Dispatches from the Front: EdTech Leaders Face Covid-19 – Week 4
Dispatches from the Front
EdTech Leaders Face Covid-19
This is the fourth of a series of mini-interviews ODP conducted with EdTech Founders and Senior Executives to gain insights into how industry leaders are adjusting their strategies and evolving their management practices during the current pandemic.
THIS WEEK: Susan L. Hall, EdD., Founder and CEO of the 95 Percent Group Inc.
Susan L. Hall, EdD., Founder & CEO of the 95 Percent Group Inc.
The Company’s mission is to help teachers and administrators identify and address the needs of struggling readers. 95 Percent Group provides professional development, diagnostic assessments, and instructional materials. They have worked with over 1,800 districts and 3,200 schools to help teachers improve outcomes for struggling readers. Dr. Hall is author or coauthor with Louisa Moats of 8 books about reading development, including I’ve DIBEL’d, Now What?, Jumpstart RTI, and her most recent book, 10 Success Factors for Literacy Interventions.

What strikes you as the most significant change in education that will endure in the post-COVID world?

One of the changes from the COVID period that I believe will be enduring is that K-8 teachers have learned how to integrate technology tools into their instruction. Through necessity, COVID has accelerated K-5 teacher adoption of technology at a pace that without the pandemic may have taken 5-10 years to reach this level.

What’s interesting is the type of digital tools they are choosing. Within our company’s focus area of K-5 reading (with an emphasis on K-3), teachers are embracing the type of tools where they can create activities for students to work on independently after receiving teacher-directed instruction.

Most K-3 teachers believe that reading is best taught with instruction from the teacher. What I’m hearing from elementary educators is that they are not flocking toward computer systems where students receive their principal reading instruction directly from a computer program. Most of our clients are gravitating toward technology tools where, after the teacher delivers a lesson (now via Zoom, but after the pandemic it will be face-to-face in classrooms), students work on an activity in a technology platform. I believe that literacy practice activities on devices will endure after the pandemic.

What’s your strategy for charging for products/services that you might have supplied for free during the crisis?

We decided early in the pandemic to create a series of alternate lessons and resources to share freely rather than posting many components of our existing products. We were concerned about IP and the compromise of the program integrity once school closures end if parts of lessons have been taught randomly outside of our curriculum. The greatest challenge for us during the pandemic has been addressing educators’ expectations that because of the COVID-19 situation they should be able to use copyrighted materials in ways that are not permitted under standard copyright laws.

Teachers and administrators are desperate to quickly figure out how to teach the materials they have been using on campus remotely. This desperation has led to an expectation on the part of some educators that everything is fair game in these unprecedented times. While companies want to assist in every way possible, allowing copyrighted published materials to be placed on the type of platforms that encourage teachers to share their lessons into a community library (e.g. Seesaw) is a nightmare for educational publishers.

The sharing of copyrighted materials is an issue that educational publishers will be dealing with for many years to come. The challenge we have faced is finding a balance between supporting our clients and allowing copyrighted materials to be released into the world of rapid-paced internet-based sharing of published materials.

Parents have become teachers while at home. Is this a fundamental – or perhaps only temporary – shift? Does this influence your marketing and product development plans?

My guess is that the shift to parents becoming teachers is temporary. Once schools open and resume on-campus instruction, the majority of parents will be relieved to back away. Of course, there will be some who will continue to be more involved afterwards. Our marketing plans and product development plans are not shifting to meet the needs of parents.

In what ways has the crisis changed the way you lead your organization?

More than any time in my career the influence of an employee’s personal life is spilling into his or her work life. During this time of crisis my leadership style has shifted to increased contact with staff, and an increase in sensitivity to what employees are dealing with in their personal lives. I’m asking more questions about their life, and how they and their family are coping with COVID. Whether it’s the loss of a spouse’s job, helping in their children’s home schooling, or worry about a loved one catching COVID-19, this is a time to be more personable and more flexible because each employee’s life is radically changed.

What are you hearing from your customers? What changes do you anticipate in the sales process and pipeline during this fall selling season?

Our client-facing teams are reporting that there have been cycles in our contact with elementary school administrators and teachers since the pandemic started in late March. The cycles have gone from wanting to be left alone to asking for help.

At first, we took an approach of focusing on our clients and ceasing efforts to prospect for new clients. Starting in early August, that all shifted because administrators were seeking solutions to how to teach remotely once it became clear that they would not be teaching on campus in the fall. Our sales team is experiencing a flood of interest drawn by the free resources and webinars we placed on our website in April through June.

The fall selling season will change in the same way that schools have changed; our sales team is conducting all sales effort remotely through Zoom and other videoconferencing tools. Conferences, workshops, and sales meetings at schools are suspended for the foreseeable future, so we have had to think about our lead generation totally differently than before March.

Our pipeline looks lower than is typical, but it’s because it’s clearing out faster than usual. Schools have been waiting to learn whether they would be on campus or remote. Once that was clear, they have reached out and made purchases more quickly than usual.


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Robin Warner

Managing Director

Oaklins DeSilva+Phillips

(212) 651-2605