Tag Archives: Collaboration

When is a teacher a salesperson?

self-help graphic
From the Ten Commandments for the ethical salesperson

 

Teaching is selling

I was chatting to a headteacher at an event I had organised recently and I can’t even remember what we were talking about exactly, but he said to me: “So basically you are a saleswoman”. I backtracked and said, “Well, in a way I am, but not that kind of saleswoman, not the slimy car salesman type. I see myself as just spreading the gospel of a good thing”.

Salesperson isn’t usually used as a compliment. I felt slightly shamed by what he had insinuated but our conversation took an unexpected turn for the better. He nudged me jovially, leaned in, and confessed, “before I got myself into all this” he said, gesticulating to the room heaving with long-serving, high achieving headteachers from across the country, “I was what you might call a travelling salesman – and I loved it”.

To pare down the conversation and cut to the point, we found ourselves discussing with great interest and agreement that teaching is basically selling. Here are some thoughts on the basics of really sound sales skills based on my decade as an English teacher and a decade in consultative sales in the education sector, in my roles as Director of Business Development at The Key for School Leaders, as a consultant helping two small education businesses grow and develop, and as Head of Membership at Challenge Partners.

Believe in your product

One of the key ingredients for failure in any profession is being half-hearted or lacking in belief in yourself and in what you are doing. The best teachers are really convinced that what they have to offer is really worth knowing. Those that have great passion and enthusiasm for what they teach, and genuinely want others to share in their joy, are the ones that usually at least get the attention, respect, and often loyal commitment of their students.

Likewise, I only became interested in business development out of necessity. I started at The Key as Research Team Leader, working with a team of researchers tasked with swiftly, accurately and succinctly answering questions from school leaders on anything that concerned their school. The service was a hit, schools were feeding back that this was a game changer, freeing up their time, reducing their anxiety and ensuring that they were doing what they needed to be doing. And then the financial crash happened and the DfE decided they couldn’t roll out nationally as planned. We had two choices: fold or find a way.

My absolute conviction that what we were doing could change the way school leaders worked led me to take on the role of business development and start to spread the gospel. My enthusiasm was boundless. We went from a few hundred schools that received the service for free to 60,000 school leaders with paid membership across the country over the course of the next 5 years.

Know your market and be an expert

Belief isn’t enough of course. You have to know who you are dealing with. You have to be an expert in your subject. You have to keep refreshing your knowledge. And you have to find a way to make sure that you can communicate to your market, based on your intimate knowledge of what their needs are, where their heads are at, and how you can reach them.

I care passionately about education. I steep myself in reading, thinking, listening, connecting, and getting involved in the sector as a school governor, through events and TeachMeets and the like. I can be passionate and well-informed about a number of key issues. I am seen as someone who understands and empathises with the frontline sector folk.

A teacher who is clued up about how their subject connects with their students’ worlds and can articulate that, is onto a winner. And I’m not talking about convincing students that they really will need to use Pythagoras’ Theorum in their daily lives one day, especially if they ever have to move a sofa up a narrow staircase.  Being able to play back your peripheral knowledge to your students and being able to pitch at the right level, is essential for teachers.

In my roles to date, being clear about what schools will prioritise based on ever-changing Ofsted criteria, funding streams, times of year, demographics, local politics, or any number of factors is paramount. Working that into my discussions with my clients can help them trust me and know that I understand where they are coming from.

 Know your client group and listen carefully

Basic knowledge about your students’ lives, the things that might be pulling them this way or that, being savvy about forces such as poverty, pressures on gender expectations and your own unconscious bias can be a massive advantage when thinking about your target audience.

As teachers and as salespeople, we have a natural tendency to want to launch in with our message of enthusiastic good news. Worse still, salespeople and teachers alike often find themselves in the oppressive world of targets, box ticking and trying to get to the end point from the minute they start their day. Lest these things start to dictate unsavoury behaviours, asking questions and listening carefully is time worth taking. Greeting each child as they enter the classroom is a great way to show you are human, but actually listening to them when you ask how they are, is even better. Making connections, following up, replaying and reaching out is hard to find time for, but can actually get you further along towards your end goal than you would imagine.


