Build Momentum - Simplifying PR Strategies for Education

S02E10 - Digital Safety Pioneer: Jeff Patterson | Jeff Patterson

February 01, 2022 Season 1 Episode 50
Build Momentum - Simplifying PR Strategies for Education
S02E10 - Digital Safety Pioneer: Jeff Patterson | Jeff Patterson
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Build Momentum, we are joined by Jeff Patterson,  the founder, and CEO of Gaggle, a company that has been supporting student safety and well-being for more than 20 years. Gaggle is also the pioneer in helping K-12 districts manage student safety on school-provided technology—which has helped hundreds of districts avoid tragedies and saves lives. 

On Dec. 15, 2021, Gaggle was named the winner of the “Keeping Kids Safe Award” at the 2021 Supes’ Choice Awards, hosted by the Institute for Education Innovation.

Some Questions I Ask:

  • How did you get your start? (1:30)
  • How does the process work when you partner with a district? What's the first thing that happens? And how do you end up ultimately supporting those students? Could you share the specifics? (4:05)
  • What are some of your takeaways about social-emotional learning (SEL) and student safety in the pandemic? (5:22)
  • Can you share any examples of situations where you've been able to help prevent suicide successfully with the help of Gaggle? (6:51)
  • How do you navigate around the scrutinies and critics—both personally and professionally? (11:06)
  • What's your balance of standing up for what you believe in and acknowledging concerns through the media? (12:51)
  • What strategies would you recommend for other people who are facing backlash within their organization in some way or another? (15:13)
  • How do you suggest others adopt and cultivate their own audience and voice in the edtech space? Any strategies you would recommend? (16:24)
  • What’s next for Gaggle? (18:22)

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Jeff’s story and how Gaggle came to be (1:50)
  • Gaggle’s processes when engaging with school districts (4:14)
  • Student suicide data  (5:53)
  • [SUICIDE TRIGGER WARNING] Gaggle’s role in helping prevent suicide (7:21)
  • Strategies for embracing critics’ scrutinies to help more students (11:32)
  • Student privacy vs. student safety and other Gaggle practices (13:03)
  • Gaggle leadership’s advice for navigating conflict (15:29)
  • Strategies and recommendation for cultivating audiences and developing a voice in edtech (16:33)
  • New programs and the future of Gaggle (18:40)

Quotes:
“Preventing suicides … is hugely important. There were about 130,000 references to students who are depressed or self-harming, cutting themselves. And those kids cannot mature to fully functioning adults. If they're going through so much trauma, they can't learn in school. They can't develop the social skills they need, the relationships they need. I call those “lifetimes lost.” What I want to see is preventing “lifetimes lost” by knowing which kids need the help and support so we can help them deal with what's going on in their own heads.”

“Humility shows vulnerability. You know, being curious, right? [We have] a leadership mantra within my own company that we try to live by when someone comes at us with some issue that we just want to understand. One of our core values is ‘Listen more than you talk.’ I think I'm gonna expand that to say ‘Ask great questions.’”

“I've really focused on helping people find jobs, understanding the industry. And then I try to share some sort of life lessons that I've had along the way. But I try to put the focus on others, not myself and my needs.”

Connect with Jeff Patterson:
Gaggle Website
Jeff Patterson's LinkedIn

Stay in touch with Sarah Williamson:
Free Case Study Guide
Website
Facebook



Sarah Williamson:

Hello and welcome to Build Momentum where we help education organizations, blow past their competitors with strategies that make an impact. We think beyond traditional press releases and generic communication tactics, and seek out big, bold ideas create meaningful results for our clients. I'm your host, Sarah Williamson. And I've spent more than 15 years in public relations for the education sector, where our team has learned what works, and what doesn't when it comes to PR from launching groundbreaking new industry awards to landing sought after panels at most prestigious shows. We absolutely love this stuff. But the best part is, we have an opportunity to interview some of the smartest people we know who share their knowledge and strategies for success right here on the show. If you enjoy what you hear, we would so appreciate if you please take a moment just drop us a review on whatever platform you listen. And if you want to learn more about us, visit swpr-group.com. Thanks so much for tuning in today. Let's dive into the show. On today's episode, we have Jeff Patterson, the founder and CEO of Gaggle for those of you who have not heard of Gaggle, maybe you're living under a rock, I don't know. They're the pioneer in helping K 12 districts manage student safety on school provided technology. Jeff, it's such an honor to have you on the show. So happy to have you today.

