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Navigating EdTech Purchasing, Procurement, and Pilots: A Conversation With Rayna (Yaker) Glumac
Episode 167th April 2022 • Marketing and Education • Elana Leoni | Leoni Consulting Group
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In this episode of All Things Marketing and Education, Elana sat down with Rayna Elise Yaker Glumac, the managing principal at RYE Consulting and the founder of RYE Collective. Rayna brings her encyclopedic knowledge of education practice and policy to EdTech to discuss how the pandemic has shifted the dynamics in the education purchasing cycle, knowing how to best implement EdTech products, and how educators can advocate for EdTech products. 

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Access this episode's show notes, including links to the audio, a summary, and helpful resources.

Elana:

Hello, and welcome to All Things Marketing and Education. My name is Elana Leoni, and I’ve devoted my career to helping education brands build their brand awareness and engagement. Each week, I sit down with educators, EdTech entrepreneurs, and experts in educational marketing and community building. All of them will share their successes and failures using social media, inbound marketing or content marketing, and community building. I’m excited to guide you on your journey to transform your marketing efforts into something that provides consistent value and ultimately improves the lives of your audience.

Hi, everyone. I'm Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group. I run a team of passionate folks that are all about using social media and community to make meaningful change in the EdTech industry. I want to welcome you to this week's All Things Marketing and Education. I know I get very excited when I talk about the guests I get to talk about, and I say I'm so excited and so humbled. But right now I'm literally jumping-out-of-my-seat excited to talk to Rayna. I don't really know how to introduce Rayna, but I'll start by saying her full name so you can Google her and get to know her. Her name is Rayna Eleese Glumac. And she is the founder of RYE Consulting. I'll let her tell you everything that they do, because it's a lot. But they specifically help with procurement, pilots, pricing, packaging, and even market strategy in the EdTech market.

So I want to give you a little story, how I met Rayna, and then we'll get into what we're going to be talking about. But given Rayna's expertise, we're going to be talking a lot about the EdTech industry, and its specific shifts as it relates to the pandemic. So, similar to our episode with Sandro, and I believe Sandro was episode nine. So we will be talking a little bit about that. But given Rayna's is on-the-ground expertise, we're going to get very deep into that. So anyways, I met Rayna when I was a mentor at the StartEd accelerator program. And shout out to Ash and his team over at StartEd. And we'll link to the Show Notes of what it is and how you can get involved in that if you'd like. But if you are an EdTech person, a founder, maybe you have an organization that you're thinking of leveling up. It's a great program, and they don't pay me to say this at all! But I've been a mentor over the years, just like Rayna has, and I've just seen a huge transformation and a lot of the EdTech startups.

So, back to Rayna. So the first time I met Rayna was at a startup accelerator program, and picture this. So we were all at a round table, and around this round table are mentors, and they're all very successful EdTech entrepreneurs. And they're talking about their exits and all the different, like, EdTech they invest in, and this and that. And Rayna and I were the only women at a table of about maybe eight to ten people or so. And then Rayna gave her spiel about what she does. And she did it so confidently and persuasive, as what she does to support EdTech organizations. And I was like, "Oh no, I think I have to go after her at some point." I was just in awe of how her knowledge really just flabbergasted me, and I'm still like, "Oh gosh, I get to talk to Rayna today." I can tell you that it took almost every fiber of my being, Rayna, to like go up to you after that and say, "Hi, I'm Elana. Nice to meet you."

And I know I told you that before, but I know that many of you are just getting to know me, but I have a little bit of an imposter syndrome. I didn't feel like I belonged at this table. I looked different. I had a background in, like, marketing. I didn't exit with AD texts. So I had that, like, "I don't belong here" syndrome. Went up to Rayna, introduced myself, and boy, I am so glad that we got to know each other, Rayna, because I'm going to be honest here. I don't think else we would have survived during the pandemic the way we did without your advice, your support, and your referralsl. Like, we have some of our best clients because of you. So I am just so grateful, and for all of you that have that imposter syndrome like me at times, just say, "OK, I'm gonna push through some of those uncomfortable, uncomfortable moments to really say I belong here," because everyone has this, I know.

ayna actually introduced us),:

Rayna:

Thank you so much. And I'm so glad you introduced yourself to me, and it has been such a pleasure being able to collaborate. We have some amazing clients in common. Excited now with launch of Collective we'll get to work together even more. So hi everyone, my name is Rayna. I started RYE Consulting I guess nine years ago, and RYE Consulting, we like to say, we are "pre-K to gray." So early childhood all the way through adult learner. Majority of our work does focus on that pre-K-to-12 sector, especially post-COVID, all this funding going in directly into that marketplace. And we can talk about how that funding is really changing and shifting our work. The fun thing about RYE, both Consulting and Collective and myself, is everyone at RYE is a teacher. We're all former classroom educators. Personally, I have a master's degree, I taught Title One first grade in Seminole County. That's really where I started, my classroom career went on, I did a master's degree and a law degree in education, policy, and government compliance, because unfortunately, everything that happens, including all these CARES Act dollars, starts as a law or policy or a bill. And so how that all trickles down to what impacts in our classrooms is super important. Also, when we talk about procurement and purchasing, all of that becomes a contract.

