Saturday, 18 April 2015

How2 Make Sure Every Teacher Matters

This is the fourth out of five posts detailing “How I met your Awesomeness.” (Previous companies being PledgeCents, #EdTechChat/ClassDojo and Declara). However, I could not pass up the opportunity of changing the title of the post.

In 2003 the UK the Labour Government had an initiative that focused on the outcomes based on “Every Child Matters,” in the US there is policy and initiatives around “No Child Left Behind.” 

I think there has been a mis-judgement with the focus on these titles and initiatives. I think the focus should have been on Teachers ie “Every Teacher Matters” and “No Teacher Left Behind”

This sentiment is one that 100% encapsulates the main focus and priority of the How2 Founders.

The Customer is Not Priority #1! 
The reason I think the focus should have been on educators is, as usual, based on the practices of those crazy Silicon Valley startups. Those crazy people do not take the approach that “The Customer is their number 1 priority” They believe that their staff should be, and is, their primary focus.

I believe this rationale to be sound because... how on earth can you expect to have happy customers if your staff are not taken care of?

If staff are not properly trained, or not given the resources they need, are not trusted, respected or just generally not looked after very well, how can you expect a demoralised work force create a great customer experience?

These are all areas that companies like Zappos obsess about… The level of support that the How2 founders had for both their staff and educators was obvious when I met the team.

I had a post that was all ready to go with the title of “How I met your Awesomeness: How2” and was double checking some facts with Co-Founder Ian Harris, then he said:

“We have a strategy meeting coming up… why not join us so you can find out more about us”

“I’m already going to say nice things about you” Says I “There’s no need to try to win me over… and besides, I’m writing about the culture more than anything”

“Well, why not come down and write about whatever you like… whether about the culture or our Professional Development (PD) solutions for educators” Ian replies.

I am glad that I did take Ian up on the offer, he might be glad too… because I have enough material for 3-4 posts instead of one.  

The Dreaded Team Building Ice-Breaker
After the introductions on the first day ex-Head Teacher and Co-Founder, Oliver Caviglioli, kicks the proceedings off.

He says that he wants to interview members of the team who are responsible for... while I’m tempted to say “Selling” How2s, this is such a consultative approach that the word “sell” really doesn’t quite fit.

And... I hasten to add this isn't the kind of “We’re not-Selling, but we actually are” tactics that I have read about. This isn't “solution selling,” it’s not “Spin Selling” or anything else.

This is more a case of “We think we have a really great product” and we hate sales and selling, an attitude that might be another indicator regarding the organisations history. This is a company that is one of my faviourite types: The founders are “edupreneurs” 

This is a product that was conceived out of two educators frustrations at the lack of good provision for PD (More on that in the next post “How2 The Kipp for Professional Development”)  

As busy educators Ian and Oliver know all too well how annoying those sales calls were when they were on the other end of the phone.

Level 5 Leaders
This interview ice breaker also highlights the company’s desire to question everything and, unsurprisingly, provide relevant PD for their staff.

Oliver explains the reason for this exercise. He explains how the company has evolved, and wondered;
  • What aspects of the service are the same? 
  • What has changed?
  • Does the message we take to educators still match the service we provide?
  • Is the message and presentation consistent across all members of the team?

This could SO easily have been an EXTREMELY uncomfortable exercise! I cringe at the thought of having to do this with some of my previous managers… it would have been nothing more than an excuse to belittle and ridicule members of staff. 

But there is no sense of the kind of panic you might expect. If I did not know that Ian and Oliver were educators who were obsessive about PD and organisational culture, I believe that I would have guessed it in the first 10 minutes of this session.

