Free Webinar

 

Thursday, July 27th
11AM (MDT)

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Learn how to use research-based principles to understand and gain actionable information from your formative data. We will identify must-have reports, and we will introduce an instructional strategy that uses higher order thinking as part of the formative assessment process.

You’ll hear

  • The defining features of formative assessment and the formative assessment cycle
  • The garden analogy and why we should think of our students as plants
  • Indicators of what works best in raising student achievement
  • How to make sure teachers are using assessment data

 

Sign up at masteryconnect.com/kdswebinar

Free Webinar

 

Thursday, July 13th
11AM (MDT)

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When Todd Theobald first entered the halls of his elementary building, he found himself principal of the only failing school in the district. A new state grading system had publically issued an “F” for the Title I school, and he had marching orders to perform what seemed like a miracle.

Join us for a one-hour webinar to hear how Todd and his team embraced the PLC process and boldly dug into data to turn things around in only one year—and how they’ve maintained growth ever since.

You’ll hear

  • The “Guarantee 3” strategy for standards…and why it works
  • Why certain students surprised everyone
  • The experiment that prompted principals to go back in the classroom
  • The recipe for focused collaboration and planning meetings
  • Why all data is good data (really)

 

Sign up at masteryconnect.com/datawebinar

PowerOfPriorityStandards

As part of our Client Success series, this is the second of a two-part guide to unpacking and prioritizing standards like a pro. 

In our last article, we shared our tips for unpacking standards, including the process of determining big ideas and writing essential questions. This week we tackle the tricky question: How do you fit everything in?

Regardless of which set of standards you use in your classroom, the sheer volume of material can become daunting. And we’ve all heard the pitfalls of mile-wide-and-inch-deep instruction, which neither saves time nor impacts learning in a meaningful way.

Identifying priority or “power” standards is a process you can use to prioritize the content and skills you’ll need to address with your students. But this process is not about deciding what can be eliminated; rather, it’s designed to help you manage instructional time and determine a clear path for student learning. This prioritization process also brings us full circle back to the need for Big Ideas.

Let’s take a look at the two types of standards we’ll be working with: priority and supporting.

Priority standards are a carefully selected subset of the larger list of standards to be covered in a specific grade level or course that students must know and be able to demonstrate understanding of by the end of the grade-level or course in order to be prepared for the next grade-level or course.
Supporting standards are those standards that support, connect to, or enhance the priority standards. They are taught within the context of the priority standards, but do not receive the same degree of emphasis.

How to Identify Power Standards

Just as you followed a process to unpack standards, you should follow one when selecting priority or power standards. It’s best to prioritize collaboratively to ensure priority standards are identified across the team, so students move onto the next grade-level/course with consistent understanding of content.

Important note: Again, it is critical to remember that prioritizing standards has nothing to do with elimination; it has everything to do with degree of focus placed on standards.

When reviewing each standard you are targeting for instruction, consider the criteria and questions below. If the answers are “yes” for a particular standard, it should be labeled a priority/power standard.

ENDURANCE
Does this standard provide students with knowledge that will benefit them beyond the present?
Will proficiency of this standard help my students gain skills needed in the next grade-level/course or even in real-life situations?

LEVERAGE
Does this standard provide students with knowledge and/or skills that benefit them in other learning situations within the current grade level or course?
Does it have cross-curricular benefit?

READINESS
Does this standard provide students with knowledge and/or skills that are prerequisite concepts and skills needed to be successful in the next grade-level/course?

EXTERNAL EXAMS
Does this standard provide students with knowledge and/or skills that they are most likely to encounter on local, state, and/or national assessments?

Standards you have not identified as priority/power standards may be supporting standards. These standards often scaffold under a priority standard, much as a sub-standard (content or skill) would serve as a stepping stone to the overarching standard.

Start Prioritizing with “I Can” Statements

Once you have identified your priority standards and determined the supporting standards for each, you can begin designing your assessment and instruction. Also, you should now be more prepared to communicate clear learning objectives or targets to your students.