So RYE Consulting, our work focuses on we say procurement, so the purchasing cycle, how that happens. curriculums or standards, alignment, lesson plan writing, professional development, writing and training educators on how to use products and services. We also do quite a bit of market strategy, as you mentioned, which is really go-to-market competitive analysis, pricing and packaging – your work. And then our advisory practices, where we kind of couple some of that together, and longer engagements. So it's been an amazing journey. I can't believe we're almost almost a decade doing it now. Which has been phenomenal. And then we just launched Collective where we're doing that work in more of a membership style where we can bring in different experts to help kind of do a one-stop shop for a company that's really commanding, "I need to know a little bit of everything to be dangerous." How do you get that information? How do we share these different data and marketing insights we have in bite-sized by weekly webinars with wonderful experts like you. So we're excited and we'll talk more about it. Yeah, and –

Elana:

I think that what's interesting, learn lots of things interesting about Reyna in particular, but your unique skill set. So I don't actually know any other lawyer, policy expert, and former classroom teacher, and now agency owner to like you throw all those in the mix. And the way you're able to look at things in terms of, "Oh, that was done five years ago," and "Oh, they really should do this." I was like, "Oh, gosh, that's amazing." So I'm excited to get into it.

Let's just talk about the pandemic. Alright, so I was there freaking out with you trying to figure out what the heck is happening. But there are a lot of shifts that happen in the EdTech industry. And we don't talk ever at Leoni Consulting Group about, well, we talk about purchasing as in purchasing power. But you get into the nitty-gritty of dollars, where is it flowing state to state? What is the cycle of purchasing? We just, you know, put up helpful things during the purchasing cycle. So I'd love for you to talk a little bit more about that to our audience, too. But just what were the biggest shifts you saw, maybe top five or so that you saw in EdTech? Specifically, you can break it down if you want to around EdTech offerings, technology, and purchasing, but like, what are the things that come to you immediately?

Rayna:

t I'm going to tell you is in:

Elana:

And Rayna, that was before any injection of new funding came in, correct?

Rayna:

This is when we still thought the pandemic was only gonna last for a little bit. That's why we're like, "Oh, by the holidays, we'll be great. We'll see you. No problem, right?" This is I mean, this is how I ended up eloping in Vegas, right? We kept on thinking, like, my wedding would happen. We're like, "Oh, a few months, we'll just push it another couple months. It's gonna be great." This was the beginning. And this point, we're like, "OK, the school year had ended. We've gotten disrupted. And we were trying to figure out what does next school year look like?"

So that was the first thing. We waived that June 30 deadline, then the next was during the Biden administration. So we switched administrations. We knew CARES Act was coming June 30, was held for fiscal, but the next day, the CARES Act dollars were released. So these two kind of shifts around this June 30 deadline really made an impact in our purchasing cycle and education in a few different ways. So the first thing is we then push back, you know, when the Trump Administration did it, we push back purchasing, right? So things that were normally getting pushes July and August for, you know, August or September start didn't happen until September, October, November, because we didn't know how schools were going to start. So it kind of starts to shift our typical buying cycle.

the shifts were happening in:

So those two things really were the major shifts in pandemic purchasing. We had this big infusion of cash, we had the change in the idea of when we could purchase, right? We realized we can implement technology whenever we want, right? We can shift. And then, three, we have, you know, shift in the actual time of purchasing. So those things were really the big, I would say major changes around the pandemic. Now we have these big buckets of money. There's definitely things we can go into and talk to you about with CARES Act as well. But I think for education companies to understand, who are listening, that was the big shift. And I think for teachers that are possibly listeners here as well, it's them thinking about when they're open to trying new products and services, it used to really be you had had your professional development session, and then beginning the school year, you start, but now we're open to saying like, "Hey, it's midway through the school year, I'm looking at my data, this supplemental piece that we're using isn't working with make a shift, and we can't write SAS technology." You can be onboarding into a new platform and 24 hours, most of our clients same day.

Elana:

Yeah, when you were talking about that behavioral shift, because it was this assumption, like, "OK, it's very rigid, I'm going to get all my technology purchase, we're going to have some professional development." If they're lucky to implement some technology for this school year, it's going to be business as usual. And then usually the teachers are trying stuff behind the district's back sometimes and saying, "OK, I'm gonna do these premium types of products to be that stopgap solution." But what happens in March, when everything blows up, and all of a sudden, you're like, "Wow, it's easier than we thought to implement new technology at certain times." And there's this influx of crazy money that a lot of people don't know how to spend appropriately, and sometimes they are not spending appropriately, which is, you know, somewhat normal in our industry at time.

Rayna:

Two things off of what you just said: One, one shift that happened was Title 2, which is our professional development dollars, there was a shift during COVID, where now that money could be used for a one-time, how-to-use-our-technology type training. So it used to be for professional development, to show ROI, right, so it had to be like multiple sessions where the learning outcomes and go. And so if you had just like an onboarding, training, and like how to use Facebook in your classroom – for example, let's say you have a 30-minute webinar – you weren't allowed to use title to funds for that. During the pandemic that was waived. It's still waived. So you can use Title 2 funds just for an onboarding technology. It doesn't have to be true professional development. I have a feeling that will shift back. My soapbox is always research-based PD that shows learning outcomes and ROI. But technically, legal compliance, checkpoint, onboarding for just a simple piece of technology, that webinar or whatever that is, can now use Title 2 funds, which also expands access.

