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What Should We Expect from Each Other?

By: James Bailey on November 28th, 2018

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What Should We Expect from Each Other?

Innovative Leadership

As a former superintendent and now consultant for a small startup tech company, I have experienced both sides of hiring a third party vendor. I have hired consulting firms and edtech vendors as a superintendent, and as a consultant, I have partnered with schools to employ a technology platform for growth and reflection.

In both cases, there is a recognition that schools and districts have limited resources, so money should not be spent without deep intention. Leaders want to “hire” outside vendors because they don’t have that capacity in their own systems, and tech vendors want to partner because they want to expand the capacity at a school around a specific problem.

However, as a district or school leader, you need to think about more than the service or product you are buying: you are really purchasing a job to be done (JTBD). Originally proposed by Clayton Christensen, this business idea defined for schools is, “the process a school goes through whenever it aims to change its existing situation into a preferred one, but cannot because there are constraints that stop it.”


James Bailey Leadership Blog Image


Figure 1: From A. Klement https://jtbd.info/know-the-two-very-different-interpretations-of-jobs-to-be-done-5a18b748bd89

A JTBD is about a desire for progress:

1. There is your current way of educating/working

2. There is a new, better way of educating/ working you desire

3. Constraints block you going from #1 to #2

Removing those constraints IS the Job to be Done that both schools and vendors are trying to figure out but often in their own silos.


So as someone who sees personalization as a major JTBD on both sides of the equation, here are 8 “jobs to be done” that schools and consultants/vendors need from each other.  

Schools are hiring consultants/tech vendors, not just for their product, but also to:

1. Increase their capacity: many schools struggle to create the internal capacity necessary to move to more personalized learning models. Schools need third-party vendors to help add new knowledge, skills and ways of thinking about these new models.

2. Become thought partners: given each school context is somewhat different, schools and their leaders need thought partners to help think not only about new learning models, but implementation strategies, communication strategies and changing the mindsets of adult learners.

3. Think about impact: since resources are always scarce in schools, knowing the impact of technology or training has become more critical the past few years. Schools need third party vendors who have the capacity and willingness to measure the impact of product/services on student learning.

4. Provide flexibility: again, given schools have different contexts, they need vendors that provide a problem-first mentality. Rather than offering an immediate solution, schools want third-party vendors who are flexible and willing to adapt and iterate over time with the school based on their local needs.

In a similar vein, tech vendors and consultants today are not just trying to sell their product but are looking to hire schools to:

5. Expand their understanding: many tech companies or consulting groups may have limited school experience and need school partners who can add to their thinking about their product or service. They need a guarantee of use so they can figure out what works for whom in which circumstances.

6. Form networks: similarly, the idea of networks has become an emergent idea for third-party vendors. Instead of trying to solve problems by themselves, third-party vendors are looking for schools to become research partners around common problems of practice.

7. Innovate: all of us are trying to find answers to difficult problems. From the vendor perspective, we look for schools who want to innovate, who want to push the envelope on trying new ideas with their students, and who aren’t afraid to acknowledge when something isn’t working. The tech mantra has been “fail fast, learn quick”. This is where the real learning occurs and vendors want schools who are willing to accept this philosophy.

8. Broaden their scope: The research is clear that students need a broader education than just reading and math, but schools, as we know, often lag far behind the research. Vendors need schools to broaden their scope in many areas to see how we can accentuate more than just the academic outcomes of schools. For instance, with the advent of a focus on SEL skills, many vendors are beginning to head down that path with products and services and need school partners.

The Next Level of Partnerships

I have met many people as an educator and consultant, and we all want the same thing. We want students to succeed, but we recognize there are still many problems that need to be solved for them to do so. We live in a world though where it can’t be us vs. them anymore no matter who us or them is. We need each other and need to recognize our jobs to be done can help solve these massive problems. Only then will we have true partnerships between all the stakeholders and capacity builders involved in transforming student learning.

About James Bailey

James Bailey is a lifetime K-12 educator having been a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent and most recently turnaround school leader in San Antonio. Currently, he is working as a leadership coach, new school designer, and technology consultant.

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