This exercise seemed to have little to do with any shortcomings of members of staff… but for the founders to take a long hard look in the mirror to ask: 
  • How are we doing in our job of supporting you?
  • Are we giving you all the tools that you need in order to succeed with your projects?
  • Do you need any help with any aspect of your professional development?
The How2 Founders are Definitely operating at Level 5 Leadership Level 

Co-Founder Ian Harris is first to be “Interviewed” and the things that jump out at me include:

"We have established a community of practice… one that is designed for teachers, we want to facilitate the exchange of skills"

There is an undertone that this is a service designed squarely with educators in mind;

"Our aim is to help teachers...we want to help managers too, but only in so far as the part of their role supporting teachers" 

Given my experience with EdChats, where educators say Twitter is the best form of PD, this all makes perfect sense. This is not a policy maker ->Teacher exchange; it’s not a Senior Manager (who has never taught) -> teacher exchange. This is peer-to-peer support, a skills exchange from one teacher to another.
Just a handful of the hundreds of Twitter Best PD Tweets
“We want to do what we can to support teachers and help them improve”

Ian goes on to highlight how and why he feels How2 fulfills a need, how he feels that educators have had a “raw deal” with CPD/PD, a result of which is that there is now a negative perception about it.

Ian’s comments reminds me of the impact that Studio 360/Hyperakt's “RebrandTeachers” campaign had, I wonder if How2 could have the same impact on PD.

Could How2 re-brand PD in the way this re-branded Edu
Not that you would have thought it possible but, the passion in Ian’s voice raises a notch when he details that;

“We facilitate educators to resource their own PD, they can access the teaching technique they need when they need it… And in bitesized chunks that suits the lifestyle and schedule of busy educators”

All that I know about educators PD is what I read about in the Twittershpere but, when I compare Ian’s comments with what’s said on Twitter, the assessment is very similar.

Organised PD has questionable value, and connected educators find peer-to-peer sharing in bitesized 140 characters more useful than many other forms of professional development. As I listen, a thought pops into my head:

Why are lesson plans made up the night before, and yet… PD is a once a term inset day occurrence?

Would it not make sense to have PD done for 10 minutes the night before the lesson too? Oliver picks up on this a little later in the day;

"Identify the learning you want students to achieve, then access the How2 you need to teach it"

I have written about PledgeCents and ClassDojo recently. After listening to Ian’s interview I feel there are comparisons with both here:

PledgeCents Just like PledgeCents gives educators autonomy over something that they had no control over before (ie classroom finance/budgets), How2s could provide the same autonomy to educators with PD.

ClassDojoThere’s lot’s of research on classroom behavior, but ClassDojo made behavior “Classroom Ready”

Fix the Man… Fix the World
Paul Main is the next to be interviewed.The message and passion from Paul’s interview is consistent with Ian’s, but there is something different in the focus of his presentation.

Ian’s interview is industry wide, he wants to change the way every educator views and receives PD.

This is understandable —  as part of his journey from the relatively comfortable lifestyle of a Deputy Head for the uncertain world of startup land Ian has worked with individual teachers and groups of teachers in more than 1500 schools. 

Paul brings this global view down to the individual. His presentation is the “Ying” to Ian’s “Yang,” they are two sides of the same coin.

I am reminded of the busy professor who wants to concentrate on his work while looking after his young son. To keep the youngster busy he takes a map of the world out of a newspaper and cuts it up and says 

“Let’s see how long it takes for you to put the world back together”

After a short while the child comes into the professors’ study and says “I’ve finished dad”

Surprised at the speed at which the task was done he asks “How did you do this so quickly?”

“There was a picture of a man on the other side… When I fixed the man, I fixed the world”

The picture that Paul painted was like something right out of Geoffry Moore’s “What is” Vs “What Could Be”

He describes the current practices, the shortcoming and challenges these practices have, not in theory, but when it comes down to the practical implementation, making the techniques “Classroom Ready”

He highlights that there is all this research on teaching techniques in the volumes of books, policy documents and white papers, which is one thing… but applying it in the classroom is another matter entirely.

Again, this makes sense... despite 3-4 years of teacher training, a new teacher stepping into the classroom for the first time is still a daunting prospect.

Paul highlights the importance of mentors, and encapsulating what good practice of the academic techniques and research looks like in the classroom.