The other thing, just talking about OER goes into all this new infuse minute data privacy that we're seeing, we're seeing a huge pushback on the use of OER. In classrooms, even if your product is free, you have to go through procurement twofold. One, we want to ensure that student data is safe, right? Making sure that's, I mean, that's always been number one priority. But second, we had this huge infusion of technology during the pandemic, and the IT infrastructure that the school district is overwhelmed. It's too much. They can't support all of these different technologies. And so I wouldn't want to say that we're trying to scaffold teachers being able to use all this. We just want to make sure the resource support is there. So even if it's free, we have lots of companies that come to us or to offer it for free, do this, even if it's free, it has to go through an approval process, because they want to make sure that their tech can be supported. So if a teacher has a problem, and they call it services at the district, someone there can actually answer about the product.

Elana:

Yeah, and for clarification, OER is open education resources. So if you all are interested in that, we'll put some links in the show notes. But it's evolved quite significantly over the years. I remember where they used to come to the headquarters of Edutopia. And they would do these big presentations of where they're going, and how they were just starting. And they were, you know, partnering with Amazon at the time and all the phones, and it's gotten bigger, but you bring up, like, what we call the tech industry, the tech stack problem, right? And if you are a startup, not in education, you got a big tech stack that, really, because you're – it correlates with your funds and your resources and your capacity, and you're bringing in tech that's needed. But within education, I find – and you correct me, because you're the expert here – but sometimes, you know, you have to have a real clear reason to have a new technology come in, and sometimes it needs to bump something else, because your tech stack is so limited. Is that right? That's what I've been, you know, with, when I talk with them, they're like, "No, it's got to supplement or you have to make a real good case," if I have to bring on something new for something completely different.

Rayna:

Yes, I mean, I think the bigger thing that we're seeing as the impact is, like, where RFP – so that the request for proposal process, the purchasing process for schools – it used to be and I would say, nationally, still is on average $25,000 threshold, right? So if a school is making a purchase of $25,000 or more, it has to go through a procurement process to be fair and equitable. Now we're seeing that threshold much lowered. And that's because of CARES Act dollars, we can talk about why. But the other thing is, is that the ability for them to go through this process to be checked for exactly what you're talking about, Elana, for the tech stack for where things are. The big difference that we're seeing the shift is, districts and states are no longer making these decisions for schools, they're allowing schools to have the autonomy to choose the products that they're using, which is actually opening up the opportunities for these EdTech companies. But they have to be on a preapproved list. So they want to approve the technology stack. They want to prove that the pricing is fair, that the standards correlation is correct. But they're letting schools make more decisions. So we're seeing more products in school districts, and a variety of products. So we can have six or seven different math supplemental technologies that are there, because schools are making the choices instead of what used to be, like, the district picked one and everyone had to use it. The impact of COVID actually provided schools more choice, just more oversight on the list that they're able to choose from.

Elana:

Weird. Interesting. I'm learning so much. What if you're not on that preapproved list? How do you get on that magic list? And do you feel like that has like equity implications for the EdTech industry? Like, if I'm like, I mean, I'm sure does Moses on that list if you're a math application, but like, what if they're not? Like, do they not have any chance jumping in there?

Rayna:

Now there's always a chance. And so I would say this. You always want to read the fine print. So a great example is the State of California, their list. If you look at the State of California approval list, there is a nice little asterisk. You do not have to be on the state-approved list field to sell, right? It's not required. It's a pathway. I would say, if we were having this conversation before the pandemic, I will tell you state-level purchasing is dying. If we look sequentially year over year, the amount of states are doing state-level adoption was going down. States increased their influence and adoption, and purchasing more RFPs have come out at the state level. But they're not actually purchasing. It goes back to these preapproval lists. I think it was a way for states to say, like, "We're doing something about this, right?" We had all this discussion about trauma and social-emotional learning and kids' needs from the pandemic. And, "Hi, I'm Mr. State, and I've approved these seven SEL curriculums that districts can then choose to purchase, and I've put this money here, if they want to do it," but they're actually not doing the purchase themselves. So that's the first thing. Then you go down to the district. So there's a few different steps. And of course, welcome to the United States. Every single state is different. And sometimes in a state, districts are different. So there is no universal rule. This is always a fun discussion when we have our international clients. I'm like, "Well, welcome to the U.S. for about 32 different countries, and Texas has its own continent. It's gonna be great. Great."

Elana:

Texas has always been –

Rayna:

– continent. We have time, I'll tell you, my first day of my internship at Harcourt was about Texas. They put me in a room with two textbooks. But the big thing there is reading the fine print. I think if you're an early-stage startup, it goes back to that pilot conversation that we've had a few different times. Pilots are your entryway to purchasing. If you're a brand new company, you don't have to go through procurement, but you need to have pilots to do procurement, the RFP, RFI, MTAC, RFQ – there's lots of different acronyms for it process. You usually have to have a minimum of three references. I've seen RFPs recently in Tennessee asking for ten. To get a reference, you have to do a pilot. So if you're a brand new company coming into the space, you need to try your product with schools. That's the first step, because you can't do procurement without it. Procurement is a way to get a vendor ID in a school district. So I will say 95% of school districts are going to require you at some point to go through some sort of approval process, right? They want to check your tech, check your stuff that we talked about. But the reality is to even get to that point, you've got to pilot first.

