Contributor: Jessie Arora, Founder TeacherSquare
Successful navigation requires some sort of map, which helps set expectations and provide guidance along the way. As you begin to build a product or service that you would like to one day see utilized in multiple schools and districts, it will serve you well to have a basic understanding of how most school districts are structured and run. (To start, it is important to note that while these practices are common to many schools and districts it is not the case for all. This information is based off Santa Clara County Department of Ed which is made up of 33 school districts and several Charter School providers, serving ~260k students and ~13k teachers.)
Let’s take a glimpse inside the way most public districts are commonly structured:
One of the main reasons schools have not changed much over the past 100+ years is due the formal structure and bureaucracy. The good news is that the rigidity of this existing structure is starting to loosen. As more and more tools are being designed and distributed directly to teachers, we have seen some positive signs of early “disruption.” However, radical shifts are still off in the distant horizon and if you’re looking to sell to schools, one of the most reliable strategies is connecting with the Tech Lead at the District.
How do tech tools get into schools?
It is good to start with an understanding of how technology tools most commonly get widely adopted across multiple schools within a district. Firstly, a teacher and/or Tech Lead learns about the tool, usually from a peer or at a conference, and they test it out. If they like it, they advocate on behalf of that tool/service to purchase licences and do a district-wide roll out. The Technology Leads often work very closely with the Curriculum and Instruction Team to ensure the software solutions are philosophically aligned with reaching the learning goals. This makes sense since the goal of incorporating tech tools and services is to improve learning outcomes for students.
Teachers are often discouraged to do one-off tech solutions because at the district level they have the leverage to negotiate better deals and have better visibility into what is working. One of the biggest challenges for districts right now, is that teachers often are applying one-off solutions, especially if they are free, and district leadership does not have an easy or efficient way to track what is working.
Telling your story to the right people
For most major school districts there are a few clear ways to get an audience with principals and tech leads. The following is the meeting schedule for Santa Clara County Office of Ed, but should help to provide insights on how other districts organize their teamrs. Principals have their own meetings 1-2 times a month covering a variety of topics. The Edtech Leads (one from each of the 33 districts) meet bi-monthly for 4 hours. The first portion of the meeting is devoted to IT and network updates, covering state compliance and other requirements. The second have of the meeting is focused on vendor presentations, introducing the community to new tools and services. This is more of a practical application demo rather than a sales pitch, where one teacher or ‘insider’ who has been a fan of the tool partners with the vendor to tell their story and provide direct feedback from their pilot experience.
Hope this peels back the curtain a bit to give a glimpse into the structure and communication systems in place a most major school districts.
* Special thanks to Kathie Kanavel, Coordinator, Educational Technology & Library Programs, for sharing her insights and experiences.