On December 1, 2011, AEP will induct Charlotte Frank, PhD, McGraw-Hill Education; Don Johnston, Don Johnston, Inc.; and Paul McFall, Pearson into the Educational Publishing Hall of Fame. Here in his second installment, Paul McFall, SVP, School, Pearson, discusses the greatest challenge he faced and the next big challenge for the educational resource industry.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in your career, and how did you handle it?
This business has actually always been pretty challenging for me. Many of the requirements of the work don’t come naturally to me, and, therefore, I’ve had to work at them throughout my career. I would have to say that the first huge challenge and one that still persists somewhat to this day is dealing with the travel that is required. The ones who pay the largest price are your family. I missed a lot of birthdays, anniversaries, ball games, school events etc., and no matter how hard I try I can’t get any of that back. In a way it is my beautiful wife and wonderful children that really handled it more than me. During all the times I wasn’t there, they never made me feel worse than I already did for having to be absent. Not once did they ever say “if only you had been there.” For me my approach has been, with limited success, to focus on them when I was there in order to keep our relationship as strong as possible.
The second business related challenge was when the company I was with was acquired and as a result I had to move back down the line in terms of responsibility. Handling this was in many ways much easier because I have never defined myself by the job or responsibility I had, but only in terms of trying to do the best job I was capable of with the role I had. My approach was if new opportunities came along, that would be great, but if not, I could find all the joy and reward I needed in the job I currently was doing.
What do you think is the greatest challenge that educational publishing will face in the next five years? Any thoughts on how to approach it?
Of course, there really are a great number of challenges and it’s difficult to think of just one. However, the shift from print to digital and all of its ramifications must sit close to if not at the very top. Currently, we find ourselves living—or trying to live—in both worlds. The expense of that alone is challenging enough, but making sure this transition occurs in such a way that we don’t under-serve an entire group of children in the process is what keeps me up at night. I guess we could just flip a switch and move to total digital delivery, but I worry without clear guidance on how that is done – especially as it relates to teacher training and preparation – we run the risk of not having the positive results that digital delivery done well can produce.
One thought as to how we might need to think about it is to always pursue the transition with a parallel effort that matches equal parts of digital content with equal parts of serious deep professional development in how to best integrate digital into the instructional day. Although fairly rare, I’ve seen this accomplished and the results are incredible. Cost of course is always an issue, but significantly improved college- and career-ready students may be our only way out of the economically difficult times in which we now find ourselves. I just don’t believe we can save our way into prosperity, but need to actively produce an educated generation that has the knowledge and skills to contribute to society.
Certainly digital versus print is not our only challenge, but to really maintain our greatness as a country we need to begin to be more embracive of the necessary changes that will ensure us a solid future for all people. Technology not only has the power to help us increase the achievement of our students, but can support the necessary productivity that can allow us to do it more economically.
Paul McFall is currently Senior Vice President, School, Pearson. His responsibilities include advising Product Management and Product Development on key curriculum issues, serving on various Product Management and Development Teams, keying on Adoption States, supporting Government Relations efforts, and working with ILC and HLC organizations. He completed his BA degree at Troy State University in Alabama, and taught fifth and sixth grades in the Escambia County School System. He received his master’s degree in elementary education in 1968 at the University of Georgia.