Many schools and districts use “I can” statements to clearly communicate learning objectives developed from priority standards, written in student-friendly language. When used consistently, “I can” statements have a profound effect on the learning of students, because students understand why they are learning the material.

“I can” statements help students:

  • take a more active role in their learning
  • become more reflective of their own work
  • feel more responsible for their learning

Let’s go through this exercise with the standard we unpacked in the last article.

Step 1. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY – RI.6.8
Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

Let’s say we identified it as a priority standard based on the criteria above, and now we can create “I can” statements to more specifically convey the knowledge and skills tied to this standard.

Priority Standard I Can Statement
Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.
  • I can define argument, claim, and evidence.
  • I can distinguish between supported and unsupported claims.
  • I can trace an argument in a text.

Priority standard identified? Check! Standard clearly communicated to students? Check! You now have a road map for instructional change! You can identify clear targets and enduring understanding, as well as effectively communicate the learning outcomes to students. It’s time to start planning lessons and gathering resources to make a difference in your classroom!


For MasteryConnect Educators

To help you get started with this work in MasteryConnect, we’ve pulled together some resources that will provide detailed instruction on how to add your unpacked standards and “I can” statements into your curriculum maps and trackers and how to flag priority standards.

The resources we’ve provided are for both curriculum maps and trackers. However, if you’re working with a collaborative school or district team, we highly suggest doing this work in curriculum maps, then creating your trackers from the maps.

Help Center Articles
Add Sub-Standards to a Curriculum Map
View and Customize Standards in a Curriculum Map
Set a Power Standards in a Curriculum Map
Add Sub-Standard to a Tracker
Customize or Reword Standards
Set a Power Standard in a Tracker

       Web Professional Development

Mindful Introduction Module: Tracker Basics

For on-site professional development on using curriculum maps for unpacking standards, contact your Client Success Manager. And be sure to check back for the next article in our Client Success Series!


MasteryConnect has Over 1 Million Standards!

Looking for solutions that support state or Common Core standards? Check out our FREE apps for educators or take a tour of the full MasteryConnect platform for school and district-level features.

So, you’re moving to standards based grading. You’re probably trying to decide how to replace traditional grades, and pouring countless hours into a report card redesign. Like many before you, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed, and your goal of maintaining a single page is looking impossible… unless you change the margins and use a size five font. You may also be worried about the teachers. Will they embrace this positive change, this new approach to learning? It will take more time, and will require them to explain the changes to parents. Don’t forget about parents! Many of them will wonder how their children will apply for college without a grade point average.

If you travel the same path as many others that have tried to implement standards based grading with a report card reflective of that instructional approach, you’ll likely end up with complex multi-page documents that are difficult and time consuming for teachers to complete. Additionally, many proponents of standards based grading are surprised to learn that many parents are slow to embrace the changes and prefer the simplicity of a letter grade.

masteryReportCardWhat if there was a better way? Could there be a better way? Yes!

After many months of research, and working with our District partners around the country, we released our mastery-based report card last September. We continued listening to our District partners, in the field, as they were implementing the report card. We learned a great deal, and are excited to announce the release of the first mastery-based report card to preserve the use of letter grades. We know you might be a little skeptical, but take a minute to consider the benefits. Our letter grades are not like your parents’ letter grades, and likely not like yours. They are a much different, and a much more accurate reflection of the level of a student’s understanding. Therefore, much stronger. Rather than reflecting extra credit, or penalizing students for being late, or unexcused absences, creating a complex formula, or averages, they are based on mastery. Yes, mastery. What the student knows, relative to the standard. The mastery grades are a reflection of knowledge and understanding.

Creating the grades is much less confusing as they are automatically calculated in a teacher’s mastery tracker using the percent of standards mastered during the grading period. You have complete control over the criteria for determining the cut scores for the letter grades and the best part is that the report card links right to teachers’ trackers.

If you have already moved away from letter grades, that’s ok too; we can customize the report card to match your current grading system. There really is a better way. Take a minute to look over the new report card and imagine the possibilities.

