Selling your content to your students

Sketch of Sir Ken Robinson
Sketch of Sir Ken Robinson

“Nobody else can make anybody else learn anything.  You don’t make the flowers grow.  You don’t sit there and stick the petals on and put the leaves on and paint it.  You don’t do that.  The flower grows itself.  Your job, if you are any good at it, is to provide the optimum conditions for it to do that, to allow it to grow.”

I love the quote above from Sir Ken Robinson.  It goes with the old saying of “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force him to drink.”  Recently I was sitting in a meeting with a wise member of our district curriculum team who pointed out that it’s true you can’t make the horse drink, but you can make sure they are thirsty.  Sometime getting our students to learn is a bit like selling them something, and that something is the content you are trying to get your students to learn.

A few weeks ago I shared a TED Talk from Daniel Pink, and now I’m going to use some of the ideas from Daniel Pink’s book To Sell Is Human.  Think about how you might take his messages on his career in sales and translate it into selling content to your students.

  1. Let them tell you why they agree with you. If your students are able to find a connection between your message and their own life, they will take whatever you have to offer.  Set up your lesson so that students have no choice but to agree with you.
  2. Decide whether to pitch with facts or questions. How do you persuade someone to agree with your opinions?  Most of us have figured out that basic persuasion typically requires a combination of facts and opinions.
  3. Remember that your digital audience is wider than ever. Think about the last great lesson you did – if your students were excited about it, you probably had a teammate or colleague asking about it.  Word of mouth spreads it from your students to other students, to colleagues, parents, and administrators.  And in a digital age those activities can easily go viral.  If you have an audience excited to see what’s happening next, they’ll be thirsty for whatever you have to offer.
  4. Be a servant leader. Relationships!  You know it works.  Did you have a good experience the last time you bought a car?  Some of that experience is because the salesman was able to build report with you, and then followed up on your needs.  Students will feel the same way – if they feel there is a relationship with you, they will listen to more of what you have to offer.
  5. Help people find their needs. One of your jobs as a teacher in this new age is to identify problems for your students to solve that cannot be solved by going to Google.  If your students trust you to help them find the problems that need to be solved, they’ll listen to you when you help them learn how to evaluate solutions.

I know that most of us didn’t go into education to be able to “sell” our students information.  We want our students to have a desire to learn.  But just as we can’t force the horse to take a drink, we have no way to force our students to learn.  In addition to the sales techniques listed below, the HSE21 best practice model is a good guide for creating the conditions in our classrooms and the learning environments that will cause our students to be thirsty for the knowledge we have to offer.  Work to include the core pieces of the best practice model in your classroom everyday – don’t reinvent your lessons, just find ways to remodel them to bring the aspects that will sell our students on our content.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

How have you sold knowledge to your students?  What strategies have you used that made your students excited to learn whatever you had to share with them?  Share some of your successes in the comments below!

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