Elana:

And when you are piloting are there minimums to – Couldn't just be like one school, one classroom. Like, if I'm a tech startup, trying to figure out how to start pilots. Like there's – I know that you could talk for hours about this, but is there a is there a way to mitigate risk? I feel it's daunting.

Rayna:

It's daunting. Um, and actually, this is great for your audience. So let's talk about this little bit. So first of all, there's one thing I want to differentiate: a trial versus a pilot. A trial is less than three months, and you're just trying something. It could be a new feature, it could be a new offering to a product, you always – it's a little bit, a taste. A trial reference is not usable for procurement. It's just that entry point. But you could do a trial, you could be a company that's been around for 100 years and have a new feature button and want to try it, right? You can be early-stage all the way through a trial as, I mean, you usually do it at teacher level, you'd like to – I always say rule of three. If you can do three teachers in the school, three classrooms, that's always best. Let's be honest, odds in your favor. Let's play Vegas here, two out of three are going to work, right? So the reality is I always like the rule of three. But for a trial, you're trying something.

For a pilot, it's a full implementation of your products. You're going to do that onboarding training, you're going to have that professional development that goes along with it. Everything that we do, they normally purchase your product, it happens in a pilot. Five key things for a pilot: One, it has to be longer than three months to show fidelity. Yes, there's ifs, ands, or buts about it. But generally speaking, I love to see a minimum of three months to really show the products been implemented true. The second thing I want you to think about is best practices for the pilot. In that pilot contract, you want to state if it takes, if your product has to be implemented for 30 minutes twice a week, that has to be in your pilot contract, but you're not going to learning outcomes, right? If you don't scaffold with those best practices are your pilot, it's not going to work for you, because it's like, "Well, maybe I only have five minutes every other two weeks," well, then you're not gonna get the outcomes. Your products not going to show results.

Third thing is data, data, data, data. What data do you need to show impact? Do you need NWA scores from last year? Do you need to do a pre-assessment, right? Are you going to ask the teachers to do a survey, all that information about that data and that data collection needs to go in your pilot contract? Super important. Really, really key. And this is where teachers can really be helpful with new technology is, like, being upfront about what their capacity is and what they're willing to do in turn for a pilot. Like, "Hey, I'm happy to answer a ten-question survey on Survey Monkey that I have a week to answer that's realistic for me, right? This is a feedback I can give you." That is super valuable for companies, and we'll talk about my little fifth thing of where that kind of comes into play. Fourth thing you want to think about it is, what are your outcomes? What are you promising from this pilot? Like, if you were going to get a reference? What is it, we're going to see a 10% increase in the mastery of like common core standards for literacy? What are the outcomes that you're going to have? Because again, if you do these best practices and implement in the right way, what are the outcomes?

Elana:

With outcomes? Let's stop right there. Because I see a lot of mistakes made in this area. And I'm sure you do, too. But I have been on the ground. Our team recently implemented a pilot and evaluated a pilot. And for us to create the outcomes, we did it properly. And we did a theory of change and a theory of action. And we ended with an evaluation plan. I know startups don't have those resources or time to do that. So how do they create, like, realistic outcomes and not say, "With this 30 minutes, I'm going to increase the entire school's graduation attendance." Yeah, we're, you know, like, they go bigger. They're like, "I want to, you know, increase this or that." And it's like a societal level sometimes, or it's what they hope the product does ten years from now. Right?

Rayna:

Yeah, we want to make it realistic. Because the last thing I was going to share – and we'll tie it back together, if-then statement, right? So like, if we reach the following outcomes, then you sign on for next school year, right? Or if they meet the following outcomes, you'll implement in three classrooms next. So to get to that if-then statement, you want to make sure your outcomes are realistic. So let's say our product is, I don't know, a supplemental reading, right? And you're going to implement it three times a week for 30 minutes in small group for three months, based on the data of the trials you've done. What are the outcomes? Well, we see on average, students increase five points on their NWA scores. If that's the case, I would say four points and put that as your outcome. Got it? You really shouldn't be doing pilots blind. If you don't have the data behind your product, your success implementation points of your product, then it's not a pilot, it's a trial. That's the difference.

Elana:

Do you recommend people do trials before pilots?

Rayna:

Yes, 100%. You should be trialing before pilot. You're trying it. Pilot is the next purchase, right? So pilots, like, "I want to give you a taste of our brand." It's the little taster when you go on the mall, and they give you, like, a little piece of chicken nugget, when you're doing a little Chick-fil-A nugget when you're in a food court at the mall. They they give you the taste of it, and then you're going to – but that's the same nugget you're going to get when you buy your full meal, right? That is the same thing here. So when you have a pilot, you're literally implementing exactly what you would purchase. And so that should be something that's tested already, we have the data behind, we know what the impact is going to be. So that way we can confidently say what our outcomes should be from our product. Our value proposition should be really kind of tight at that point. Because that pilot reference is for purchasing. So they should be purchasing the same product that you piloted? Is that helpful?

Elana:

Yes. And you have so much knowledge, and you speak fast. So I'm the one going, "Whoa, did you actually say this?" Or, "Whoa, I didn't know this." No, it's amazing.

Rayna:

By the hour, but you get a lot of a lot of information.

Elana:

We'll link in the Show Notes to some additional resources from Reyna, too. But she threw out some really helpful acronyms to in the process. Everyone does their process differently in different states. I mean, you've opened my eyes to all of this. I think if you're an educator listening, you might not know all of this, and you might not ever need to know, but I think it's important as you're implementing the pilot, knowing the process of what the EdTech has to go through and what they're ultimately trying to achieve, and how it fits in the overall cycle. Eventually, 5-10 years, you might have a district actually approve it. And you use the product officially rather than in a pilot.