NCTMstudyStudents just learn better when teachers use short-cycle formative assessments to guide student learning. That’s what we believe and that’s what the data shows. A district piloting MasteryConnect recently shared this research with the MasteryConnect team, so we wanted to share it with you!

The 2007 benchmark study by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics found that when formative assessments were used between units during a school term, those assessments produced “greater increases in students’ achievements than class-size reduction or increases in teachers’ content knowledge.”

Teachers need smaller class sizes and constant learning, don’t get us wrong. But this study underscores the critical role of formative assessment work in the classroom!

In the study, student learning was doubled when compared to classes where formative assessments were not administered.

If you have a story to share about the impact of short cycle formative assessment at your school or district, we’d love to hear it!

Keep on Trackin’
The MasteryConnect Team

All Assessment Is Summative

December 7th, 2012

It has been awhile since we have posted a blog with the intent of defining who we are or what we believe.  In this weeks post, we decided to address one of the fundamentals of what we do: assessment. Why do we assess our students?  This seemingly rhetorical question is anything but rhetorical.  We assess our students to make sure they understand the concept(s) we just taught.  We assess our students because we have to enter a grade in the grade book.  We assess our students because there is a test at the end of every chapter. We assess because that is a part of what we do – we teach and then we assess.  Regardless of the reason, unfortunately, all assessment is summative.

Most of you are probably inclined to argue with that last statement, and you would be right to do so.  You most likely want to point out that formative assessment, assessment for learning, is quite different from summative assessment.  With formative assessment, the purpose or intent of assessment is to identify which students have or have not mastered the concepts or skills you are assessing and then provide appropriate support to all of your students.  You could also argue that formative assessment is a process that allows you, the teacher, to evaluate the effectiveness of your instruction by analyzing the data you receive from the assessment you just gave.  Additionally, it would be just as easy to argue that all assessment is formative if teachers choose to use the data collected to improve their instruction and provide interventions for students.

This brings up an important element of assessment.  The intent or purpose of an assessment does not define whether an assessment is summative or formative; it is the “action” taken by the teacher following an assessment that ultimately provides the distinction.

Following an assessment, if your action is to record the student’s score in the grade book and begin planning for the next concept, chapter or unit – your assessment was summative.  If, after giving an assessment, your next action is to remind those students who did poorly on the exam that they should have studied harder – your assessment was summative.  If the assessment you are giving was created by the district and labeled an interim formative benchmark assessment and the next action taken was to house the data in the district data warehouse and your action is to begin preparing for the next interim formative benchmark – your assessment, despite its name, was summative.

Following an assessment, if your action is to evaluate student results and implement intervention strategies for struggling as well as advanced students – your assessment was formative.  If students in your class already know the assessment they are taking is being used to inform both you and them of their current level of understanding and retakes are expected – your assessment was formative.  If, following the delivery of a district created interim formative benchmark assessment, you analyze the results and evaluate the effectiveness of your instruction – your assessment was formative.  If you see teacher questioning and observation as a means for providing immediate interventions – you are formatively assessing your students.

One could argue that all assessment is summative or all assessment is formative or you can choose to take the middle ground and say it depends.  We believe that all assessment should be formative with the exception of high stakes tests, which we believe should be eliminated.  The ultimate goal of any assessment should be to inform instruction and provide opportunities for immediate interventions and these things only occur when an assessment is being used formatively.

It is worth noting that there is an additional element of formative assessment that we believe is the most powerful means of improving teacher performance – Common Formative Assessment.  When a teacher assesses his/her students, they are basing outcomes on a single measure: student results.  When teachers agree to collaborate and share the results of a common assessment with one another, teachers can evaluate the performance of the students in multiple classes as well as evaluate their own performance relative to one another.  This creates opportunities for teachers to maximize the effectiveness of the formative assessment process.

Whether you are working independently or collaboratively, you can call your assessments whatever you want, but immediate and targeted action is required if they are going to truly be formative; otherwise all assessment is summative.

 

How do you know if your child is attending a good school?  When we began creating MasteryConnect, we wanted to address a much more complicated, and in our view, more meaningful set of questions.

