Q&A with the Editors—Tom Brennan, CEO of School Outfitters

Tom Brennan, CEO of School Outfitters, spoke with School Planning & Management Editor Jerry Enderle about his thoughts on how recent and ongoing innovations in education will affect his segment of the industry.

Are you seeing a change in the attitudes of educators about new designs of learning spaces?

In the 20 years since I started School Outfitters, I have never seen educators more receptive to new furniture innovations that can support changing pedagogy. While not as important as the teacher, research shows a great environment helps kids feel more loved, engaged, and focused. This makes our work even more fun, because we can make a more meaningful impact in the classroom with our new designs. I encourage teachers and administrators to embrace new options because the journey to better education is a never-ending process.

What trend has you most concerned?

Confusing the construction event with real change. I worry when I see customers who expect a new physical learning environment to suddenly make people teach or learn differently. Change is a process that must be fostered and developed in an organization full of human beings who tend to resist it. It’s hard work, and perhaps the most critical skill educators need to be developing today. You’re going to fail along the way, but that failure can drive improvement as you learn. Don’t make the ribbon-cutting the end of your discussions about how to foster learning. Make it the beginning.

What’s most important in selecting a vendor?

First, I would look for a vendor partner who is willing to listen. There are a lot who just start selling their solution before even understanding your problem. Your needs deserve careful analysis and consideration by any vendor. Next, I would look for responsiveness—do they do what they say they are going to do, in a timely manner? Not everyone has done the work of creating a truly customer-responsive organization. Once they propose a solution, it ought to ladder back perfectly to your goals and answer your question—they need to show they were paying attention! When delivery comes there will inevitably be minor hiccups—watch how they handle these unplanned issues. Do they do it with efficiency and grace? Ultimately, you are trying to find vendors who understand your needs and are trustworthy. That trust must be earned.