So Rayna, do you want to talk to the educators listening about just, you know, they're somewhat forced to use these pilots at times, sometimes it depends on the district. I've been a part of a pilot, or some got to raise their hand and we're super excited. And some are like, "Oh, I'm so busy, really stop." So you have to deal with different types of scenarios. So talk to me about how educators can advocate for themselves. Be a better user of pilots, I don't know, make the most of it.

Rayna:

Yeah, um, we always joke when you start at RYE. So anybody who started at our company, you know, about three weeks in – I remind you, everyone's coming from the classroom, right? – I always get the phone call. I don't know what exactly it's gonna be. It's the shock of like how products end up in classrooms like they've been working in right now. For three weeks, they understand what procurement really is, and they're like, "Oh my God, when I asked my principal for this, and I got something else six months later, like the game of telephone, this is the process it went through," and it's like, "Yes!" It's like a sad reality because, and I'm gonna reference Sandro here but like – in his podcast with you, I think it was episode nine – but it was the user is rarely the buyer, and so honestly, this pilot is the chance for teachers to have their voice, and the products that are implementing their classroom, they get chosen because, you're right, a lot of times you just kind of get an email, you're like, "Hey, you're piloting this."

So a few things to think about one. My mother will cringe when she hears this, but I like to call selling into K-12 V.2s, it's business to school. It's a bit of BS, though, let's be honest, it's a bit of bullshit. Because your user and your buyer are so disjointed. Someone in the purchasing office may have never taught. Their only experience in education is they were once a student themselves, and yet they're helping decide what's in your classroom. So I think the big thing is, teachers are wonderful and open to trials and pilots. But the problem is, if the pilot is successful, how can teachers be the advocate afterwards to help this company? So I think the first thing is, when they get a pilot, to be upfront about if they have the capacity to really do it. If you feel like you got a tough class this year, or you got too much new technology, the more upfront, you could be at the outset of like, "Hey, I don't have the capacity for this," the better for everyone, right? Because that EdTech company's depending on you to make that happen. And the reality is, sometimes we get a tough class one year, right, and you don't have that capacity. So the more upfront you can be, even if we just end up having to slog through that pilot together. And it's required about the challenges you have like, "Hey, you know, my classroom is in mainstream inclusion, 40% of my students are not reading on level, I want you to know that first for the data that you're going to get out of my classroom." Super helpful. You don't have to disclose student names, you don't have to like that type of upfront data. As an experienced educator, you know, that your class you have that year of students is off, let them know that information. You don't have to get, you know, this is demographic information, doesn't have to be tagged to a specific student. But even saying, like, "I'm dealing with eight different reading levels in my classroom. On average, I usually have four." Super helpful for someone to know.

Also, during that pilot, if you have to change the implementation style, maybe they pitched it to you, that should be a whole-group implementation. But again, you got eight different reading levels, you know, most of your teaching is happening in small groups, having that communication up front with the headset company, super important, you're gonna be discovering a whole different way this product is implemented. It's super valuable information. But your data is going to be different than all the other whole group of limitations that are happening. So giving that type of insight and communication is super helpful. And then being really transparent, right? If it's not working for you, say something, right? It could be that maybe a feature is not turned on that you need, right? There's different pieces. Don't wait till three months and the pilot's over to tell them how much it was horrible for you for the following reasons. The more upfront, think of the pilot, unfortunately, like another student, right? The faster we can have an intervention, have a conversation, the better. Super helpful, especially if you're doing a trial or pilot and the principal doesn't know about it, it's something you've chosen branch, your classroom being an advocate upfront. So your leadership's aware of this happening because when that transaction happens for to go to a paid implementation, we know it's not going to go to the teacher, it's going to go to the principal. So that principal really needs to be aware, not at the end, but during that implementation. Invite them into the classroom to see the product. If you like it and you want it, let that principal have the opportunity to see it impacting in your classroom.

Elana:

Some of these tips are very tactical. And for those of you that are educators, think about if you have ever done a pilot, you know, what did you do that Rayna did say, and what could you do in addition to that? But Rayna, the skeptic in me is like, "Yeah, but pandemic." And the pandemic blew everything up. There's no educator I know that's, like, raising their hand to do extra work. On top of having all of those different levels in their classroom due to all of the inequities that we saw, and they're just burned out, come on, let's be real. We have asked educators to do way too much with little appreciation. And actually, I feel like there's been less support now. So we had somebody else come on, Tracy, who's an educator, talk about how EdTechs have kind of gotten away from the space because they don't have the room to have that support. Those premiums are trial. So anyways, long story short, it's really hard for educators how, and we had all those changing environments, remote, hybrid, in-person, just getting back. So how do you do a pilot and all of that, like, what changes did you see for maybe your clients or the industry? And how COVID affected all the pilots?

