Evaluating materials is often a part of the coaching gig, even though it isn’t in the typical coaching job description. We are often called on as experts to evaluate a variety of instructional materials, books, and programs.
There are so many things to consider when evaluating materials. It can be overwhelming and frustrating and hard to know where to start.
Below is a process I have started using. So far, I am finding it useful. If you have suggestions, I am all ears.
The first thing I do is define what I am looking for and why.
What problem am I trying to solve? What features are essential to success? Why is something new being considered?
At this point, I usually create a spreadsheet with those essential features listed. I make sure to leave a space to list the product. I also leave room for features I might not know about yet. Just recently, I started including a place to link the relevant website.
Next, I gather possibilities. I research as many options as I can find. I eliminate those that are obviously not a good fit. The first couple of times I did this, I included every source I found. It was a colossal waste of time. I had to learn to trust my professional judgment. I also had to stop automatically dismissing anything expensive. Unless there is a specific budget, it is worthwhile to consider all the products. Sometimes the most expensive option really is the best fit.
I enter information for each strong option into my spreadsheet with as much accuracy as possible. Depending on what I am looking for, I might have Y/N columns in my spreadsheet. I always write as many descriptive notes as possible.
Many companies, especially for textbooks or software, provide limited pricing information. Once I have gathered as much as possible from available sources, I reach out to sales representatives.
Contrary to popular belief, Educational Sales reps are NOT the enemy. Despite the need for them to achieve sales, they are the most helpful people you are likely to encounter. Many are former teachers. Though some will attempt a bit of a hard sell, they appreciate directness and honesty. If I am not a lead that will lead to a sale and I say so clearly, that benefits both of us.
Most websites have a contact page that will allow you to submit a request for more information or contact a regional rep directly.
Any spaces left on my spreadsheet can almost always be filled in by a sales rep for the product. In some cases, they will even research competitors to ensure the information they provide is relevant.
Asking for quotes is easy. The first few times were really awkward for me. I felt like I was wasting someone’s time and who was I to demand information. I had to get over that too. Once I felt and acted more confident, I got better results anyway.
Sales reps can also provide demonstrations of products in several ways. I can request a single copy of texts. I can ask for a demo account for software programs. The reps can set up live webinars or provide videos of the product. I have found that it is worth the time to thoroughly explore all the options and use the demos. If possible, I try to get as many teachers as possible to voice an opinion as well.
Many questions about the product can really only be answered by using something.
- How user-friendly is the setup or interface? How similar or different is this to something teachers have used before?
- Will my teachers be open to it?
- How much training will be needed?
- Who will administer the program (set up electronic accounts or manage physical copies)? How quickly can this product be up and running?
- What will my administrator(s) love, hate, or question?
Investing time in 5-10 products that you’re really interested in so you really know their value is much more useful than trying to overview everything.
When all the legwork is done, then, and only then, I present my findings to the decision-maker(s).
In my experience, people appreciate the depth of my knowledge. Teachers like being included in the process of reviewing different options. Administrators like knowing the pros and cons. I like feeling like I know my stuff.
There are times, of course, when time doesn’t permit such an elaborate process.
There are times when the materials I am seeking to evaluate are too narrow in scope or potential use to bother with this process.
When that happens, I have to rely on my professional judgment and make a choice.
In places where I have used this process, my choices have been viewed more favorably. I am rarely accused of making an arbitrary or ill-informed decision. This type of process for evaluating materials does more than help you determine a wise course of action. It also builds credibility and trust.
If for no other reason, that trust makes evaluating a variety of materials using a time-consuming process worth it. It helps that my teachers are also using quality products.
Though it isn’t usually in the job description, finding and implementing curriculum solutions is a part of the job. It can be rewarding. I believe that giving teachers the best tools possible for the goals they are trying to achieve makes everything else about coaching easier and more meaningful.