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What EdTech Companies Need to Know about School District Partnerships

A former superintendent shares what it takes to create a successful edtech partnership

I have a unique perspective about K-12 needs as well as what edtech companies must provide to make a critical difference in education. Serving in public education for over 30 years, many of which as superintendent of schools, I have learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t.

Here’s what I’ve learned and come to appreciate in educational companies that successfully and effectively partner with school systems:

Lead with a social mission and purpose

The shift in moving beyond product or service placement to providing insights about effective change leadership, change management, or performance metrics are critical to building trust capital.

District superintendents need to know that you and your company are in this business to be transformational and impact student lives—not just make money. It’s important to do business with companies that “get” what you’re committed to doing.

Gather that intel

It’s critical to understand the school system as well as the capacity, competence, and confidence to implement your product or service. Ask great questions and listen.

 Here are a few things to consider (and you should know before establishing a partnership):

  • Do you understand the conflicting and competing initiatives under way? Think about the sum of impact, time, commitment, resources, and attention required.
  • Do you understand where and to what extent previous initiatives have produced desired results? It’s important as you think how to adjust and adapt implementation as well as ongoing support. 
  • Do you assume that school systems already know how to implement your service or product? You never should assume. You are the “experts” and they expect you to have answers to your questions. I appreciate companies that are confident enough to share their preferred method of implementation, monitoring, and adjustment through the life cycle of their product. It enables a clear path and direction that raises the bar for success.  

Make thought leadership an intentional value-add

This type of leadership must serve to inspire and provoke different thinking about the challenges, concerns, and solutions in education. The shift in moving beyond product or service placement to providing insights about effective change leadership, change management, or performance metrics are critical to building trust capital between private and public sectors.

Be clear about the “what” and “why” not just “how”

The shifting landscape in K-12 partnerships is taking the time to be clear about what we are trying to achieve and why—and not rushing the how. The landscape is replete with the carnage of failed implementation of promising products and services due to rushing to the “how” before firmly establishing a shared understanding of the “what” and “why”.
The shifting landscape of partnerships is critical. I am confident that the aforementioned four points are merely a starting point. The demand and therefore responsibility of companies to meet or exceed new expectations of partnering will ultimately determine their success. The most powerful lessons learned as a Superintendent were that I did not have all the answers, and I could not do this work on my own. Companies that understand this reality and embrace the shift are the ones that will not only thrive, but also play a major role in this great work of educating all learners.

In case you missed it: You can listen to the podcast here. If you are interested in how data plays a role in optimized partnerships, read my latest blog series and stay tuned for my upcoming white paper, A New Math Classroom: Creating a Data-Driven Culture.

Dr. Gregory Firn

Dr. Gregory Firn

Dr. Gregory Firn served as Superintendent, Deputy Superintendent, and in several other educational leadership roles in Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, Washington state, Nevada, and overseas. Grounded in the school effects research, Dr. Firn’s leadership resulted in school system improvement as measured by student achievement and performance results, increased parent, community, and school engagement, increased graduation rates and decreased student suspensions. A pioneer in digital conversion, he twice led system-wide digital transformation initiatives, including the design and implementation of robust human capital development programs. Dr. Firn earned his doctorate from Seattle Pacific University, where his research focused on learner-centered education.
Dr. Gregory Firn

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