“We need to break this huge body of work down into ‘digestable’ content that everyone understands and make it actionable”

I laugh as a thought jumps into my head, this interrupts proceedings with Paul’s “interview.”

“Did I say something funny?” Paul asks, looking a little confused.

“No!”  I say “I was laughing because you can tell that you sell an image-based solution... the image that I have in my head of How2’s through your explanation is:

Infographics for Educators Professional Development

The guys seem to like this description, and briefly discuss whether to use this as some sort of How2 “strapline” (Will that mean that I get to add 'Marketing guru' to my CV?)

The Brand Advocate-Turned-Employee
When I write about products like this I make a special effort NOT to look at the actual product. This may seem extremely counter-intuitive, but there is method in the madness.

I am not selling any products in these posts, I am not recommending any product here. Furthermore, what I think of any product does not matter one jot! Who am I to recommend any product to educators? Who am I that anyone should listen to what I think should or should not go into the classroom?

So what criteria do I use in order for me to write about an organization like this? In the case of How2? Here’s one very big reason for this: The next How2 employee to be interviewed: Carole Kane, educator, How2 users and their #1 fan.

Before she knew about How2 Carole Kane was busying away with her PD strategy... happily working her way through her 10th year at an FE College. Carole had worked in various departments and roles, and was leading on professional learning.

Two weeks prior to inviting Ian in to discuss the benefits of How2, Carole had just signed off on a significant sum on a series of PD training sessions.

She bought How2s on the spot and two weeks later called Ian and said;

“I’m so impressed with this, that I’d like to work for you”

Apple customers are brand evangalists... So are How2s! 
Talk about a brand advocate and evangelist!  

Costs are always an issue for startups and educators are not renowned for their sales skills (Well maybe not before Nikki Robertson showed us how well teachers can sell. Lol)… But employing Carole soon became a “no brainer,” just like PD Ian found that educators preferred subscribing to services through peer-to-peer referals.

Carole got new clients signed up as a user and brand advocate while working at the college. She recommended How2s at FE networking events. She also won various PD awards… all as a direct result of using HOW2s and the peer-to-peer mentoring to support educators with the practical application of their resources and teaching techniques

I was to find out over the course of the weekend that this is typical. The company has a number of customers who they work so closely with that the relationship is more a case of collaborator and co-creators Vs a supplier/customer relationship.

Carole’s interview is again consistent with Ian and Paul's, but adds her extensive knowledge of the UK Further Education sector to the mix.

Frustrating and Confusing Policy
I worked in UK Further Education for 9 years, and it is a sector that can have a language all of it's own. Carole spoke of various initiatives that seemed to be new, and which seemed to have been given "priority status" since I left the sector, which was only a year ago. It's also one of the reasons I left FE... In frustration!

The constant change in policy and priorities was the reason I left...the culture that our politicians create in education (Especially in FE) is, in my opinion, not necessarily a positive one.

For example, from 2003-2010 Every Child Matters, Healthy Schools, National Indicators were frameworks that Colleges and Local Authorities used, and were starting to take hold and show some promise. However, any good work was swept away as the Conservative Party introduced “The Big Society,” a concept that was extremely vague and led to a great deal of confusion.

"It was similar frustrations that led to Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin to leave state education to create KIPP" I think to myself. Then there's a spooky twighlight moment... Carole says something that provides a direct comparison to KIPP;

"HOW2s give teachers the private space to learn new techniques any time, any place"

For me, this translates as a product that passes the test in one of my all time faviourite education based presentations. KIPP Co-Founder Mike Feinberg presented at the 2013 GSVSummit, where his definition of what great EdTech looks like is;

“Great Teaching… and More of It”

The best technology either frees up educators time with admin to let teachers spend more time in the classroom; or it facilitates learning that take place outside of school/class time.

How2's sure do appear to pass this "Great Teaching... and More of It" test! Indeed, over the course of the next 2 days I would find myself comparing How2’s founders experience and story with KIPP and found myself wondering;

Is How2 The Kipp for Professional Development?  

But I'll leave that story for another day.

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