Know your competitors and treat them with respect

Something I really believe in is knowing your competitors inside out. I also believe that you shouldn’t politely avoid them but should rather make efforts to connect, be in the same space and interact comfortably. Moreover, I believe that you can never get anywhere or earn the respect of others through dissing your opposition or competition.

If you know your competitors, what they do well, where you are similar and where you differ, it is possible to articulate this in a respectful and engaging way.

Kids always try it on and will compare you with other teachers. How many times have you heard them say words to the effect of “Miss never gives us homework like you do! They are much nicer than you”? Or perhaps they complain about another teacher saying you are much nicer because of x, y or z reason. What do you say in response? Can you say something that shows that you actually know what your colleague is trying achieve and what is important to them rather than skirting around the issues or god forbid agreeing that they are a moron compared with you?

Or what about those students that are more interested in other things rather than in what you think is important? How can you be inquisitive, give respect to things that matter to your students rather than defaulting to the generation-gap trap of poo-pooing their passions?

When I worked at The Key, we didn’t really have any genuine competitors until one set themselves up to aggressively mimic what we did and deliberately target our members by offering to undercut us by 50%. Legend goes that their CEO was so determined to bring us down that he used to spit on the floor every time he had to mention our name. I made it my business to always go over and say a friendly hello to their sales team at their conference stands and congratulate them on their latest small landgrab. If asked about them, it was easy for me to set out the differences around quality, methodology, capacity and so on without ever saying a disrespectful word about them.

Recently as part of my work with Challenge Partners, I was invited to a seminar of organisations that offer peer review. Instead of the usual circus of pitches behind closed doors, each organisation was asked to speak about their model in a roomful of heads and in front of their perceived ‘competitors’ for business. What was delightful was the chance to hear more about these different models and to see the virtues and differences between them. Everyone was so passionate about their belief in peer review as a way to create meaningful and impactful collaboration, it was fascinating!

Solve problems, remove barriers

Consultative sales is really all about this. Putting together the points I made earlier, the ‘sales pitch’ really isn’t one at all. It is a discussion, which starts with you listening, and genuinely trying to see if what you have to offer will work for the other person. You can only know this by listening, knowing the market, understanding needs and so on. What are the simple things you can do to remove barriers? Can you move on the price, or perhaps add value without shifting on price? Are there economies of scale or a trial before there’s a commitment in full?

Students also need this level of barrier removal. You can’t know what these barriers are without listening, understanding, thinking creatively.


Have clear expectations for timelines and next steps

Some of the best teachers fall down on not being clear on what they want, when they want it by, in what format, how often, and for what purpose. It doesn’t take much to set these out and clarity can make for much better engagement and achievement in the long run. It’s not enough to just say it once either. It needs to be communicated in several ways at different intervals.

Same goes for sales. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of a prospective new member of your organisation without having properly set out the timelines and next steps of your discussion or negotiation.  If you get this wrong, excitement can lead swiftly to disappointment on all sides.


Be trustworthy

This is a big one for me. Having been brought up by basically unreliable and unpredictable adults, I have a special wariness of people who are flaky, who over-promise and under-deliver. I especially can’t abide by professionals or personal acquaintances who say they were swamped and that’s why they didn’t do what they said they were going to do. It seems to be a big feature of the education sector that people will just not be there when they have asked to schedule a call with you, or are half an hour late when they have asked you to come and meet them. As well as setting out next steps clearly, I always make sure I am true to my word. If I say I can move on price, I will. If I say I will call you at 2pm on Tuesday, I will.
Children need to be able to trust adults. They need to know that you will do what you said you would do. They need to know that if you set them homework, you can be trusted to take it in and mark it. They need to know that you will behave in a way that earns their trust and they also need to know you will be trusting of them.


Be warm and friendly but keep clear boundaries and don’t be a walkover

When I started teaching, I was told that I should start like a closed fist and only unfurl gradually and on my own terms. “Don’t smile ‘til Christmas” is what is said in this country, I believe. We often mistake being warm and friendly with a lack of boundaries. It is possible, desirable, essential even, to be warm and friendly to the people that we want to trust us, respect us and learn from us.

