

    The kids need to learn tech? Then give them classes designed for that. But…then the tech coordinators need to be tech teachers.

    Honestly, the last thing a regular teacher needs is one more self-important non-teacher telling him what to do. And, in way too many cases… I’ve said enough.

  13. Okay, I get your point. I’m a problem-solver, so forgive me if you don’t want my ideas on this point. I would find out who my in-class technology gurus were (hopefully at least a couple) and put them into groups to teach the other kids or to be project manager. Or I’d ask the tech specialist to come in and teach a lesson on that stuff. Hopefully a technology class is required for all kids, but, if it’s not, maybe we can do a little to introduce them to the things that are out there. A how-to paper on using a mouse?

    PS. Thanks for the great discussion.