Public Relations Today
By Lydia Fayal • March 13, 2017

Teacher to Edtech Influencer: Q&A with Clara Galan

The education industry is experiencing a sea change. Lisa Frank trapper keepers have long since been replaced by Google Drive. Upwards of 20 million devices are being used in schools. Classes are flipping at record rates - and this is expected to continue at a compound growth rate of 35% over the next four years. Of course, with progress comes new challenges… and that’s the appeal to all us entrepreneurs.

clara.jpgBut what do we know? No one understands the needs of students better than teachers. Thankfully there are people like Clara Galan. Clara began her career as a teacher, first at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland; she also taught at Corpus Christi School in Piedmont. And then Clara made the move to edtech - connecting startups with the educators they so desperately want to help. Clara has worked with Edutopia, Remind, and Amazon Education. Clara represents an emerging trend of edtech startups empowering former teachers to evangelize their services. She is ubiquitous at conferences and edtech meetups - many of which, she organizes. We sat down with Clara and asked her some questions about how she made the switch from teacher to edtech thought leader. 

How has your teaching experience influenced what you look for in a company/edtech product?

My classroom experience helped me understand that every group of students is unique, and that there isn’t one silver bullet to solve the issues in education. Furthermore, there isn’t a single stand-alone edtech product that can meet the needs of all unique students and teachers. Having said that, I think teachers should first identify student learning goals, and then seek out the proper edtech tools to accomplish those goals. I look for educator-vetted products on sites like EdSurge and Graphite to understand how products could work in my classroom, and learn from other teachers’ experiences. I also like to collaborate with edtech companies that exhibit teacher-obsession and empathy, and design with teacher needs in mind, as opposed to a preconceived product in mind. So many times as an educator, I had edtech products pushed down to me, instead of edtech companies listening to my classroom needs and working with me through the design thinking process.

What are your favorite social media and marketing strategies to connect with educators?

I love to connect with my professional learning network (PLN) through Twitter chats and Twitter hashtags (there’s a chat for every subject, grade level, teaching strategy, and more!), In addition, online communities like Edutopia and in-person events like larger EdTech conferences and “unconference” EdCamps.

What advice can you offer teachers who are considering making the switch to a career in edtech?

Find an aspect of education that you are passionate about and work to build something that will support that. Take the time to research existing EdTech companies and startups and share your perspective with the team from a teacher’s point of view. Also, you can reach out to companies of tools you use in your own classroom. Understand how you could contribute to the team whether it’s in marketing, product or project management, curriculum development/content development, sales/business development, or engineering.

clara-g.pngWhat do you miss most about teaching?

The enthusiasm of the kids. It’s incredible to be able to watch a group of kids grow and learn throughout the course of the school year. It was very difficult to leave that, but I’m happy that I’m still able to support teachers in nurturing students.

What are your favorite conferences / meetups to connect with teachers?

My favorite conferences I attend most years are ISTE, FETC, SxSWEdu, CUE, and TCEA. Here, you can find a complete list of larger EdTech conferences and “unconference” EdCamps to attend.

Who do you look up to as thought leaders in education?

Some of the incredible thought leaders in my PLN -- some of which include Kids Deserve It! team Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome, EdTech professional development guru Alice Keeler, New teacher mentor and thought leader Lisa Dabbs, Incredible speaker and Breakout EDU thought leader Adam Bellow, Classroom design rockstar Rebecca Hare, OER experts Andy Marcinek and Kristina Peters, PLN and EdTech all-around community leader Bob Dillon, Curriculum expert Shaelynn Farnsworth, STEM and digital access thought leader Rafranz Davis, Future Ready leader Tom Murray, Class Tech Tips mentor Monica Burns, Digital citizenship and EdTech expert Tanya Avrith, Lead Learner Mentor Dr. Joe Mazza, Maker Education and English teacher extraordinaire Nicholas Provenzano, Elementary curriculum and design speaker Erin Klein, Digital leadership expert Eric Sheninger, and teachers in classrooms across the US striving to make a difference in their students’ lives each and every day!

What are common mistakes edtech companies make?

EdTech companies should make sure that they’re building to solve their end user’s problem, instead of a specific pre-conceived product. Take the time to do research and testing in classrooms and have an open dialogue with teachers, students, parents, and administrators. Also, EdTech companies shouldn’t be overly-confident of the simplicity of their product. Many schools across the US have a long way to come in terms of technology, and the simpler the product, and the more easy the onboarding experience/support opportunities, the better. Lastly, don’t pitch a product like you would to traditional B→ C or B→ B. EdTech needs to provide an outlasting value prop to teachers and students. We’re not selling consumer items, we’re distributing tools that will help foster student outcomes.

Which trends in edtech do you find most exciting?

OER (Open Educational Resources), VR and AR, Advancements in Maker Education, and tools that offer digital differentiation to name a few. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that EdTech is not very meaningful without changes/improvements in pedagogy and teaching strategies. I’m also excited about teaching strategies that don’t necessarily require EdTech, like project-based learning, game-based learning, maker education, and social and emotional learning. Overall, I think that the future of education will move towards more of a cross-curricular experience for students.

Any books or blogs you’d recommend to teachers?

A few great resources (there are so many) are Edutopia, Teaching Channel, Getting Smart, Buck Institute for Education, TeachThought, Educators Room, Common Sense Media, and Digital Promise, in addition to books from various connected educators from Corwin and Dave Burgess books.

What is your motto? (this can be an inspirational quote)

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Thanks Clara for taking the time to share your experience with us! Make sure to follow Clara on Twitter.