What’s the biggest difference between a teacher of ten years and a teacher of two years? Is it the boxes of supplies? The ability to forget to take attendance? Is it the fortitude to say “nope” to a project or committee? While all of these are differences, I would argue, the biggest difference between them is classroom management. Classroom management is the culmination of styles and strategies implemented by a teacher with the intention to manage student learning and outcomes. But, teachers aren’t the only people who work in this kind of management. After being at Pivot Interactives for several years, I have seen a lot of account management. And, let me tell you - the parallels are STRIKING.
Running customer success is a lot like running a classroom. In my classroom, I wanted my students to be successful in chemistry. At Pivot Interactives, I want my teachers to be successful with Pivot! In fact, nearly every aspect of this job has a parallel to the classroom.
As I reflect on these striking similarities, I hope these are encouraging reminders for you in your classroom management.
Many districts require students to take a very particular series of high school science courses in order to make the most educated populace. That means that not every kid in your class wants to be there. Maybe you're in a physics 1st district or maybe biology is your freshman course. Maybe your district is quirky and starts with chemistry or (more likely) Integrated Chemistry Physics or Chemistry with Earth Science. In these sequences, the student isn't given autonomy to choose their science course and therefore they show up to your class class with very little choice. That doesn’t mean it’s bad! It just means that the kid often doesn’t know why they’re there.
Often times, teachers are handed a new resources with minimal understanding of when, how, or why to use it. In my role at Pivot one of the first things I try to do is show teachers WHY they were given Pivot. We show them awesome activities that match their standards. We show them our autograding features. We show them how Pivot pairs with Canvas or Schoology. We create buy-in for these teachers.
As classroom teachers, we need to do the same thing for our students. In chemistry class, I did this with some simple-yet-fun demos. We mixed two clear liquids to make a pink one (1 part 1 M hydrochloric acid with phenolthalein and 2 parts 1 M sodium hydroxide). We popped popcorn and weighed it before and after. We talked about cars and ice. We talked about the world around us. And then, we talked about how almost everything in their life has chemistry in it. I did a Get-To-Know-You project in the first two weeks of school that allowed the students to share their interests with me, and I used these interests as points of reference throughout the course. This creates buy-in for these students. When students are bought in, chemistry becomes less of a chore and more of a “cool-yet-mandatory class.”
Bet you never thought about this one: do you have a syllabus lecture in your class? A day where you lay down the law of the land? Activities to teach the students routines? Guides and handouts? Guess what: that means you have an onboarding sequence for your classroom. That syllabus? In the tech world, we call that a Terms of Service. Your code of conduct and safety forms? We have Privacy agreements. And, just like I onboarded students into my classroom, we onboard teachers for Pivot Interactives.
Onboarding inside of a classroom is a lot like onboarding inside of an EdTech platform; we just tend to spend a whole lot less time on it in our classrooms. Think about it: EdTech platforms send you videos, blogs, emails, guides, webinars - everything! In our class, many of us do maybe a lecture, and we call it good. I started offering different “getting started” options to my students at the start of COVID. They could come to the live lesson on how the class ran, read the syllabus, watch a video, or just run into expectations as we did assignments (I included my general expectations on assignments for the first few weeks).
I found my students were more likely to do one of the options when they had any choice at all - and this helped them to learn the expectations. Did I still have a syllabus and safety contract? Yep, just like Pivot Interactives still has a Terms of Service and a Privacy statement. The “I’m stuck” area in my class’s Google Classroom functioned a lot like our Help Center. These resources helped my classroom run efficiently and effectively, giving me more time to focus on more important things.
Onboarding is a valuable piece to classrooms and EdTech tools and students and teachers alike appreciate having a choice in their onboarding.
Did you know that you can build your own activities from scratch on the Pivot platform? Yeah, like this teacher and this teacher and this teacher and this teacher. You don’t have to use our activities. You can even upload your own videos, like this teacher did. You can take an activity that we made and edit it to make it fully autograded. You can do your midterms and finals in Pivot Interactives. You can use Pivot to prep for the APⓇ exams, submit them as Regents labs, and even do vocab review with Pivot. Are these necessary to be successful? No. These are some “power user” traits. Power users are people on a platform that go above and beyond. They use features that most users don’t use.
Similarly, did you know that students can find their own study materials outside of class? They can watch science documentaries on their own? They can even DESIGN their own experiments - no grade attached either! They can do additional research into the topics you’re learning about. They can even ask questions that you don’t know the answers to. These students are the rare nuggets in our room: these are super students. Super students are students in a class that go above and beyond. They use your extra resources. They watch the videos. They do the research. They practice every homework question, read the textbook, and ask really strong questions. They are invested in your class.
Is every Pivot user a power user? No. Is every student a super student? No. And that’s okay. One of the cool things about Pivot is that you DON’T need to be a power user in order to get a ton of value from Pivot. You can be an average user and still find Pivot to be a transformational tool. In the same vein, you can be an average student in a science class and still learn a ton about science.
Do we love all of the cool and creative things that our teachers make? Yes. Do we remember those unique questions students ask that really stump us? Yes. These sparks of passion make the job even more fun. Savor them, but don’t put those expectations on everyone.
I think for most science teachers, this is a hard one to handle. In fact, it's probably true for every discipline that's out there. Anecdotally, most high school teachers I know have degrees in their field - not in education. We went into teaching high school subjects because we LOVE our field. We get excited when we find out that dandruff shampoo is a non-newtonian fluid. We showcase the latest pictures from the James Webb telescope like they’re the best celebrity fashion show of the year. We go WILD for March Mammal Madness. We have a strong passion for what we do, and we want all our kids to be as passionate about our subject as we are. And we think that by standing at the front room and opening our mouths that the passion that we have for science is just going to flow out of our minds and magically enter our students, giving them a matching love for science.
Unfortunately - that's not how that works. I would love it if I could show every single one of my students an acid-base reaction, and they would fall in love with reactions. It would make my life so much easier. (Honestly, it would make my entire unit on titration so much easier, but that's beside the point.)
As someone who has made Pivot Interactives my home, I wish I could show every chemistry teacher that you can do titration labs in Pivot and they would be like, “oh my gosh! It's the best thing since sliced bread,” but it's just not going to happen. People come to platforms like Pivot with a goal in mind. And, if that person can meet that goal, I feel like I did my job.
Your students come with a goal, too: pass your class. They usually are trying to meet a graduation requirement. As a classroom teacher, I struggled with the fact that passing and excelling are two different things. It’s okay to pass a class with a D. Share your passion but understand that students will use your class to fit their goals (even if it drives you bonkers). See if you can find ways to help students meet their goals, push them to do more, and ignite their own passion, as you share your passion.
Leaving the classroom to go to EdTech Customer Success was a challenge for me. I have no formal training in business, and I spent a lot of time researching what it meant to be successful on a platform. I’ve done a lot of onboarding journeys for platforms all over the tech world. I spend way too much time reading the marketing emails that come my way! But, I did run a classroom for a decade. And wow... it taught me a lot about success. Seeing the parallels between the two helped me to recognize existing pitfalls and adapt Pivot's processes. Hopefully, these same parallels will help you maximize your own classroom’s potential.