Technology has become a valuable asset for education. However, many schools lack the budget or other funding to afford certain supplies or state-of-the-art digital tools in every classroom. One way around this? Teachers are becoming brand ambassadors, choosing and testing products from various businesses, often in exchange for incentives such as t-shirts, gift cards and payment of travel expenses to industry conferences.
Accepting such offers poses risks for teachers of violating district ethics policies and even state laws. Yet brand ambassadorship in the classroom is becoming common nonetheless; so here are four major things entrepreneurs should consider when deciding what products to pitch to classrooms and how to look for teachers to support those products as brand ambassadors.
1. Include educators in initial conversations.
As teachers mature professionally, they come to understand what best supports their students’ learning. Recently, as the use of technology in our schools has grown, conversations between businesses and teachers have increasingly included the topic of educationally focused technology.
In fact, some startups have sought out teachers/ambassadors as product testers. Others have sent out customer-service representatives who listen to instructors, fielding their queries to identify their greatest needs — the idea being that there’s no point in introducing products with little or no value.
Rather than waste time and money, companies have begun to work with teachers to elicit their opinions, gauge the value of prototypes and determine what works best for each specific educational environment.
A few companies have established programs that target teachers. These include the Apple Distinguished Educators program and Google’s Certified Innovator Program. Another example is the Microsoft Innovative Expert program. Each runs for a year and includes conferences and collaborations with teachers to develop and create innovative educational tools.
Some of the industry giants behind these programs have even detached these efforts from marketing, instead labeling them as professional development initiatives aimed at educators.
2. Remember that teachers and kids are individuals.
The teaching styles of today are more personalized. Historically, classrooms reflected more of a factory model of education, with desks arranged in rows and teachers delivering instruction to what were thought to be passive students.
Fortunately, this approach is much less common today. Teachers now routinely arrange desks into pods that facilitate individual student-to-student interaction. Some teachers even allow children to sit on rocking chairs and cushions. The business community has responded to this approach with product strategies that aim to address the needs of multiple learning styles.
Fine-tuning the classroom environment can be great for individualized learning. So can technology. The use of iPads in schools, for instance, is on the rise. A program called Seesaw enables students to do their schoolwork on an electronic device. They can write notes, draw diagrams and record audio and video presentations. A number of other productivity apps and portfolio platforms are available, as well. From furniture to devices, companies developing these products can help in facilitating the learning process while testing out new ideas.
3. Working with teachers, you can help create the entrepreneurs of the future.
Businesses have an opportunity to mold and create future leaders in many fields. A teacher serving as a brand ambassador can also encourage students to pursue entrepreneurship, or at least introduce them to the idea. Educators are also using company products to teach students about proper use of the internet, and even introducing kids to basic concepts in computer programming.
Technologies such as 3-D printers have appeared in classrooms as companies have sought to expand their brands. Students at a public high school in suburban Detroit I heard about were assigned the option to do traditional presentations on the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, or use computer-assisted design software and a 3-D printer to illustrate the novel’s themes.
Increasingly, colleges and employers are, further, looking for job candidates with tech skills, so applying technology in the classroom is helping prepare students for their college and career life. As brand ambassadors, teachers have the option to utilize products that represent relevant technologies and skills.
4. Don’t take advantage of schools.
Companies should not blindly approach teachers to promote brands. Instead, keep in mind that schools are under resourced and are oftentimes seeking novel ways to efficiently and inexpensively support student learning. However, that doesn’t mean that educators should take advantage of any incentive and gift businesses offered. Instead, teachers need to put careful thought and research into the process.
Succeeding as a brand ambassador certainly means providing students an opportunity to learn, but should be embraced with caution. Products offered by businesses may not be thoroughly evaluated and their effect on student learning may not be well understood.
A mutual decision
The benefits to introducing products via the classroom to a new product or products should be a mutual decision. Companies shouldn’t try to influence what teachers do, but instead work to provide products that support teachers’ role and student learning. Smartly designed products can add value to our educational settings, but being a brand ambassador is a role that must be assumed only with careful thought and care.
Overall, teachers can be very effective brand ambassadors. To maximize the benefits to the young people who are our future, companies should include educators in the conversation and listen to their needs. They should recognize the individual nature of students and the learning environment, focus on developing the entrepreneurs of the future and be careful not to take advantage of schools that might be under-resourced.
Reaching out to teachers can create a symbiotic relationship for good: one that forwards the learning process and prepares each individual child for the future.