Voice from the Industry

Hot Off the Press: Teachers Matter the Most!

As I pondered what to write about in this editorial, it occurred to me that a perspective on the impact of technology on the U.S. K-12 education system should be considered. By nature, I am a true geek. My degree in chemistry alone entitles me to a pocket protector and lab coat, so perhaps I can bring some perspective to the impact of technology on our education system, teacher effectiveness and, more importantly, on student performance.

I begin with a fundamental point of view that in 900 words this discussion will be grossly oversimplified. I believe that there are four fundamental requirements to successfully educate our children. As we think about the impact of technology on the effectiveness of our education system, these elements must be examined and considered. They are obvious but often considered independently of one another. As a result, the effectiveness of the education system often suffers and requires increased effort in application. These four fundamental elements are:

  • The preparation and education of our K-12 teachers
  • The alignment of K-12 publishers with our state and federal standards
  • The tools available to both visually and verbally communicate in and outside the classroom
  • The assessment of student progress throughout the learning life cycle

For me, watching the evolution of technology in education since the early 2000s has been thrilling; however, the perplexing part for me has always been the reality that stronger outcomes should be realized. Ultimately, the role of technology should be to improve effectiveness while reducing the input effort. I believe it should be transparent to the teaching process—not invasive. Ultimately, our educational success is in the hands of our teachers. Their creativity and training combined with a true passion for teaching are what make the classroom work. I doubt that any student ten years from now will talk in fond memory of the technology they used in the classroom, but nearly all of them will be able to name their favorite teacher and what they learned. So if teachers are not appropriately trained to teach with technology, technology alone will not solve our problems. By the way, Ms. Willy, my eleventh-grade chemistry teacher, is the reason I have a B.S. degree in chemistry.

The challenge is not in the technology but rather the alignment of these four fundamental elements with available technology. To a degree, I think the Sunday Press is a great metaphor. As a child, I loved the Sunday paper. It was filled with comics and bulk advertisements that had the promise of savings. I would sort through the ads, certain of finding a great treasure. I seldom found any real treasure, and over time, I stopped looking. Sometimes, the promise of technology has the same feeling for me. There is noise all around about how it impacts education and improves student outcomes, but the treasure is not buried in the technology!

As I grew older, I began to understand that the real value of the Sunday Press was not in the bulk advertisements or the comic strips. It was in the news and the manner in which the publisher was able to fit it all together into one neat and complete package. In drawing the comparison, the real value of technology in our schools and in the hands of our teachers is not in the bits and bytes. If we hope to realize the potential of technology in education, we must find a way to better package it with our universities so teachers are educated in the application and use of technology in teaching. We must align publishers to understand that their educational content is only as productive as the means by which we deliver it. In a world that is moving to digital at breakneck speeds, print publishing models are no longer the best venue to deliver content. We must understand how to utilize technology in the classroom to visually and verbally deliver content and engage students. The alternatives available to teachers are vast and go well beyond the front of the classroom today. Understanding how to leverage the web, androids, net books, and audio and presentation tools like projectors, flat panels, document cameras, and interactive whiteboards requires attention and thought. And, finally, using technology to link student performance to teacher effectiveness, educational content, and assessment has the greatest promise for improving our education system’s effectiveness. Ultimately, the promise of Learning Management Systems is the most exciting of all propositions. LMS is the first real deployment of technology that begins to link the four fundamental elements. LMS will link teachers, parents, administrators, and students with content from publishers, tests, grade books, student performance, and assessment. LMS will be the nerve center for our K-12 education system. It will neatly package valued information in a single environment that we will become accustomed to trusting. It will be our Sunday Press.

What makes this possible? In my view, it ultimately depends on the industry’s ability to collaborate and engage with one another. The university thought leaders, publishers, and technology companies must work together to understand the application and use of technology in education. They must become interdependent rather than each chasing their own outcome independently. The value of technology is only as good as its ability to improve the productivity and effectiveness of the teacher. Because in the end, teachers are the answer to improving our education system, and everything we do should center on helping them be more effective. I am 54 years old. I remember Ms. Willy.


Greg Cessna is CEO and President of Troxell Communications. Troxell Communications is one of the largest dealers of educational technology in the U.S., serving the K-12 and higher education markets in all 50 states. Greg joined Troxell Communications in March of 2010 after serving five years as the President of Educational Resources, a $700 million operating division of School Specialty, Inc. Prior to School Specialty, Greg was the President of PolyVision Corporation’s Visual Communications business worldwide. Greg was President and COO of ABB Process Analytics from 1990 until 1999 when he joined PolyVision. ABB Process Analytics designed and manufactured high-technology scientific instruments for process control applications. Greg serves on the National School Supply and Equipment Board of Directors and Executive Committee and has recently joined the Board of Advisors for EdNET. Greg has a B.S. degree in chemistry from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has completed post-graduate work in business and leadership at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, and American University of Paris.