  • How do we know what each child knows and doesn’t know relative to the standards?
  • How are teachers responding to students who don’t understand?

MasteryConnect is an online solution that allows teachers to assess and monitor student performance relative to the standards and provides teachers with the ability to clearly communicate student progress to parents.  After all, if your child attends an outstanding school and yet struggles to master the essential concepts and skills necessary to succeed in school, does it matter that your child’s school is labeled “outstanding”?

National and local companies provide rankings for schools all over the country.  One of our local newspapers uses end-of-level assessments to provide a ranking of each school in our state.  Based on these rankings, which of these three schools would you want your child to attend?

  • School A: 82% proficiency (School Rank 203/546)
  • School B: 67% proficiency (School Rank 457/546)
  • School C: 88% proficiency (School Rank (197/546)

The answer for most parents is simple: School C is clearly the best. Parents may however, want to continue shopping as there are still 196 schools that are outperforming School C.  Parents may also conclude that there are real problems with School B.  Perhaps it’s time for a major overhaul of the administration, faculty, staff and curriculum at this school.  Some may go so far as to suggest that School B should be shut down or turned over to private enterprise to remedy these outrageous deficiencies.  This type of data is perfect for those who have an appetite for greater school accountability.  With a quick glance at the numbers, anyone can see which schools are excelling and which schools are failing. Numbers don’t lie…right?  I didn’t choose these schools at random; I selected them because I have worked as the principal of all three.  While the data does not coincide with my tenure at any of the schools, the results are similar to those we achieved.   Here is a little more information that may impact your opinion of each school:

  • School A is set in an aging, lower middle-class suburban neighborhood and serves roughly 500 K-6 students.  The faculty is outstanding and has a solid mix of veterans and newly-minted teachers.  The school has struggled with dwindling enrollment over the last few years as the children in the surrounding neighborhood have grown beyond their school years.  Parents generally take an active role in supporting their children’s education and for the last twenty years the school has been home to a magnet program for the gifted.  Roughly half of the students come from outside the schools boundaries to participate in the gifted program.  The end result is a unique and diverse culture of amazing kids that make this school truly special.  Would I send my own children to this school?  Absolutely!
  • School B is surrounded by low income housing units, apartments, a trailer park and modest single-family homes.  Student transiency is a constant problem, as families confront a wide range of financial and social challenges.  The school receives Title I funding, provides year-round breakfast for students and has an after school program.  Approximately forty percent of students are learning English as a second language and most begin kindergarten well behind their peers at Schools A or C.  Additionally, the school has provided specialized classrooms for children with autism and/or severe emotional or learning disabilities.  You can also throw in a magnet Spanish dual immersion program that draws students from all over the district.  Would I send my children to this school? I did.  Both of my children attended school B and received an incredible education.  They were given opportunities to excel as teachers differentiated instruction for all students.  The teachers were some of the most committed teachers I have ever worked with: they were willing to do whatever it required to help all students succeed.  The end-of-level scores could never quite reflect the incredible progress students made in School B or the dedication of its teachers, but I know for certain, that my own children were fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend such an amazing school.
  • School C is set high up on the side of the mountain with an amazing view of the valley.  The school is host to great teachers, incredibly supportive parents and amazing students who attend a thoroughly modern school.  My tenure at this school was shortest but my experience there was amazing.  I guess one could argue that scores in a school like this should be higher and I am certain they could be if the teachers would simply focus on teaching to the test.  As it is, students are given many opportunities to excel in classrooms with dedicated teachers.  Would I send my own children to this school?  I did.  My daughter loved her teachers and made many wonderful friends.  She excelled in school and pushed me out the door every day because she was excited to get there.

So what does one learn when they have the opportunity to serve as the principal of three very unique schools?  For me, the lessons are many.  I could say that all schools have their own unique challenges and yet the goals are the same.  We all want to make sure that all students LEARN in an environment that empowers them, nurtures them, and ensures their safety.  Schools depend on good teachers who feel supported by an administration that is empowered to lead.  Ultimately, what I learned is that defining what makes a good school requires much more than a single test score or school ranking.

