How to Tell When a Business Partnership is Right for Your District or Organization | engage2learn

Shannon Buerk

By Shannon K. Buerk

Have you ever heard educators say they have a lot on their plates? When I was a teacher, I remember trying to juggle all of the initiatives for the school district in which I taught.   For context, at that time in our lives, I was in the classroom and my husband, Clark, was coaching collegiate basketball, so we moved 10 times in 16 years. In every new teaching position I took, I had to acclimate to all of the district and campus initiatives. I remember thinking how odd it was that there was no alignment between any of these programs. At the time, I could see how things integrated, but oftentimes they were distinct initiatives that were in conflict with each other. Most were promoted as “more tools in the toolbox” to teachers. Sometimes, however, there was clarity about which were priorities or which were non-negotiables; yet, that was the exception rather than the rule. So, like all educators have to do, I treated these tools as optional, chose which seemed to work best for the job at hand, and the rest rusted in the toolbox.

Interestingly enough, I later moved to the district’s central office and became the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. In that position, I became the reason for said initiatives and programs. Once, after the Board of Trustees received complaints about the changes being made, we decided to self-assess. We began by inviting all of our directors into a single room and started listing the current initiatives and programs on the whiteboard. We filled up three walls of whiteboard space in that initial session! Clearly, we were doing a lot of great things as a district, but the problem was that we were doing way too many things. It wasn’t clear how they all fit together.

From that informal inventory came the inspiration for what and how we, at engage2learn (e2L), assist districts today, specifically regarding initiative inventory and strategic abandonment. We have helped districts whittle a list of 86 initiatives and programs down to just FIVE non-negotiables; more importantly, we have developed a process for creating a Learning Framework that integrates those non-negotiables into ONE THING. That is another blog topic that I feel the need to write soon, so stay tuned for that in early 2019!

Today’s post intends to focus on how businesses develop, market, and sell these services and products to educators, namely that we are intentional about collaborating to ensure that it is clear how and when those tools in their toolbox work together. I understand that, in one sense, every educational service or product provider is competing for the same dollar, but I also believe that mission-minded businesses can work together for a greater end result – for school districts and learners alike – and still generate a return on their investment.

Partnerships between educational service organizations, which make it easier for districts to efficiently bundle or package solutions, are mutually beneficial. I have long said that it is the responsibility of educational service and product providers to explicitly make the connections between their products and services to the districts they service. Below are examples of such partnerships that are already creating elegant solutions for public school districts. Recently, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and The School Superintendents Association (AASA) launched a partnership that entitled the Empowered Superintendent’s Initiative which“is designed to help district and school leaders gain confidence and better understand the role educational technology plays in their schools in a changing environment” (source). Previously, these educational service providers also teamed up with the National School Board Association (NSBA) to empower K-12 superintendents, district technology leaders, and school boards “to strengthen their digital advocacy and engage digital learning in their districts” (source).

Furthermore, I am excited about two partnerships that we, at e2L, currently have with organizations who are willing to put in the hard work and determine, collaboratively, what is best for school districts moving forward. For instance, we recently launched a partnership with The Texas Association for School Administrators (TASA) that is being called the Vision to Action DIY Partnership. TASA has the New VIsion for Texas Public Schools and we are providing the actionable DIYs, which are elegant do-it-yourself design products for school districts to make it happen!

Additionally, we have worked with PBK Architects, Inc. on several projects that have integrated our services to produce exponential results! In Fort Worth ISD, we engaged the community in a vision for learning, which PBK then used to create a Long Range Master Facilities Plan for the entire district. In Dallas ISD, we also collaborated with relevant educational partners, including community and staff members, to design a vision for learning and facilitated a technology plan based on that agreed-upon vision, while PBK facilitated their Long Range Master Facilities Plan. We recently co-created a visual to illustrate how our work aligns:

Learning Environment Business Design

PBK + e2L

pyramid business building blocks

Unfortunately, these kinds of partnerships will not work with every organization. At e2L, we have learned the hard way that, often times, other educational service and product providers seem to be interested in a partnership for the good of a school district. Yet our experience has proven some vendors work with us long enough to learn what they want to learn from us and then use our intellectual property for their own gain. Therefore, we have developed the following criteria to determine effective collaboration opportunities and hope that you find it useful as well:

  • The business is aligned to your mission.
  • The business is open to collaboration for the good of partner districts.
  • The business is one that also provides services or products to your partner district(s) on a frequent basis.
  • The business is not a competitor.
  • The business has products or services that are complementary to yours.

School districts can also facilitate, or even demand, that providers collaborate for the greater good of the district. Read on for steps districts can take to make this actionable:

  • Request that your vendor partners collaborate to produce a visual illustrating their combined services.
  • Facilitate a kickoff meeting with new or potential providers and current major providers during which you determine if any of the products/services are repetitive and which option is better.
  • Vow to strategically abandon services or products before buying new ones.
  • Create a framework that integrates all of the initiatives or programs into ONE THING.
  • Categorize services or products as resources or non-negotiables so that educators know what is optional.

I know that not everyone will agree with me on this topic; some see life as a competition with only one winner. I see the universal need to focus on serving the mission of enhancing public education so, to me, it is critical that we collaborate to create explicit integrations to benefit school districts and their learners. I love the saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If we all work together for the future of public education, we will all benefit. It is the lifeblood of our democratic society and the quality of life we enjoy in this nation.

If we all work together for the future of public education, we will all benefit. It is the lifeblood of our democratic society and the quality of life we enjoy in this nation. Click To Tweet