Teachers, Like the Rest of Us, Must Be Salesmen Now

Teachers will have increasingly challenging jobs, as the 21st century labor market demands different abilities from different individuals -- as well as flexibility and adaptation over the course of an individual's career.
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Daniel H. Pink's latest book, To Sell is Human, provides an excellent overview of how the internet revolution has impacted nearly all types of jobs across all manner of industries -- and in particular, sales. Contrary to the predictions of many other analysts that salespeople, like other middlemen, would eventually disappear as the internet "disintermediates" the economy, Pink argues the contrary -- that a knowledge society makes it necessary for more of us to act like salesmen, more of the time. One of the most interesting implications of this shift is the way in which it will impact education, one of the modern economy's fastest growing sectors.

While more of us are salesmen than ever, technology has disrupted the selling profession as a whole. In many ways, it has made sales more difficult, since there is now much greater competition -- consumers have many more options, and incomparable ease in comparing quality and price. In other ways, however, it has streamlined things by allowing sales across multiple platforms and at the click of a mouse. But the deepest change, which Pink's analysis delves into, is the way in which, in the 21st century, we are all salesmen.

This happens, in the first place, because in a hyper-connected and constantly communicating world, skills such as persuasion and personal influence are increasingly central to any career track. In addition, the proportion of "non-traditional" employment is growing -- Pink points out that "around 30 percent of American workers now work on their own, and by 2015, according to the research firm IDC, 1.3 billion people worldwide will be contractors, freelancers, consultants, or otherwise not working for a big corporation, and will need to individually sell their services."

These changes increase the need for salesmanship, and are reshaping entire industries, such as the health and education markets. According to Pink's surveys, "people are now spending about 40 percent of their time at work engaged in non-sales selling, persuading, influencing, and convincing others in ways that don't involve anyone making a purchase." For instance, "physicians sell patients on a remedy, lawyers sell juries on a verdict, and teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class."

The pace of change to education is slow, however. Innovation usually reaches the education market late, given the hyper-regulation that exists in the sector, and the fact that the government is the major, and sometimes only, provider. But deeper economic and even sociological change will eventually disrupt the education sphere.

We are already seeing this play out at the higher education level, where private sector institutions have a much larger role. Universities remain the major providers of advanced education, but communications technologies are allowing individual professors or subject matter experts to break this mold by producing, selling, and delivering their own content -- either within the university system, or independently, directly to students. On the consumer end, as well, students can increasingly tailor their course load to their needs and shop around among different suppliers. All it took was a couple of Stanford professors, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, to decide to open their course material and provide it to all comers, for Udacity to be born, and to trigger the beginning of a revolution in how education is sold and consumed.

Eventually, these forces will be felt at the K-12 level. Teachers will have increasingly challenging jobs, as the 21st century labor market demands different abilities from different individuals -- as well as flexibility and adaptation over the course of an individual's career. With wide, instant access to digital content, simply memorizing facts is more important than developing new, valuable ways of using them. In this effort, teachers must be more like coaches than simple information providers. As education expert Tony Wagner says in Creating Innovators, "even in America's most highly regarded secondary schools, we are not teaching or testing the skills that matter most for college, careers, and citizenship."

As Wagner puts it, teachers should be teaching "critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, curiosity and imagination." But teachers face challenges as their students come to class more familiar with new technologies, with access to content from many different sources, and more interested in playing with all the possibilities of their devices than listening to a lecture or reading textbooks. While dropout rates are primarily influenced by economics, there is also a problem of students not being engaged with school, not finding it interesting enough -- and with so many ways of accessing knowledge, teachers have to become even more persuasive.

This is why blended learning is becoming popular, as it recognizes this reality, and flips the classroom experience -- allowing teachers to become coaches, guiding the students through personalized, web-based education content. For teachers, as well, there is opportunity, allowing them to reach beyond the confines of their classroom and provide knowledge to anyone, anywhere. They now have the ability to become online tutors, provide after-school programming, or prepare lesson content for other schools, anywhere in the world, in any language.

Pink's insight is that how impactful these technologies will be depends on the ability of teachers to harness it, adapt to it, and persuade others of the worth of what they are teaching -- in other words, to make a sale. As Pink says, "We're all in sales now. The salesperson isn't dead. The salesperson is alive. Because the salesperson is us."

In honor of World Teacher Day, HuffPost Impact in partnership with The Varkey GEMS Foundation will devote one month to stories highlighting the need for global change -- including staggering statistics, student anecdotes that put a face on these numbers, and teachers making a difference.

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