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“Selling” Education

When I first heard Daniel Pink talk about education as sales in his 2012 book To Sell is Human, I felt a little squirmy, conjuring images of used car salesmen and telemarketing.

With my background in business (my undergraduate degree and first career was in business), I am the first to recognize (and encourage others to recognize) that schools are businesses, which gives me a unique perspective and approach to the work that I do. I think a lot about efficacy and efficiency. I think a lot about balanced budgets. I think a lot about staff culture and productivity. 

But how are teaching and learning sales?

But then, when Pink explained his definition of sales, it started to make sense. Sales, he shares, is about persuading, convincing and influencing people to give up something they've got in exchange for something we've got. It's about how to reach an audience, and how to connect with others.

Putting that in the context of education, then, makes a lot of sense.

Every single day, yes, private schools are asking parents to part with tuition dollars in exchange for a spot at the school. But, also, every single day, teachers are persuading students to give up time, convincing them that what they are trying to teach matters, in order to share knowledge and learning. 

And good teaching is all about connecting. 

So what can Pink’s take on selling teach us about education?

1. Understanding the ABCs of Education: Attunement, Buoyancy, and Clarity

Pink introduces the concept of "attunement," the ability to understand and empathize with the perspectives of others. In education, this translates to teachers tuning into the needs, interests, and learning styles of their students. By attuning themselves to students' motivations and challenges, educators can tailor their approach to better engage and inspire learners. Additionally, Pink highlights the importance of "buoyancy," the resilience needed to navigate through rejections and setbacks. In today’s world, buoyancy (or grit) is one of the most important dispositions and predictors of success. In the classroom, both teachers and students encounter obstacles on the path to learning. By fostering a culture of resilience and perseverance, educators empower students to overcome challenges and persist in their educational journey. Finally, Pink emphasizes the significance of "clarity" in communication – the ability to distill complex ideas into clear, understandable concepts. Clarity is essential for effective teaching and learning. Educators must articulate learning objectives, explain concepts, and provide feedback in a manner that resonates with students, fostering comprehension and retention.

2. Pitching with Purpose: Framing Education as a Solution

In sales, a successful pitch hinges on framing the product as a solution to the customer's needs. Similarly, educators can enhance learning outcomes by framing education as a solution to students' aspirations and challenges. Whether it's acquiring knowledge, developing skills, or pursuing personal growth, education offers the tools and resources needed to achieve these goals. By highlighting the relevance and practicality of education, teachers can foster students' interest and motivation. Whether it's through real-world application, project based learning, or hands-on activities, educators can demonstrate how education addresses actual problems and empowers students to make a positive impact.

3. Empowering Student Autonomy: Facilitating Self-Discovery and Mastery

Pink underscores the importance of autonomy in sales – the freedom for individuals to make choices and decisions. In education, autonomy plays an essential role in fostering student agency and ownership of learning. Rather than being passive recipients of information, students should be active participants in their educational journey, empowered to explore, question, and create. Educators can cultivate autonomy by providing opportunities for self-directed learning, encouraging curiosity, and honoring students' diverse perspectives and talents. By fostering a culture of autonomy, educators inspire intrinsic motivation and nurture students' sense of purpose and mastery.

4. Building Rapport and Trust: Cultivating Meaningful Connections

The establishment of rapport and trust between the seller and the buyer is essential. Similarly, in education, building meaningful connections between teachers and students is essential for creating a supportive and conducive learning environment. Educators can foster rapport and trust by demonstrating genuine care and empathy for their students, actively listening to their concerns, and providing constructive feedback and guidance. By cultivating a sense of belonging and mutual respect, educators lay the foundation for meaningful learning experiences and academic success.

5. Continual Learning and Adaptation: Embracing Growth Mindset

Pink emphasizes the importance of continual learning and adaptation in the ever-evolving landscape of sales. Similarly, in education, embracing a growth mindset is essential for both educators and students alike. Educators must be lifelong learners, committed to professional development, innovation, and staying abreast of emerging trends and best practices in education. By modeling a growth mindset, educators inspire students to embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and cultivate a love for learning.

The name of Pink’s book (To Sell is Human) gets at the key takeaway of his book: selling is part of being human, and that goes for teachers and school leaders as well.

Every head of school with whom I work talks about the need for donor dollars and student enrollment in order to ensure financial sustainability of the school. Development and recruitment are very clearly based in sales.

And so is teaching. 

Each and every day, we ask students to part with time and energy and bandwidth in exchange for content and skills.

Pink shares, “To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”

So let’s learn from Pink and do it well. Let’s leave our students better off in the end.

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