Jeff Patterson:

Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah Williamson:

So as the first student safety solutions provider, you've definitely been in this industry for a really, really long time. Do you mind sharing your story about how you got your start? Because I know it's a colorful story. So I want to start from the beginning.

Jeff Patterson:

Oh, so thanks for calling me out as old I'd really appreciate that.

Sarah Williamson:

Hey, I just said you got an early start.

Jeff Patterson:

Okay. I was young and naive when I started. So that's fair. So let's see, there's an official story sometimes in a real story. I'll break down and give you the real story. Yeah. So I was young, as I said, and I was at the TCEA conference in Texas. That's a Texas computer education association. I've been going for a number of years, and I had some educational software that I've made. And I was standing in a booth. And I just happen to talk to a teacher who was walking by and I said, Are you using email with your students? And she said that Oh, no, no, my school district would never let my kids have an email account. And being an entrepreneur, we asked the why question. So I said, Well, why is that? She said, Well, my district would be afraid of who would they talk to? What were they talking about? How can we keep it safe? Because I was young and naive, I decided, well, I can solve those problems. This is how old this is. This is about 1998. And Hotmail had come onto the scene, right? We had AOL, you've got mail at home message thing. And so I created a web based email platform specifically for schools and students. And that's how we actually market we said, Hotmail where the teachers are in control. And so we built in all sorts of safety features into the email program. And that was going really well, right, teachers are starting to use it, it was all free back then. And they said, Well, you need a blog, we need a message board, we need file source. And so we started building out all these other things that had safety baked into the product. And things were going well, we found some funding sources. But eventually, we recognized that we were becoming a learning management system. But no one loved our learning management system. It wasn't really all that it was hard to make great learning management system. And instead, we decided we'd start plugging our safety into other products and started with Google was essentially Gmail back then right and Google Classroom. And so that's really where we are now we make a safety solution that sits behind schools, digital products, to make sure that kids can use them safely and effectively, and that the district can feel safe reading the music.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, I love that. So how does that work when you partner with the district, like, what's the first thing that happens? And how do you end up ultimately supporting those students? Could you share more specifics?

Jeff Patterson:

Sure. So when we engage with the district, they're the ones who make the purchase. And they integrate with us. They give us access to the API's through Google or office 365 or canvas. And so we basically hooking into those systems for pulling in all the email, the Google documents, the chats, the counters, everything that kids are creating and collaborating on. We then run it through technology that technology highlights things that are concerning. And we have a team of people that are reviewing those concerning items 24 hours a day, and they're looking at things and saying okay, this is about shooting hoops, okay, no needs to know about this. This isn't going to take anybody's time. Or it might be something more concerning, you know, some references to suicide or abuse at home or drug use or Oh, millions of other, I should say millions, but many, many other very concerning items. So then our safety team categorizes those in terms of the type of item it is, how urgent it is, and then we'll email the district about the item. Or if it's something that's really urgent, we will make a phone call. And last school year, we made nearly 10,000 phone calls to school districts about emergency situations.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, that's incredible. Incredible. So clearly, we hear about all the bad stuff going on in the world right now. Especially now more than ever SEL is so important for kids. emotional wellness. I mean, I think there were, I don't even know how many suicides I think it was close to 6000 suicides last year of students and kids as young as five attempting suicide. What world are we living in right now? So terrifying.

Jeff Patterson:

It is. It is awful, right.

Sarah Williamson:

It's so awful.

Jeff Patterson:

So the statistic here you're seeing the 6000. That's according to CDC, 6000 of our youth per year, were victims of suicide. That was before the pandemic. We don't have statistics on that, during the pandemic. Oh, my gosh, terrifying. There are some other things that CDC has put out. So this was from August 2020. So you know, almost a year and a half ago, during the middle of the pandemic, they found that after a survey 25% of all young adults, so they had seriously considered suicide in the previous 30 days. One out of four of those young adults had thought about suicide. That's frightening.

Sarah Williamson:

Wow. That's so terrifying. I know.