The same goes with sales. Warmth that is genuine and being friendly even if your service is ultimately rejected as not appropriate, is really important. If you have followed the steps of true consultative sales as set out here, there will be no change in your warmth and ability to be friendly, whether what you are offering is taken up or not. On the other hand, people can take the mickey and ask for a level of flexibility that just isn’t realistic. Don’t be afraid to say no because you worry you might lose the sale. Just explain why in a friendly way. You might be surprised that you don’t lose the sale after all.

While being friendly, one has to keep those clear boundaries.


Love what you do and do what you love

I have always had one rule about work. I love what I do and do what I love. If I find things to be otherwise, it’s time to move on.  I am genuinely passionate about the organisations I have worked with and feel completely at home sharing my passion, engaging others in dialogue and seeing if they might benefit from them too. There will always be targets, ideals, peaks in workload and even days that are simply crappy. But it’s important to me to work with my colleagues to build the right culture so that these things don’t become central drivers.

As a teacher, you can find that your initial passion can become swallowed up by the demands of the job. Where you can, join together with colleagues in your school to make sure the culture is one you believe in and that makes you feel happy and alive at least most of the time. Make sure that you aspire to being surrounded by staff and students that love what they do and do what they love.

Principles of effective networking

networking

Networking is about face to face meetings as well as online activity through Twitter, LinkedIn or other social networking tools. Here are some basic tips for online networking that can help you build your network and ensure that you are a trusted, reliable and desirable person to know online.  Skip to the end section if you would just like some tips on face to face networking.

Be genuine 

Make sure your “about” or “bio” page on Linked In, Twitter etc. effectively and genuinely communicate who you are. Have a photo of yourself that is genuinely you – resist the urge to put your best wedding photo or a younger, sun-tanned you if this isn’t how you usually look. Also avoid putting pictures of yourself with other people as this is just confusing.

Don’t hide behind an anonymous account or a fake persona. This should help you to be careful and gracious in your interactions with people. Many people instinctively don’t trust anonymous or fake accounts on Twitter.

It’s not a bad idea to occasionally (not constantly) post something of a personal nature to your social media accounts, which can help your followers to connect with you on a more personal level.

Be respectful at all times   your mum

While being genuine, if you are identifying yourself as an employee of an organisation, be aware that you will usually need to be agenda-neutral, apolitical and always respectful to protect the integrity of your employers.

Make sure all of your activities – your postings, comments, questions, pictures and videos – all reflect your professionalism and dedication to your field. Internet postings, even deleted ones, are available for ever more and can resurface at any time.

Imagine your boss is reading what you are saying, and your mum, and perhaps a child that you know. It’s okay to be passionate, to make a point or to stimulate discussion but the more cordial and measured you are, the better the response you will have.

Don’t be afraid to say something. Many people just re-tweet as a way to avoid ever thinking of anything to say or to avoid being seen to be taking a stance. Just choose your words carefully – often, asking a question with a news item you post is better than stating a point of view e.g. Could government do more to help students from deprived backgrounds? Or attribute the point of view to where it belongs e.g. School leaders are angry over cuts to LA support.

Networking is a two-way street – give first and give more            networking and generosity

Think about what you have which is interesting or useful to someone else before you consider what it is that you want from other people.

Think about how you can help another person and don’t be afraid to offer your support.

To do this, you need to learn what interests your followers and remember or keep a note of it so you can reach out appropriately. Some people organise the people they follow into ‘Lists’. But remember the people you put into your lists can see what they are categorised under so name your lists carefully!

Consider how you might best serve your followers – could regular news items be something you could supply? Are you able to create a theme so that you are considered the go-to person for something in particular? Can you make yourself a valuable source for others online?

Identify some high-profile people you would love to get to know better or would love to take an interest in your work and target them for some special interest contact.

Be dynamic, proactive and regular 

People lose interest in accounts that lie dormant for days and weeks and will unfollow accounts that don’t look like they are used much so make sure you don’t look boring to others.

If news items are your thing, think about starting each morning/week with some key updates that you think would interest others e.g. top items you have spotted in the education news.

Be proactive by posting new content, starting new discussions and contacting people within the communities you find interesting.