Rayna:

Well, first thing, a product should be solving a problem for you. It should not be an add on, right? If I'm bringing in new technology or a new concept into the classroom, it's because it's helping me be a better and more successful educator, right? There's a lot of good ideas. Doesn't mean all of them should be a company, right? It should be solving a problem for you, right? "My current supplemental literacy program doesn't have strong enough fluency for the types of students that I'm teaching. I need to try something else that can boost the fluency in our classroom, either something as a fluently specific product, or a new supplemental reading, right? It's solving a problem that I'm having." If everything's functioning well, let's not add something to your plate. So that's the first thing, right? I mean, I talk to so many amazing startups every day with great ideas, but it doesn't mean the idea is something that is needed right now. It's not solving the problem. It's a nice-to-have, right? And so I think being honest about what that is is a big thing. And it really should be solving a problem. If it's not making your life easier, it shouldn't be implemented, right? It shouldn't be a burden. That's the first high-level thing. And that's, I think, the most important, right? And I think that's where in your trials you should be learning as an entrepreneur, like, "Is this product solving?" And if not listening from that feedback, I think, as a teacher giving the feedback like, "Hey, this isn't solving the problem in my classroom, and this is why." Super important, super helpful, right? So I guess that's my first thing I really say to that.

And the second thing is, you know, the benefit of the CARES Act is that they really defined what each of these funding sources were going to support. Obviously, literacy and mathematics, there's a lot of stuff we got about literacy. You know, we went on this huge push up, like, read by third grade. And then we had all these states that didn't make it. And then we just tried to say, "Oh, we're gonna pass dyslexia laws, because that's what happened of why we couldn't read by third grade." I'm sure there's a lot of students that were misdiagnosed or undiagnosed that were dyslexic, but I don't think that was our only problem. So I think there's that, right? And so we know from the CARES Act, so: one, it was very literacy, mathematics, social-emotional learning focused. And then each of these different thresholds or buckets of dollars has kind of lessened the threshold around what those are. So reading and math, social-emotional learning was definitely the first bucket. Second bucket, we're also going to other core subject areas, science and social studies, which also has a great literacy component, and having that purchasing ability spread out even more. And so these buckets have really helped look at the funding sources of what we're trying to support in our classrooms.

The biggest thing I talked to new companies about is thinking about what buckets you fit in, right? To me, social-emotional learning is not a standalone subject. It's a lens. It's something that could be applied to all subject areas. And to be honest, going back to what you're saying these teachers are overtaxed, overworked, they don't have the bandwidth to add a 30-minute SEL time into their classroom. No one's saying it's not needed. But we just don't have the bandwidth. We are asking teachers to be mom, dad, doctor, nurse, their best, you know, PE teacher, and certain requirements, and also teach core subject areas. We don't have time for it. So it should be more of a lens. So I think, again, it goes back to the best practices and a pilot really thoughtfully, what are the requirements for implementing your product and making sure it's reasonable to be able to be implemented in that way?

Elana:

You got me thinking that teachers don't have time more so than ever. They don't have the stamina or the support they did. And they have all these expectations in they're dealing with lots of extra things from the last school year of the pandemic. So I guess with all that said, when you said SEL should be a lens, I was like [snaps], "Yes, yes!" But everything should be that way, to be honest. Like, if you were a coding program, you shouldn't have standalone coding lessons, you'd figure out how to effectively integrate it into core curricula, you know, potentially addressing standards, right? But standards? Oh, yeah. Did you see that shift? I'm not sure I did, to be honest. That effective integration within what teachers are already having to do, core subjects and things like that? That's hard. Really hard.

Rayna:

Um, you know, I think Common Core does a nice job when you think about it. There is no history, Common Core, it's literacy within, right? So, like, all of our social studies, most of our science have literacy standards that correspond because those topics – also we're doing ELA. You know, I come from an elementary lens, right? I'm a K-6 certified teacher. And so when you look at that, we teach all, all subject areas. And so we look at things a little differently than a middle school or high school teacher who's like, "I just teach biology, right?" I think that was the big difficulty for a lot of middle school and secondary teachers, um, when they were able to kind of think about the idea of bringing literacy into their curriculum. But that's actually where EdTech was a huge help, right? If you were somebody who was a biology or chemistry teacher, now it's like, how do I bring literacy into this? There's so many great EdTech solutions that help bring that and bridge that gap.

And so I think that's a great example of where EdTech is a great solution for some of these things. Like, how do we reinforce, we know we have, however you want to call it, COVID Slide literacy loss, learning loss – there's a million different ways to phrase it with, give you some input on your site, but the reality is, like, "How do I as a chemistry teacher help support this? Right? Well, how do we write about what we're doing? How do we do an expository, you know, writing prompt that supports us as a chemistry teacher?" Well, there's a technology that can really help with that writing. And that, I think, is really important.

Elana:

Okay, so we've gone through a lot here. We will document this for you all, and then I do recommend, Rayna is talking about some really great tips, best practices and resources. So kind of like the trifecta, we'll have them all in our Show Notes. Rayna, if I'm an EdTech company, maybe I'm navigating the industry for the first time, or the pandemic is just like, there's too much to catch up on with all this new funding and what got released, where and what states doing what, I know, I follow you on Instagram and Twitter and LinkedIn, and you all post what you can every time you see different funding released. And that's super helpful. But how do I navigate what funding is available? When and how do I take advantage of it? It's a crazy nebulous space.

