In this blog series, “Workforce Edtech – Leading the Job Skills Revolution,” we spoke to some of the founders and leaders here at LearnLaunch who are filling the gaps in workforce and continuing education, while redefining learning beyond traditional degree programs.
David Meyers founded TeachersConnect to help new and experienced teachers get advice, ask the questions they’re afraid to ask at work, and help each other grow. The first few years of a teacher’s career are the most difficult, and often, new teachers feel overwhelmed and isolated to the point where they leave the field.
In this interview, David discussed how teachers and school districts both benefit from TeachersConnect, why giving teachers a safe space to express vulnerabilities is crucial, and why teacher prep programs are using the platform as a means to support their students even after they graduate.
This is part 2 of the Workforce Edtech – Leading the Job Skills Revolution series. Tune in each Tuesday for a new installment of the series. Check out part 1 (LearnBolt).
What does TeachersConnect do?
Our platform is geared toward helping teachers from their last year in teaching school to year five of their careers. Specifically, we make sure they get the skills, confidence and joys they need to have a chance to become great teachers.
From a teacher’s perspective, this is a digital online community of mentorship, communication, validation. Our research showed that a lot of teachers are lonely – not in their personal lives, but in the sense that they have challenges or ideas at work and they feel like no one else sees it.
In almost every facet of TeachersConnect, you have to be yourself and can’t be anonymous. The exception is that if you want to ask a question, you can be anonymous. This engenders trust and lets users be vulnerable without worrying about getting put in a tough spot with colleagues or supervisors.
Research shows that it takes about three to seven years of teaching to become the teacher you’re going to be. There’s a very steep learning curve until you reach that level. In this time, teachers are more worried about survival than honing their craft.
In terms of workforce development, TeachersConnect creates a bridge between teacher prep programs and that first job out of school. This is for a very particular sector – K-12 – and this is the sector that has the potential to impact society greatly.
What strategies are you using to attract new customers and grow the user base?
It’s free for teachers and prospective teachers, which makes it attractive for them. In the area of workforce development, we partner with teacher prep programs and school districts. Right now it’s just about showing them the concept and how it impacts them.
The teacher prep programs get data on their graduates and the problems they face, which helps administrators and faculty know what’s working and what’s not so they can better prepare teachers for their first years.
For school districts, we provide them that same information to show what their early-career teachers are struggling with so they can provide them with just-in-time support in those areas. School districts in the U.S. spend a total on $2.2 billion dollars on teacher turnover each year. Statistics have shown that about 70% of teacher exits were preventable if only the teacher had more support and didn’t feel isolated.
We’re helping districts solve the problem of turnover by providing a bespoke early career experience for their teachers. On average, for an urban school district to replace a teacher who leaves, it costs about $22,000 to fill an empty position depending on the state. That adds up quickly when so many teachers leave.
Can you share some of the results your clients are seeing?
The teachers love it. We have a lot of teachers who say they’re learning so many things from each other that they didn’t learn during their formal training. Informal learning is often incredibly powerful when you find like-minded people, and can get advice specific to you.
It’s still very early to get institutional feedback. The institutions I’ve talked have bought into the hypothesis I provided above, but we don’t have a lot of data on how it impacts them yet in terms of retaining teachers. We’re still too early on. The positive results the teachers get is still encouraging for them and it’s an early indicator that something good is happening.
If the teachers are feeling good about the experience, the institutions will stick with us. The data will take time to really show the impact. We need a big sample size and a lot of time to gauge results accurately.
What makes TeachersConnect different than other “community” tools like Facebook where users can make groups based on interest?
All we do and plan to do is foster teachers’ communities and match teachers of similar interests. There are other online communities out there, but they’re usually a supplement to something else – not a dedicated platform for this purpose. Facebook groups can include people who aren’t teachers.
There are a lot of teachers on Facebook and on things like chat rooms and forums, but the solutions that already exist for teachers are lacking something essential: trust. We sat down with teachers and had them use other solutions and platforms and a lot of them wanted something they could trust and be vulnerable without students and parents possibly seeing it. Even in private groups on Facebook, the teachers didn’t feel totally comfortable posting things.
How does TeachersConnect vet the users of the platform to ensure high-quality contributors?
We’re aiming to democratize what it means to be a teacher leader. We interviewed a young teacher during research and she said she already had a team of veteran teachers who helped her, but she wanted to be able to pass on what she learned and teach others instead of “feeling like a leech.” She wanted to make an impact on others.
It’s not always about teaching methods. One art teacher said she was spending too much time organizing and sending photos to students. Another teacher showed her an app that saved her tons of time on this task.
The community is designed so that valuable information flies in all directions. Whether you’re still studying or are a veteran educator, everyone logs in as just a teacher who wants to help.
As far as vetting, we’re a crowdsourced community. You can upvote answers to ensure good knowledge rises to the top. A reasonably knowledgeable crowd can be a lot more knowledgeable than just one single expert.
You’ve mentioned that even top teaching schools are looking to do more to support early-career graduates. Why are these schools just now focusing on this support and how does TeachersConnect fit into the picture.
There is a new set of accreditation requirements for teacher prep programs that requires them to gather outcome data regarding their graduates. Schools have to prove they’re using the feedback to make changes to the curriculum.
Another external driver is the fact that in most teacher prep programs, the enrollments are dropping. This is an existential threat for some programs. When those programs join us, they hope this will differentiate themselves from competitors. They can tell prospective students that when you come here, you have us for life. You have an alumni network of experienced veterans you can talk to.
A lot of deans and heads of schools are saying that they just want to do more to help their graduates. Teaching is incredibly hard, and they want to stay current to help their alumni more in those first years.
This interview was conducted and written by Ideometry, an all-in-one growth marketing agency helping everyone from startups to Fortune 500 companies engineer brilliant integrated campaigns, find their ideal audiences, fuel their pipelines, and drive real success.
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