Seek to engage the members of your community with content that is relevant to them, by being both proactive and reactive with your activities. Be reactive by commenting on what others post or contacting people who post content of interest to you to continue the conversation.

You can add a fun regular element like Monday cats or #FF on Twitter but keep it tasteful and don’t overdo it.

Join online regular chats where you feel you would like to learn more and eventually contribute. These are organised by hashtag and often have a regular weekly slot like #UKEdChat or #UKGovChat on Sunday evenings

Take a long-term approach     daily routine

It takes time to build a following and it takes time to know who to follow. Make sure you give yourself time.

Set goals – x followers by x date – but remember quality over quantity should always be the rule.

Make time for networking – perhaps ten minutes each morning to check your feed and tweet some news items and then ten minutes in the evenings and one half hour regular chat slot a week is what you could work towards.

Keep your profile photo the same for as long as possible – that way people will recognise you more easily online and also if you meet at an event.

Network face to face 

Make sure you attend relevant conferences and events and approach people face to face using the same principles of being genuine, helpful, cordial and so on.

Make sure you let people know on your network that you are going to be at an event.

Arrange to meet up with your online contacts for a coffee and a chat or to sit next to each other at a session.

Tweet from the event, Storify it or write it up as a blog post or LinkedIn update.

Don’t focus on the big names but don’t be afraid to connect with them and let them know what you thought about their talk, article, etc. Amazing things can happen if you dare.

Introduce yourself to people at conferences and events and you will see eventually, people will introduce themselves based on your profile.

Apply the same principles at conferences and events that you would online – be genuine, respectful, think where you can help others, be dynamic and proactive. Build in time to network.

Below are some handy tips for networking at events: 

Go to events. Attend the popular and well-known ones but also challenge yourself to attend events that might not be your first choice e.g. go to an evening think tank event of an organisation you don’t know well or whose views you personally oppose, attend a more intimate situation like a TeachMeet or a debate.

Let people know you are going to be there. If you can make a shout out several times on Twitter, asking who is else is going, you can arrange to meet and chat with people directly while you are there.

Let your colleagues know you are going and see if there is anyone they think you should approach or look out for.

If you can get a guest list ahead of the event, actively contact people of interest prior to the event by email, on Twitter or via LinkedIn and say that you will be there too. Say that you would be interested in having a coffee and a chat or just let them know you will be glad to bump into them there.

Do the same with the speakers list if there are people there you would appreciate meeting with after their talk or you just want to be aware that you are there.

If you are going to the event with colleagues and people you know, split up. Don’t spend the day clustering together with people you already have a relationship with.

Build in time to actively network. Go to the coffee breaks and lunch breaks and join tables where people are that you don’t know. Don’t spend these times on your phone checking emails or catching up on work.

Look for people who could use someone to chat to and that are standing alone. Find groups of people standing around chatting and join in. Sit in the presentations next to people who you don’t know. At lunch hand the person behind you in the queue a plate, make eye contact and get chatting.

Introduce yourself to everyone you sit next to. Good conversation starters are often the simplest e.g. Have you come far today? Is anyone sitting there? Did you enjoy that session? Are you getting much from the day so far?

Ask questions of people you meet, take an interest, don’t be quick to say where you are from, who you represent, or to tell your own story before you have heard theirs. Think of some questions to ask other people to draw them out and find some connections in common.

Take business cards with you. Set yourself some goals of how many cards you would like to relieve yourself of and to whom. Don’t be shy, just say, it was nice talking to you, here’s my card.

Ask for business cards when you get chatting to people. Write on the back of them in two sentences what you chatted about and why they might be useful/interesting in future. It’s important to do this as you won’t remember later when you need to follow up.

Follow up. Once you get back home or to the office, send an email to each of the contacts you have details for and/or tweet them. Follow them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. Say it was good to meet them and perhaps send them a link to something relevant to your discussion – remember to think of ways you can help others before you ask for help from them.

Wait after a speaker has delivered their presentation and approach them to say thank you and to ask a further question of them. Give them your card and ask for theirs.