–Trenton Goble

Growing up during the 1970’s and early 1980’s (and being just a bit of a technology geek), I have to say that I am enjoying having a 4 ½ year old son that is obsessed with watching Star Wars.  I also have to say, watching all 6 episodes on repeat mode, as my son likes to do, really starts to mess with your mind and get into your subconscious.  Thus, the title of this blog post…I’ll try not to take the analogy too far…

The Empire
Much of the story in education technology is not new.  In the 1980’s, an education technology “surge” drove millions of dollars to a market that had been largely untouched by technology and innovation.  Today, a new ed surge is happening with a lot of new investment dollars and technologies hitting the market.  The surge has been spurred on by a market transition to Common Core standards, and more philanthropic and government money reaching the space.  In this continuing saga of education technology (for the purposes of my analogy) the empire is NOT any one company, nor is it the dominance and control of the space by a relatively few players.  The empire is everything that is preventing choice for the best applications to be used in the classroom.  The empire is the inefficient market that plagues education and prevents efficient purchasing and distribution of the best products available to help teachers and students.

Death Stars
While the education field may seem like fertile ground for teacher-friendly innovation, current purchasing practices continue to reward mediocrity.  Common practice has been for schools and districts to seek massive solutions (shall we say “death stars”) that check every box and seek to provide one system that attempts to solve all problems.  Gravity and the energy field of the purchasing/RFP process takes it there.  For example, if a district is looking for a tool to administer formative assessments and provide related data for students and stakeholders, the RFP for such a system might also include requirements to deliver summative assessments, teacher evaluation tools, standards-aligned lesson plans, explicit curriculum mapping tools, behavior management tools, a report card system, a traditional online gradebook, an LMS delivery platform, and on and on….enterprise companies love to check the boxes…it’s what they do…it is what wins RFP’s in the empire.  Decision makers are often looking to try and solve many things by writing one large check with the hope of data interoperability within massive systems.  This approach effectively eliminates the competition and allows the vendor to charge more for a huge array of mediocre solutions.  In the race to “do more,” focus and attention on doing things well or innovating with new approaches to the problem are often tossed to the curb.  The result is too often a bloated software system that lacks innovation and a user-interface too difficult for teachers to navigate.

The proliferation and demand for the development and sales of these massive systems is often unknowingly exacerbated by those who have the intent to do the most good, like those who helped to get money for states through Race to the Top.  Case in point…North Carolina was given $400 million in RTT money.  Part of the requirements for this one-time money for states as outlined by the Department of Education is that RTT states use part of the millions they’ve been given to build an IIS (Instructional Improvement System).  So what did the recent state-wide North Carolina RFP look like?  Well, it looked a lot like what I described earlier. It read like one vendor will be awarded to come in and solve all these problems in one monster system.  While it is amazing to be at a place now in education technology where these ideas and the problem-set is being outlined and defined, I’m fearful that mistakes of the past with attempts to build such data systems will be repeated with all this new money.  As an edtech startup, I believe I can speak on behalf of many other innovators in the space.  Our collective hope and plea is for state and other education technology leaders to take a step back, just for a moment, to really think about the system architectures that are about to be built with this $5 billion infusion of RTT money… system architectures that could finally bring choice and innovation to the classroom.

A New Hope – The Application Ecosystem
This is an exciting time for edtech as new and innovative start-up companies are building amazing cloud-based solutions that are targeted to the specific needs of teachers and students.  These companies are agile, responsive, and the tools are user friendly.  They are building a loyal following of teachers by offering all or part of their solution to teachers for free, while working to secure funding from school and district leaders seeking to provide their teachers with quality solutions.