Jeff Patterson:

This summer, they did another report this year when they compared emergency room visits for suicide attempts, and they found that girls aged 12 to 17. For those girls, there were 50% more suicide attempts ended up in emergency room visits. It's just frightening.

Sarah Williamson:

It's so devastating. Okay, so Gaggle, though plays a significant role. When you partner with districts in if students talk about suicide, you can potentially intervene. So talk to me about that. Are there any examples of where you've been able to do that successfully? I know you have to be very anonymous here. And you have to be careful. But anything you can share

Jeff Patterson:

(Inaudible) if I take a minute or two and tell you a story, but it's gonna be a dark story?

Sarah Williamson:

No, I want to hear it.

Jeff Patterson:

Okay. All right. So this is a true story during the pandemic, and start, it has a good evening. So it was a Friday evening, and a middle school boy in New Jersey, called out his school providing Chromebooks. And he started creating a Google Doc. That said, I'm tired of faking my feelings. I have no one who loves me, not even my family. My only option left is suicide. So this young boy writes this in a Google doc that's connected to his school accounts, comes into our system, the system identifies this as something to take a look at, then our safety team reviews this realize this is a credible threat. So they then call our mercy contacts the school principal, the school principal, then starts calling home, while the assistant principal calls the local police. When the principal gets ahold the parents, the parents say, No, our son is fine. We just finished dinner. He's upstairs in his room. But then they went upstairs, and he wasn't there. And that's why it's great to the assistant principal there the hold of the local police because they do wellness checks. But in this town in New Jersey, they knew where to go, there's a certain spot where the trains run through on the way to New York City. And previously two young people that jumped in from the train to end their life. And sure enough, they found this boy walking to that spot. All this happened within about 15 minutes. And that story happened over 1400 times last school year, different circumstances, but the same type of thing

Sarah Williamson:

Amazing. So you literally have an impact in saving kids lives. On a weekly basis.

Jeff Patterson:

We do but I I'm trying, There's something else I want to emphasize. Preventing suicides in these types of tragedies is hugely important. But there were about 130,000 references to students who are depressed, or self harming cutting themselves. And those kids cannot mature to fully functioning adults. If they're going through so much trauma, they can't learn in school. They can't develop the social skills they need the relationships they need. I call those lifetime's lost I want to see is preventing lifetime's lost by basically giving kids knowing which kids need the help and support so we can help them deal with what's going on in their own heads.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, we partner with a lot of amazing social emotional learning and wellness partners who just really that's one of their priorities is to these kids. They need extra support now more than ever.

Jeff Patterson:

Yes.

Sarah Williamson:

Totally. That's incredible. Happy New Year as we recover from 2021 and ease into 2022, we are finding that so many of our clients are still in the process of finalizing their 2022 communications plans. If you're looking for a jumpstart on how to elevate your profile and enhance your presence in the market this year, we can definitely help. We specialize in providing strategic annual planning for our clients to develop comprehensive communications programs for their entire year, we want to help you achieve even bigger goals than you dreamed possible. We do that with plans that leverage big bold ideas, but are laid out with executable achievable goals every quarter. Reach out today to schedule your strategic planning session with us and our team. You can reach us at Elise elise@swpr-group.com. We look forward to hearing from you today. So even though you're doing this great work, I know you're still facing some criticism from certain groups on a regular basis. Sometimes that's extremely public criticism from leaders of the country. So I'm curious how you navigate that both personally and professionally. Because that's got to be you founded this company, you're doing this amazing. I mean, you hear all these powerful stories, yet you're being scrutinized and criticize. How do you handle that?

Jeff Patterson:

Well, first, I like to think it's coming from a good spot. And I know it always is, and I'm not sometimes the press this is their job is to hype things up and create controversy, but the attention to make sure that we're doing right by the students and right by the schools, I welcome that I welcome basically being challenged to make sure we're doing it well. Right that we're not, you know, for example, outing kids that are LGBTQ, right, that we're treating all kids fairly regardless of socio economic background and race and ethnicity and religion, please, we want to make sure we're doing it right. So I welcome that scrutiny, if you will, I wish that they would see us as trying to be a good actor and wanting that insight and help to make sure that we're doing it well, in some ways, right? The controversy can be a bit enabling because it gets more attention to these important issues about student mental health and well being. But I've also seen cases where some school districts that are ready to move forward with us because of some crazy press accusations, they backed off. And I've seen the statistics that for every 10,000 kids that we protect, we will find several suicide attempts, several cases of kids bullying several, you know, even child pornography issues, right. And so, when the district backs off from implementing us, I know that kids are ultimately going to suffer.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah. Okay. Well, I hear you on that front. But how do you navigate that with the media? What's your balance of standing up for what you believe in and acknowledging concerns? How are you doing that dance?