Rayna:

That's what we're really hoping the Collective membership is going to be, is like biweekly webinars are going to deep dive on this. So one week, it could be like we're just gonna talk about the state of California, what funding is available, how you access it, and what departments are looking at it. That will be just the focus, and maybe, you know, two weeks from then, you're the guest right? And you're talking about how you use LinkedIn as a strategy for conferences to make connections with principals and decision makers who are going to be at those conferences to talk about those fundings, right? We want it to really be a one-stop shop for these early-stage entrepreneurs, and even late-stage, right? We ask, like a teacher, an entrepreneur wears a lot of hats, right? Like you're sometimes doing marketing, social media sales, and a teacher, we're asking you to do all of these subject areas and more. And so the idea being is we're hoping that Collective will really be the membership to do it. Because here's the problem. It's constantly changing. And it's completely nuanced based on state and district. And I think that's the really difficult part, is that you need to get this information in real time, unfortunately, because it's constantly shifting.

I mean, the past two weeks, if you go to our Instagram, we've just been posting, and a lot of people were upset that it wasn't as much as expected, but like, the Biden administration just approved a ton of funding for special education. Title 1 early childhood, with funding that we haven't seen in decades, wasn't as much as promised and expected, will totally give way to that, but it's more than we had before. So I'll celebrate every extra dollar that we can spend towards our students. And so we've posted information, but try to get the nuance of how it's gonna be implemented. We're not going to see that until it goes to the different state levels.

Elana:

Yeah, that's what gets me is, like, OK, I get excited I see all this money. I'm like, "Great, you know, this might really help our industry," but then I look at the fine print. I'm like, "Oh, Lord, this is complicated. I'm gonna have to talk to Rayna about this. I don't know." But we'll put some links up to, you know, the CARES funding and things like that. I do suggest you follow Rayna's company, RYE Consulting on social media, because that's how I learned all about it. Any other resources that you can mention around or maybe just words of wisdom? Give yourself some grace? No one knows we're just reactive times.

Rayna:

No, I would definitely say, like, it goes back to what I said earlier. We were 30 different countries in another continent with Texas, definitely give yourself some grace. I would also say, like, I think there's a huge push for early-stage companies to go to the big major metro school districts, right? You want to go to the LA Unified and New York City and Chicago Public Schools. Those are also, so everyone's going there, and they're one of the toughest. Try a midsize school district, people. Like, there's more of them. The sales process you implement will be a little bit more consistent. That is a great place to start. LAUSD, straight up, I'm not telling you anything you never heard before. If you get an RFP or read an RFP, or just Google LAUSD plus RFP from them, you'll see the first page tells you no guidelines, no deviations, there's no negotiation on any of it. And California has the strictest laws when it comes to data privacy and things like that, as an early-stage company is a hard thing to navigate. There's no one to call and answer your question. They're straight up, they don't want any questions, you accept our terms. That's a hard place to start as a new company. Don't go to LA Unified or New York City, start at your local school districts that you're around, right? Go to these midsize ones, there's a lot more that you can do to learn, build, and scale to kind of get things going there. And then be aware of the pricing threshold. You can Google it.

Oh, and my favorite piece of advice. Every school district has a strategic plan, and somebody needs to start a business of making school district websites, because you'll see that they all could use some love. But go to their strategic plan. Every school district has all of their goals and values and missions directly written on their website. You need to go there pull out where are their goals and vision and mission statement aligned to what your product is offering, the problems you are solving – that needs to be part of your language, your outreach. That's where their funding is going. That's what you need to be aligned to, in your conversations with issues. Super important.

Elana:

Yes. Ding ding. Dang, I think that one is like, people don't know that. And from the LCG perspective, we work with EdTech clients on their strategic and operational plans and link our social media and community building efforts to it. So it makes sense. We're not doing something outside of something you haven't already agreed to. We can say, "Hey, we're part of this team, operation acquisition or operation, reduce churn." So it really makes sense to speak their own language, because that's how they're going to be looking at every single EdTech company to evaluate them. And every single EdTech company I've worked with are always targeting the same states in the same district. So what Rayna said about that is really good.

Rayna:

To target the middle or maybe even smaller ones too, before you get your foothold. And you can streamline some things and be honest about who your client is, right? Like, you know, we had a claim that "Oh, we have English-language learners." Do you really? Or do you help Spanish-English language learners? That's OK, if that's what your product is right now. But then we're going to target certain districts that have a higher population of Hispanic, because if I put you in a classroom in Chicago public schools with 32 different languages, your product is not going to survive in that English-language learner classroom. Be honest about what your demographics and where your needs are, and exactly what you said, um, if you're a professional development offering, but if you look at the treaty plan, and they call it "professional learning" throughout, you need to change your marketing copy to say professional learning when you send it to them, like, use the words "training, professional learning, professional development," we know they're all the same thing. But make sure you're resonating the vocabulary that district or principal or school is utilizing, without over promising. So I think that's a little bit of the rub, right? And what you are now, especially when you're starting out as an EdTech company, is not going to be what you become, but don't put what you become is what you are now, because then you will over promise and under deliver of what you were talking about. Right? And please don't put in education buzzwords just because people are searching for it. And there's an SEO outcome there. Guess what? If people come to your page and bounce out, that's actually negative SEO.