An interesting part of the North Carolina RFP story is that there was one part of the RFP that gave me hope.  In this episode of the edtech story, there is hope that there might actually be a chance for systems to be different, a chance there just might be balance brought to the force.  There on page 25 of the 106 page RFP (not including appendices), was the requirement that this massive IIS system be integrated and communicate with the Shared Learning Collaborative (SLC).  The SLC is a $75 million dollar Gates-funded project that is being run a team at the Gates Foundation (Shout out to Stephen Coller doing a great job leading the charge), while code is being developed by a 60-person team (shall we call it a clone army?) from Wireless Generation in Durham, North Carolina (A $75 million project to put a rework and build upon on the Ed-Fi standards, not a bad gig when you can get the work).  The SLC is a data repository and integration framework that, given it becomes all it promises to be, will allow cloud-based or other solutions to “plug in” to student information and receive relevant information about students to use in an application.  The new standard promises a data communication layer to send information about the student (for example, mastery of a Common Core standard) back through to be stored in any system at a school or district.  My diagram below illustrates what could be done and modeled in states like North Carolina.  For example, if such an architecture were to be adopted, best-of-breed applications and new innovations could be easily plugged into the ecosystem with a common student data communication layer.  Teachers/Schools/Districts could make the decision to change out their apps much more quickly, and RFP processes could be dramatically changed.  Local schools and teachers could choose MasteryConnect for their formative assessments, BloomBoard for teacher evaluation, BetterLesson for lesson planning, ClassDojo for behavior management, GoalBook for IEP tracking, Engrade for a traditional gradebook, Edmodo for an LMS, and on and on.

Application Ecosystem

For many participating in this edtech saga, it sometimes feels like we’ve been at this juncture before, with the early promises and hope for standards, many are asking if this time will be different.  In my opinion, this time we are in a much better place.  With education technology finally becoming cloud-based and the evolution and emergence of easy-to-implement API’s(application programming interface) and integration tools, I am hopeful that we are close to ending the empire and creating choice for teachers and schools.

And the Shared Learning Collaborative isn’t going to be the only game in town for ecosystems.  While the SLC is indeed seeking to become the standard, their aspirations are to actually enable more ecosystems based on the standards that are developed.  The SLC plans to make everything open source to allow others to build on these new layers and standards.  Word on the street is that Pearson (who has made great strides in recent years in opening up more API’s) is thinking along these lines as well, although it remains to be seen if Pearson will choose to embrace the new SLC standards.  Companies like Education Elements (a MasteryConnect partner), have been essentially pioneering this model of an ecosystem with their blended platform.  Edmodo recently launched an app store for educators (Masteryconnect launched on the new Edmodo platform), a quantum leap forward to providing more choice in classroom technology.  New startups are also entering the market around these concepts such as LearnSprout and Clever, and a new market is emerging to help push student data to the cloud to make it more accessible for more ecosystems to thrive.

In the end, I go back to the plea to states, CIO’s, and district leaders (maybe in the same tone as Princess Leia saying, “help me Obi Wan Kenobi”), let’s work together to look at system architectures and ecosystems that support getting the best technology and innovation into the classroom.  We are on the verge of the next episode…let’s avoid the return of the death star.

We Still Believe in Love

November 10th, 2011

In her recent Edweek guest post for Rick Hess’ Straight Up blog, Roxanne Elden addresses the issues schools face evaluating technology-based solutions (The Relationship Status of Teachers and Educational Technology: It’s Complicated). Her six points for discussion hit the nail right on the head and mirror the philosophy our company adopted when we set out to create MasteryConnect. As an educator, I understand the complex issues associated with finding solutions that are teacher friendly, cost effective and ultimately improve student outcomes. Even with the best of intentions, finding success in the education space is daunting to say the least.<

We began with three seemingly simple goals:

  • Provide teachers with a tool that would allow them to track student mastery relative to the core standards.
  • Provide teachers access to great teacher created common assessments aligned to the core standards.
  • Allow teachers to connect with each other in a global professional learning community.

In order for us to be successful we knew that the user interface needed to be elegant and simple and so we spent months making it intuitive for users to use and navigate. We worked to create a “freemium” model that would allow all teachers to use MasteryConnect free of charge with quality upgrades that would be affordable to all and allow us to continue to improve our product. We knew we needed to be agile and responsive to the needs of users which has allowed us to quickly evolve in response to user feedback. Most of all we knew that we needed to create a product that would help teachers do their job more efficiently and with better outcomes.

