Industry News

What K-12 superintendents want education technology providers to understand

Doug Roberts
October 18, 2021

Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

If you work for an education technology company, chances are you’ve been incredibly busy over the last 18 months helping school districts navigate constant change. And, if you’ve been following education news, you know that many school district superintendents are being stretched -- in many cases unfairly so -- to a breaking point.

The responsibility to keep students, families, and teachers safe during the pandemic -- while also fostering learning in a variety of virtual and in-person settings -- has been a heavy one, and as a result, many superintendents are leaving their positions.

While this time of extreme disruption is fueling incredible innovation in education, and edtech companies are understandably proud of the new solutions they’re presenting to district leaders, there are frequent gaps between supes and providers. So, if you’re an edtech provider, how do you approach your most valuable clients -- school district superintendents -- in a way that is collaborative, compassionate, and current?

Our organization is fortunate to have a robust membership of supes who share their insights with each other and with us through consistent opportunities to connect virtually and, increasingly, in-person. The intelligent, candid, and thoughtful observations these brilliant people share are invaluable, and I’m honored to help them curate their thought leadership.

The unique position we have to serve as a conduit between supes and edtech people helps build understanding and relationships. Without these relationships, so much of the brilliant innovation happening in education right now would fall flat, and not have its intended outcome of supporting students, families, teachers, and learning communities.

With that in mind, here are six things supes want edtech providers to understand as they navigate the 2021-22 school year.

Listen to what supes are telling you

If you’re an edtech provider, you have opportunities through multiple channels to capture valuable insights from your end customer: school district superintendents. You’re probably already collecting their feedback, whether anecdotally or through satisfaction surveys. But are you truly listening to it?

If you are, then you know that, after ensuring everyone’s physical safety, supes are laser focused on figuring out how to meet students and families where they are right now. Supes are not looking back or trying to “recover” learning. They are moving fast to determine ways they can identify where their students are emotionally and academically right now, and then implement inventive strategies to get children engaged with learning today and going forward.

Be patient

If you have an innovative solution that addresses an old -- or new -- problem, it’s easy to convey your excitement in an urgent way to school district decision makers. Please understand that your enthusiasm to oversimplify and fix a problem for a supe can slow down the process of getting a school district to adopt and implement your edtech solution.

As we described earlier, supes are being stretched in many directions to make school happen right now. Pacing your process for gathering information about school district’s challenges, customizing your solution, providing support for school board buy-in, and ultimately, helping the district implement your product will provide you with the outcomes you’ve envisioned.

People buy from people

The role of a school district superintendent is a prestigious, but challenging, one. Most people would be surprised to know that most supes never had the goal of becoming one. They got into education because they loved helping kids learn.

Take the time to build meaningful relationships with your school superintendent clients and you will find that it doesn’t just get your product deployed, it makes it better. The valuable feedback your supes give you will drive your development.

Be thoughtful with email

Again, you are trying to connect with and support people who are working, on average, 15 hours a day, 7 days a week, according to a recent Washington Post article. If not carefully crafted, your promotional emails will be unopened, and worse, perceived as tone deaf. Even one-to-one emails can convey that sense of urgency you feel, but your supe doesn’t, and come off as insensitive.

Consider providing real, actionable information that truly helps the supe you’re emailing to help them solve a problem without needing your product to do so.

Show gratitude

Everyone appreciates acknowledgement for their hard work, and even more so if it’s happening behind the scenes. Find ways to highlight the wins your client school districts are having through social media, blogs, case studies, and press releases. This content provides a win-win for you, the edtech provider, and most importantly, your rockstar supes.

Listen

OK. This is so important, we’ll say it again: listen to supes. School district superintendents are the most entrepreneurial people I know. And, if their entrepreneurial mindset ever needed to be further challenged, the pandemic gave them the opportunity to shine even brighter. These innovators pivot-on-a-dime with agility and grace. They know that no edtech product is the silver bullet, but they are open to evaluating specific solutions to a unique problem they have, and ultimately, grateful for the help.

As the CEO of the Institute for Education Innovation, Doug Roberts connects leaders in school districts with edtech companies to drive groundbreaking change in education, and is the creator of the inaugural Supes Choice Awards, which recognize innovative edtech solutions. 

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