Why Teachers Shouldn’t Sell Their Souls Or Their Students to an Education Technology Brand

Editor’s note: a recent New York Times story on the growing trend of Education Technology companies recruiting teachers to serve as “ambassadors” has triggered a fierce debate. Here, educator Rafranz Davis weighs in on why teachers should be wary of branding themselves and their students.

There are plenty of reasons why teachers join ambassador programs. For some, this is how they gain access to potentially great tools that their schools can’t or won’t subscribe to. Other programs offer free professional development, entry to non-school supported learning experiences and the most useful of all…community.

For those seeking school district technology roles, ambassador programs and certifications can be the difference between getting hired and not, depending on alignment to school district goals. (…unless you are in the “majority with privilege” column where you don’t have to spend your entire career proving your expertise at every corner but that’s an entirely different conversation.)

In my career, ambassador programs and certifications have played a significant role in my personal/professional growth while simultaneously playing some role, like it or not, in the spaces that I’ve entered.

From support in developing special projects to accessible professional learning, connections with global experts, licensing, product development and being invited to attend or speak at events, I’ve absolutely benefited from this practice and have managed to do so with my integrity intact. 

In case you’re wondering how one might engage in what could potentially be great opportunities for connecting and learning without exuding an aura of questionable ethics, I live and die by this rule…

People and Process before Product

Let’s be real for a second. The vast majority of corporate branded edtech programs are super shady(they’ve partnered with the self-proclaimed twitter elite), drenched in inequity(pyramid schemes for limited usage) and quite honestly…absolutely centered on a marketing system that is reliant on teachers as builders of the corporate brand…on the backs of their students and often their data.

As educators, we have an obligation to approach these programs with a critical lens. Just because it’s “free” doesn’t mean that it’s best. Also, “free” isn’t an actual thing…especially in edtech. Participating in a program that depends on your ability to help other teachers and classrooms sign up is absolutely centered on you helping to build/spread the word for their user database.

You have to know how this space works and stop being so “thankful to be included in such a group” that you give up your power to be a critical thinker on the grounds of inclusion…centered on a tool and your role as a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong. There are absolutely some great, worthy and inclusive programs out there that are centered on teacher leadership, growth and innovation. In many cases, former educators were hired to develop and support these systems.

Even in those cases, it is okay to not be team “insert tool name here” all the time. You have the right to be critical just as much as you do to be celebratory.

It is in our moments of honesty and feedback when our voices are most effective.

Speaking of tools, I tend to date a lot of them. As a matter of fact, our school district is so focused on choice-based student learning that we don’t claim any tech label.

We use the tool that is accessible and also necessary for the task. Sometimes that varies product to product.

I’m a Mac, SurfaceBook, Ipad, occasional chromebook(love/hate it), iphone using tech nerd and the applications that I use are just as varied.

I mention this because when a program demands your allegiance to the point that you feel compelled to restrict student creativity to the barriers of a single product or tool…you are in essence selling your students to a brand that they themselves probably didn’t choose.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that kids knowing how to use a particular app (that you are an ambassador for) has any bearing on who they will become. It’s not about the tool, remember? It’s about the process. You signed up for that program. They didn’t.

Choice y’all…Choice!

This is of course different in cases where school districts have made the decision to standardize accordingly but here is where we often lose sight of our own priorities…

…attaching student work to corporate branded hashtags, which absolutely help other schools/teachers learn of new ways to use these tools. However, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t branding our babies…we absolutely are.

There’s no perfect way to deal in this connected community-dependent space but respect of self and the institution of education should compel us to consider the impact of our involvements beyond twitter cred, licensing, event invites and badging.

It should anyway.

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