We are educators, parents and unabashed entrepreneurs committed to our founding principles. At MasteryConnect we are driven by a passion to make a difference and we understand that our success will be determined by our ability to connect with those we seek to serve.

Roxanne’s final thoughts:

Deep down, we still believe in love. Sure, we’ve got some trust issues from being burned in the past, but that doesn’t mean we’re nostalgic for the days of clapping erasers and calculating grades by hand. Teachers have had good experiences with technology, too, and we’d love to have more. The good thing about teachers is if you treat us right, we’re loyal, and we’ll tell all our friends how great you are. For now, trying to take it slow doesn’t mean we’re not interested. We just want to know we can rely on you before we introduce you to our kids.

At MasteryConnect, deep down, we still believe in love too.

When we started the Masteryconnect blog, we decided that we would not just fill our blog with posts talking about our latest feature releases and regurgitated content from the industry (although we do that too)…we wanted to write about our thoughts and even express our opinions and an occasional controversial idea. We see the edtech startup experience as more than just a set of features and product announcements. We see it as a grand endeavor to make things better for teachers and students. Many of us at MasteryConnect have parents, spouses, and siblings that are teachers and our children go to public schools. We are a team with passionate ideals and a deep emotional connection to education that comes with an incredible desire to have real impact on student achievement and a push for getting at the heart of what our kids know and don’t know relative to the core. As the co-founder/CEO of MasteryConnect, it’s often hard to find the time to sit down and share my thoughts in a post, but tonight I wanted to share something that was on my mind. You see, I come from a family of teachers. I grew up with a father, who, in the 1960’s, spent his first two years as a teacher in a small Inuit village in Alaska. He came back to the lower 48 and taught history and social studies with great passion and the desire to inspire kids to do great things in life. That passion of my father translated into my two siblings becoming teachers and ultimately inspired me to channel my software skills to education. I even married a teacher!

With that long background, I wanted to share a quick experience. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with an elementary teacher who has been using MasteryConnect for over a year now. We’ll call her Miss Jones for this post. I didn’t know Miss Jones very well, we’d had a few email exchanges and I had been to her classroom once before for a feedback session. After a recent email from Miss Jones, I wanted to get with her personally and gather her feedback and thoughts. More importantly, I wanted to really connect with Miss Jones as a user and as a teacher. As our discussion started, we talked a lot about her experience in rolling out the Common Core this year. It was fascinating to hear her talk about the first two weeks of school and the challenges of managing 30 students while teaching and assessing standards and managing all the new expectations. It’s important to note that Miss Jones is what I would call a “super teacher.” This is the kind of public school teacher that labors night and day researching for lessons and developing formative assessments and going back and spending the time to identify students that don’t understand concepts and reteach them. She’s the kind of teacher that when you have your own kids in public school, you fight tooth and nail to make sure your kid ends up in her class.

Miss Jones shared with me that her school was piloting a new Common Core textbook from one of the major publishers (as with Miss Jones, we’ll keep that name quiet too). I sometimes like to refer to myself as a “Common Core Geek,” so I immediately wanted to see the new text and see what the major publisher had done. I asked her if I could take a look at the new book. As she pulled the shiny, new teachers-edition out of her book bag, she said to me, “Please wipe the table underneath it and please don’t get any of that chocolate cake on it, and please please don’t spill on it.” At first I thought she was being overly cautious about a new book, but she elaborated on why she needed me to be careful. I was shocked to hear that her principal had presented her with a piece of paper from the legal department of the publishing company. The legal document stated that, should anything happen to the book, (be it chocolate cake spills or an accidental coffee slip), she would PERSONALLY be responsible for the $500 cost for the replacement. Given that Miss Jones is a team leader, she was also entrusted with a special set of materials worth about $1,000. I quickly did the math of a teacher’s salary and realized that an accidental slip of my drink or chocolate cake could cost Miss Jones a significant portion of her monthly income.