Elana:

There's a lot we can unpack here, Rayna. I think that we'll have you on as another guest at some point. Maybe we can go deeper into the post-pandemic trends and all the funding around that, and you'll have a bigger update on RYE Collective. I am really excited about RYE Collective, and I'm grateful to be a part of it, because I don't feel like we collectively come together as EdTech organizations or agencies supporting EdTech entrepreneurs. And there are so many amazing resources, and I think what you've done is say, "How can I get some really good people in a room and maybe a carefully conducted journey, you know, if I'm just starting out?" First thing you need to just talk to Rayna around pilots and contracts and things like that, and maybe have a marketing strategy. And maybe you talk to my team down the road when you're more mature and you really want a robust organic social media marketing strategy. But I'm not going to come in in the beginning. So, like, Rayna gets to work with lots of people and bring their expertise to the table, which I'm very excited about.

Yeah, I'm pretty pumped. I think the big thing is that also just people making sure that the experts that we have understand the nuance of the EdTech market, because it is different, right? I think it's different than if you've worked in technology sector, working with schools, or government entities. It's a different type of environment. We have a lot of nuance. We have times of year that really change our focus. And I think it's really important to make sure that people that we're bringing to the table to give this advice, have that understanding of the uniqueness of the education marketplace. Yes, and the more I can collaborate with awesome people and learn from people like you – I swear, I love this podcast. I get to understand more deeply procurement and all of the wonderful intricacies that you bring up. So Rayna, thank you so much for being a guest today. Right now, you are, what, five months pregnant, I would say. You are also running an agency, you opened up RYE Collective, you're traveling. We ask this to all of our guests: it's just how do you continue to be inspired? What nourishes you? What gives you energy amidst all of this stuff? That might be exciting, but it's also draining because there's a lot going on. So what gives you that energy, that pep in your pregnant footsteps?

Rayna:

Honestly, I think now even more, I'm just so excited to create amazing learning environments that like my child will take advantage of, right? I think I started this business and started this journey as a teacher, and I really wanted to be able to create better impact in classrooms, right, and better choice and better goals. I get so excited, and we get giddy. I think you sent me a potential client the other week, that someone that comes to you, he said, "It's me." I was like, "I put it on potential ops Slack." And my team went nuts, right, all by special education to, like, we have to work with this. That energy is really what pushes me, like nothing is more exciting than when I get an inbound of a new potential product or client. And it's something that I wish I had in my classroom, or I know the kid it would impact. You know, I have a niece who's in kindergarten right now. She is a COVID kid. She started schools during the school year doing thumbs up thumbs down because she did virtual pre-K, and that was how she would respond. And for, like, the first two weeks of school, she just wouldn't talk because she didn't know that, like, the mute button's off. You're actually in a classroom. You can do this. Just to see her flourish this year has been so fun. Being in Colorado now and having her nearby and, like, teaching her to read and having that, that is really what gets me so excited about the work that we do, is like really knowing that a) hopefully we're making teachers lives easier, and b) we're making bigger impacts in the tribes what education can do for making opportunity for all students.

Elana:

Awesome. Well, thank you, Rayna. And for those of you that want to follow along, learn, reach out to Rayna, how can they get in touch with you?

Rayna:

Let's see, all the ways. So I will say we're on Instagram now. That's exciting. So with RYE Collective, you can follow us to join RYE Collective on Instagram or on LinkedIn or on Twitter. You can also, I'm kind of the only Reyna around, but Reyna@RYEconsult.com. Reyna@RYEcollective.org is usually the best way to find us.

Elana:

Awesome. Well, Reyna, thank you for your knowledge, your wisdom, all of your resources. This is going to be a great Show Notes episode, because we referenced a lot of things and went pretty fast. You know, I love it. Because when I think about conversations with you, I'm like, "We're gonna get through a ton of helpful information." And you talk from the spectrum of strategic to practical, so we're here for it. We're going to put it in the Show Notes. This is why it's a recording. People can listen to it over and over again. Everyone, you can access these Show Notes at leoniconsultinggroup.com backslash 16 This is episode 16. So, one six, and that's Leoni Consulting Group with two G's. OK. Well, thank you everyone for listening to us today. I hope that you walked away with at least one thing. Either it'd be a mindset shift, or gosh, you know, "Next time I have pilots, I'm going to think about it and do one thing that Rayna said differently around it." So I really hope this affects you in some way, whether strategically or just like, "Wow, this was super interesting to hear what EdTechs have to go through or from the educator side." So thank you so much, everyone for listening. We will see you next time on the next episode of All Things Marketing and Education. Take care, everyone.

Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode. If you liked what you had and what to dive deeper, you can visit leoniconsultingroup.com/podcast for all Show Notes, links, and freebies mentioned in each episode. We always love friends, so please connect with us on Twitter @leonigroup. If you enjoyed today’s show, go ahead and click the subscribe button to be the first one notified when our next episode is released. We’ll see you next week on All Things Marketing and Education.

[End of recording:

Elana Leoni, Host

Elana Leoni has dedicated the majority of her career to improving K-12 education. Prior to founding LCG, she spent eight years leading the marketing and community strategy for the George Lucas Educational Foundation, where she grew Edutopia’s social media presence exponentially to reach over 20 million education change-makers every month.

Rayna Yaker Glumac, Guest

s://www.projectfounded.org/),:

About All Things Marketing and Education

What if marketing was judged solely by the level of value it brings to its audience? Welcome to All Things Marketing and Education, a podcast that lives at the intersection of marketing and, you guessed it, education. Each week, Elana Leoni, CEO of Leoni Consulting Group, highlights innovative social media marketing, community-building, and content marketing strategies that can significantly increase brand awareness, engagement, and revenue.

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