Jeff Patterson:

So there's a few different areas where the contours are within the creative country. One is student privacy versus student safety. And the reality is these accounts that we're monitoring, we're not monitoring private email or private social media accounts. It's just the school provided tools. The schools have a legal and moral obligation to keep kids safe on these environments, there is no expectation of privacy, just like when we're on our work provided an email account, right, that's owned by the organization. It's not owned by the individual. So we try to emphasize that, right? We try to emphasize that we do take student privacy and data security very seriously. We do outside audits to make sure that we're basically protecting the data. We don't share the data with any other organizations, the data is in fact, owned by the school districts. So we're doing all sorts of things there. We do anti bias training for our staff, right, we want to make sure our staff is making good decisions. We've done that for our safety team, as well as our artificial intelligence team. We're trying to engage other organizations to review our practices to make sure we're doing things properly. To be told Sarah, there are days where it just feels overwhelming that, you know, I feel like the company and myself are being personally attacked, even though we're trying our best to do the right thing. And I know we're making a positive impact on kids lives. Their days, it you know, it's just very frustrating.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah. Well, I commend you for the good fights that you're fighting. I think it's not easy, but it's impressive how you're persevering. And I think the kids are the ones that are going to be supported if you keep it up, so don't quit.

Jeff Patterson:

All right. I'll just take more vacation how about that?

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, exactly. Do some mental health and wellness for yourself. Don't forget about yourself in that for sure.

Jeff Patterson:

Yeah, A glass of wine.

Sarah Williamson:

Yes, a glass of wine. Okay, so I want to switch gears a little bit because I know actually before so I'm gonna do one more thing. All right. So that's really good advice that you shared, and particularly, you know, mental health and wellness for even us company leaders and people in the EdTech space who are not educators, we need to remember that too, for sure. What strategies would you recommend for other people who are facing backlash within their organization in some way or another? I mean, it's probably very different than what you're experiencing. But there's a lot of companies that they may feel attacked for a certain reason or have a scandal in the media, any suggestions for them?

Jeff Patterson:

So I think it's humility shows the vulnerability, you know, being curious, right? This is sort of a leadership mantra that we have within my own company that we try to live is that when someone comes at us with some issue, that we just want to understand it, or one of our core values is, listen more than you talk. I think I'm gonna expand that to say, ask great questions. Right. So we want to ask great questions, and listen and make sure that we understand where other people are coming from.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, that's good life advice too for navigating any conflict. I like that. That's great. Okay, so switching gears. On another note, I know you have an incredible following, because you've been in this industry for so long, not that you're old. You just have a lot of people who are following you. They care about what you say your opinions on things. I'm curious about how others I'm sure they admire that about you. I do. How do you suggest others sort of adopt their and cultivate their own audience and voice in this space, this EdTech space? Any strategies you would recommend?

Jeff Patterson:

First, I think I need to acknowledge I sometimes call myself the Simon Cowell of Ed Tech. Right. I'm a curmudgeon, right? I have strong opinions about everything, right? And I'm not going to sugarcoat them, because I think people need to hear the truth and be your honesty. That's how we grow and change. So yes, I'm Simon Kells, of Ed Tech. I'm incredibly right. About 53% of the time. Yeah, right. Right, just an attempt to be a little bit self effacing. This just barely more than average. But like, I think that's kind of how we have to look at it's like, I have an opinion about how everything should be done. It's not the only way, there's no one way to do anything. And so I can share with people what I have done in, in terms of building my network on LinkedIn is, first of all, I'll be glad to reach out to lots of people, I do try to connect with lots of folks in my industry, I don't accept all connection requests. Because sometimes you can sense them, they're trying to get going to try to sell you something, right, they need to sort of be in my industry and be connected to the things that matter to me. And then it's about how do you really focus on others. And one of the ways I found to do that was by sharing opening job positions helping people connect to their next opportunity. And harder that's because I recognize when you're looking for work, you're unhappy your current job, or you've been laid off from your current job, it messes with your head, it messes with who you are, and the value.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah.