Now it’s easy for a small company like ours to throw darts and take pot shots at the big Goliath multi-billion dollar publishing companies (that often buy-out many start-ups like ours), and yes, sometimes it’s fun to throw a little mud, but a couple of things struck me at that moment. You see, I was there to get connected with Miss Jones and find out how we could improve what we are doing. I was looking for unfiltered feedback after deep use of what we had built and after she’d bruised and beaten up what we had created. The disconnect I had in my brain was that a start-up education company like ours labors night and day to get usage in the classroom and gain insightful feedback from a teacher, and yet, this publisher has the power to actually strike fear in the heart of this teacher and “threaten” her with a monetary punishment for a product that she was being told she would have to use. She expressed to me that she was afraid to take the book home. Wow, I was dumbfounded…this felt so broken. As a CEO of an edtech startup desiring feedback, my thought was, ‘why wouldn’t you want to make this teacher feel like they could take the product home, pour over it, write her notes in it, highlight it, bend the pages, USE it!, and yes, even possibly spill on it?’ So what if she spilled on it or dropped it? The value of her buying into what you are giving her and the feedback you gain has to be far more valuable than the $20 cost of printing in China. Why wouldn’t you just give it to her? And wouldn’t you want to take a peek at that note-filled, bent-paged, run-over, highlighted copy so you could see how she used it and the feedback she provided and make your product better?

My point here is that teachers are often made to feel less than professional and sometimes even second class citizens in their own profession. It’s difficult enough that we often undervalue them with pay, but we go deeper when we, through these types of situations, imply that they are not trusted as professionals. A few years back, my wife signed a similar agreement with her district-issued laptop. She was forced to sign a document saying she’d replace the full $1,500 cost of the laptop should something happen to it. The school told her that if she didn’t sign the contract saying she’d pay for the laptop, she might even lose her job. This made her go through the same thought process as Miss Jones…‘Why would I take this home if it’s going to cost me my month’s paycheck if I drop it or spill on it?’ When I looked at my wife’s situation through the eyes of a business owner and through the lens of productivity, this baffled me as well. I quickly did the math in my head of the number of extra hours my wife spent at home (outside of contract hours) vs. the value of that laptop. My crude calculation showed that the value of productivity the district gained from the issuance of that laptop equated to a few weeks of work my wife did with the laptop after hours. Wouldn’t it make more sense to set aside money for accidental damage, or even look into some sort of hardware insurance policy rather than making my wife feel second-class, untrusted, and that she’d have to replace the whole laptop with personal money?

To finish off the story, Miss Jones sent me an email today. She writes in the email, “I want you to know that one of the things I have loved about working with MasteryConnect is that I feel valued as a professional. Whenever I visit with one of you, I feel like you get that teachers work hard, care about kids and are invested in their success.” With all the hard work and pain of an edtech startup, just reading her email seemed to make it all worthwhile.

Now, I don’t share that quote to toot my own horn or say that MasteryConnect is perfect, it’s to illustrate the point of what it takes to value our teachers as professionals. Ultimately, we’ve all seen that there is often a giant gap between educators and “solutions providers”. I’ve seen many an engineer come into this market having “the answer.” As many non-educators come into the market trying to solve problems in education, it’s easy to take an attitude of “we know how to solve your problem” without taking the time to really listen and connect with teachers with the spirit and understanding that these are professionals that care about kids and know a lot about solving these problems and doing their jobs. We need to find more ways to bridge the gap of the solutions that we can provide to improve student achievement and what happens on the ground at the classroom level. When we first started MasteryConnect, we worked with a 17-year veteran educator (Trenton, who you see writing on this blog) and we immediately found a gap between his understanding of what was possible technologically and our understanding of the real-world classroom. It has been a great journey as we’ve worked and continue to work to bridge that gap.

My hope is that we as solutions providers (especially my colleagues in the start-up world) remember that we have a deeper calling because we work in this industry of education. Ours is to seek to understand the difficulty of the task that teachers have, and to make sure that teachers feel like esteemed professionals as we go about serving them and the students we are all trying to educate. As teachers head back to the classroom this month, I’d like to express my deep appreciation and humble gratitude for the dedicated and selfless work of all teachers. I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude for teachers like my father, my sisters, and those like Miss Jones, whom we work to support.