Visit trade stands. Speak to people on them, both traders and other people visiting the stands. Assess what sorts of things are being developed, traded, gaining popularity. Give them your card, take theirs. Enter competitions, you may even win a bottle of champagne or an ipod shuffle.

Ask a question to a panel – introduce yourself clearly, the name of your organisation and state your question. It doesn’t have to be a ‘clever’ one but it should be concise. You could ask something generic like “I was interested when you spoke about x, could you say a little more about that?” It’s a great way to get people to recognise you afterwards and to get your name and that of your organisation heard.

Tweet during the event. At the end, you might want to Storify your tweets to make it easier for people to follow the narrative of the day.

Four assumptions on the purpose of collaboration


Through a narrow window we can see only part of the sky, and not the whole vastness, the magnificence of it.”  ― Jiddu KrishnamurtiLife Ahead: On Learning and the Search for Meaning

Neot SemadarPicture: The learning community in the Arava desert in Israel

I’m new to my role as Head of Network Development and I must say I do start each day with a spring in my step, feeling intellectually challenged by the task at hand. My main focus is to get my head around understanding what is working well and how this is being shared effectively locally and nationally. It’s an amazing place to be, at the heart of a busy, collaborative, purposeful network of over 300 schools across the country.

Personally, I need to collaborate in order to make sense of the world. I’m happiest and most productive when my job involves team working, challenge and collaboration. Similarly, my ideal holiday is one where at least part of it is spent creating or building or doing something meaningful with like-minded people. (Although with my dicky knee and as I get older and more decrepit I am warming to the idea of just slowing down and sitting in the sunshine reading a good book instead).

I think one of the happiest times of my life and the most relevant in terms of personal development, was working in a newly founded learning community in the Arava desert in Israel. The community was based loosely on the teachings of great educationalist and thinker Krishnamurti where the purpose of daily life was self-awareness and growth through collaborative exploration.  The key teaching of his that I took away was, “understanding of the self only arises in relationship, in watching yourself in relationship to people, ideas, and things; to trees, the earth, and the world around you and within you. Relationship is the mirror in which the self is revealed. Without self-knowledge there is no basis for right thought and action.” I think Krishnamurti has a lot of wisdom when it comes to collaboration of all forms. I will try to use some this to illustrate my thoughts below.

Collaboration and competition

I’ve never found it easy working with those that hold their cards close to their chest and who are constantly in competition with colleagues and wary of others. I remember my distaste of it from the early days of my own schooling where I saw some children would be hunched over their work, protective arm cradling their page and head bowed to prevent ‘copying’ from any angle. Or those indignant cries you still hear in schools from children young and old: “you stole my idea!” I was so against it that when a school friend was anxious she wouldn’t have time to do her biology homework that evening for various reasons, I did it for her alongside my own. When she got an A+ and I got a B, we both thought it was hilarious and so telling of how wrong the world can be!

Even in the 8 years I have just spent in the highly competitive world of business development, I have steadfastly believed in sensible sharing of information, platforms and opportunities with others operating in the same space. I was told once that the CEO of one of The Key’s fiercest competitors used to spit on the floor of his office every time he had to say our name, and yet I would always make sure I go and say hi to their business development team at their conference stands and would be genuinely interested in their progress. Aside from the spitting CEO, we frontline BD folk were cordial and warm to each other. Why should we not be? We were all working for the same cause, to solve the same problems and enjoyed our work immensely. Krishnamurti says, “real learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased.”

So I am curious about how collaboration and competition can exist side by side and I am cautiously starting to investigate what collaboration is for when it comes to the education sector. There are several interesting blogs and articles on this that I have read recently. Assumption number one could be that collaboration and competition are not mutually exclusive. There can indeed be collaboration in a competitive environment and competition isn’t all bad in a collaborative environment.

Purposeful collaboration

While I love to collaborate, I am the first person to tear my hair out at long and pointless meetings that don’t seem to achieve anything except provide an outlet for those that love to talk (myself included). I will be trying to define the purpose of a meeting, project, discussion, working group before I agree to take part. In a classroom setting, I suppose the most obvious form of collaboration is the oft dreaded and much debated ‘group work’. This can be highly fruitful or completely soul-destroying depending on how it is defined and how and when deployed. I often hear my Year 8 daughter wail over the dinner table school-day-debrief when referring to another group work session at school. It goes like this:

“I mean, it’s like my teachers just want me to fail! Why do they make me do their work for them when I can’t teach the kids that don’t know what they’re doing? And all that happens is that we end up with something crap and I feel totally stressed out having to do all the work and get them to concentrate and work!”