Jeff Patterson:

And I hope that my ability to support job seekers impacts all the people around them. So when they find their dream job, that they can become supporters of others. So I've really focused on how helping people find jobs, understanding the industry. And then I try to share some sort of life lessons that I've had along the way. But I try to put the focus on others, not myself and my needs.

Sarah Williamson:

That's so smart. I like that, too. So I know you're just on NPR, Jeff, and you're really getting the word out. And you're navigating this privacy rights issue left and right. But what's next for gaggle? Do you have any thoughts on next steps that you can share with us or any plans for the

Jeff Patterson:

So I mean, on the one hand, we help protect future? that five and a half million students across the United States. So that's maybe close to 20% of the student population. We want to protect more kids, right? And really, we just help protect them, we alert schools to what's going on, so that the people who love and care for the kids and know the kids can intervene in the best way possible. I've also for a number of years, I felt sometimes unhappy with what we do, because I feel like I'm your friend who points out the problems but doesn't solve any problems doesn't help.

Sarah Williamson:

Oh, interesting. Yeah.

Jeff Patterson:

Right. And now you're identifying the kids in crisis. But how are we going to help those kids? So about a year and a half ago, we launched gaggle therapy, we have licensed therapists that we can pair with students to do teletherapy with kids, where they might not otherwise have the ability to do that. Maybe they live in a rural location without therapists, or the family doesn't have the financial resources or the time commitment it takes to do in person therapy. So we've launched our therapy solution because I really want to focus on student mental health and well being and I'm excited about how well that's been going.

Sarah Williamson:

That's great.

Jeff Patterson:

I have some things that were in the works to do even more but I am not going to tell them yet.

Sarah Williamson:

Okay. We'll keep them secret and let us know you have them ready. That's cool. I didn't know about therapy. That's so smart. Because one, you're trusting that law enforcement and all these people are going to do what they're supposed to do when you alert them. And then two, Yeah, you're right. You're always just pointing out problems. And I love that you're creating a solution now. That's awesome.

Jeff Patterson:

There's the socio lesson, but they don't have the time and resources always in themselves to basically address these kids issues, right. They're overwhelmed and work than counselors, even if they have a good counselor ratio that focus on college and career readiness.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah they're not mental health counselors. I mean, they're not equipped for them.

Jeff Patterson:

Yeah, and Sarah I want to emphasize that when we talk about law enforcement, right, there's this whole controversy about law enforcement and police in schools, but the law enforcement officers I know care deeply about the kids. And when law enforcement is called related to Gaggle, it's almost always for a wellness check somebody to go out to the home and talk and see the kid make sure they're okay. Talk to the parents, right. It's all about how to better protect these kids.

Sarah Williamson:

Yeah, I couldn't agree more about that. Tottaly agree. So where should people go find you? Is LinkedIn the best spot to go connect with you or learn more?

Jeff Patterson:

So if they want to learn more about Gaggle, so gaggle.net Like a gaggle of geese, so that's gaggle.net. Alright Gaggle's about protecting your gaggle of students. If you want to learn more about me personally, check me out on LinkedIn, click the Follow button and see the crazy stuff that I'll sometimes post

Sarah Williamson:

And if you're looking for a job, he's a good one to follow.

Jeff Patterson:

This is true.

Sarah Williamson:

Okay, Jeff, this has been such an honor to have you on the show. Thank you so much for your time. I know it's valuable. So much appreciated.

Jeff Patterson:

Alright Thank you, Sarah.

Sarah Williamson:

Thanks. Thanks so much for tuning in today. If you enjoyed the show, if you wouldn't mind leaving a review, we'd be so grateful. This helps other listeners find and learn about our show. And please reach out if you're interested in learning more about how we can elevate the leaders of your organization with our PR services. If you'd like to even shoot me a direct email at Sarah sarah@swpr-group.com. I look forward to hearing from you and we will see you next time.