My Year 6 daughter’s experience is different. She is a bright bunny but writing, spelling and organising herself on the page are often a struggle. She will come home buzzing:
“ We had such fun today in literacy – I’m really strong at ideas and can think of good words to use, Anna is great at getting it all down on the page quickly and has great handwriting and Carlos mucks about a bit but he is so good at making the story interesting with funny unexpected twists. We wrote a really good story and when Carlos read it aloud to the class they really liked it!”

As a teacher, coping with heterogeneous classes of up to 36 students, I often would use group work as a way to sub-divide ability groups and make sure I could spend meaningful time with each group in rotation. It takes immense clarity of purpose, clear instruction and iron rule to make it work. I am sure many teachers have really great examples of group work where the stronger students feel empowered and that they are consolidating their knowledge and skills while the weaker students feel enriched and ready to take on the challenge set by their more able peers. Tom Sherrington writes about this in his pedagogy postcard and his post on science co-construction.
Assumption number two of any collaboration is its purpose must be clearly defined, mutually beneficial and create impact and growth for all parties involved.

Collaboration with efficiencies, outcomes and impact

Collaboration can’t just be about sharing practice. Schools are flooded with examples of practice. But it can be around working out what works. This is what the school-led self-improving system is all about. And thoughts on evidence-informed self-improvement are key here. Collaborating around practice is especially useful if you can save money and time and avoid reinventing the wheel.  It can also be a way to help you understand with absolute clarity how something is going to work in your school’s context. And you are more likely to believe in what you are doing and have success if you have gone through this process. Krishnamurti believes that “you must look most intimately and discover for yourself; then it is your own, not somebody else’s, not something that you have been told, because there is no teacher and no follower.” 

If by collaborating you are going to be challenging yourself and each other, as well as developing some way of quality assuring each others’ and your own practice. This shouldn’t be confused with comparison, ranking, rating, measuring and grading each other’s efforts. Krishnamurti says, “most people think that learning is encouraged through comparison, whereas the contrary is the fact. Comparison brings about frustration and merely encourages envy, which is called competition. Like other forms of persuasion, comparison prevents learning and breeds fear.”
Assumption number three is that collaboration is worthwhile if it results in saving money, time, resources and involves an element of holding each other to account. You should be able to clearly articulate ‘what works’ in your context and the impact of this collaboration.

Collaboration to understand the problems

What schools need is time and space not just to deliver the curriculum and get through the packed school year – or to collaborate even – but to properly think through what the problem is they are trying to solve. This should happen even before they look at collaborating around how a certain practice may solve that problem. After that, they also need time to think how to incorporate a new practice into their school and to articulate how the problem they have identified will be addressed by this.  But the first step should be as Krishnamurti says, “If we can really understand the problem, the answer will come out of it, because the answer is not separate from the problem”
Assumption number four is if you can define what the problem is that you are solving and what has improved as a result of the collaboration, this is a sign that it has had an impact and was time well spent.

These are some initial thoughts on the purpose of collaboration. As I steep myself more in the theory, the practice, examples and the actual outcomes of collaboration, I am sure I will be able to articulate myself more clearly. But in the name of collaboration, I have shared some thinking here with the hope that you will help me develop it over time. Comments welcome.

Sources

http://www.jiddu-krishnamurti.net/en/krishnamurti-on-education/1974-00-00-jiddu-krishnamurti-krishnamurti-on-education-chapter-5


http://thelearnersway.net/ideas/2015/10/11/education-competition-vs-collaboration

http://headguruteacher.com/2014/04/04/pedagogy-postcard-9-group-work/
http://headguruteacher.com/2013/10/28/y9-science-co-construction-update/

http://www.workingoutwhatworks.com/en-GB/Magazine/2014/9/The_self-improving_school_system