I have done something I never expected to do: I founded an education technology company. It’s called EdLight, it’s a public benefit corporation, and our mission is to make great teaching easier.
The basic thesis is: we have learned an enormous amount over the last 10+ years about the practices that make great teaching. It’s actually a simple formula: engaged classroom culture and tight academic feedback loops. Unfortunately, the execution is exceptionally difficult.
We need tools that understand great teaching and make these practices much easier.
What? You? Founding an Ed Tech company?
Yes, I do hate most Ed Tech. Yes, Ed Tech is a hard business. Yes, I am sure this is a good idea. Why? Three reasons:
1. It’s too hard to be a great teacher
The startup world is full of self-congratulatory podcasts, blogs and books about how hard it is to be an entrepreneur. A few months in, I can tell you: none of these big shot founders have been a teacher. Founding a company is way easier than being a teacher.
If you haven’t worked in a public school, particularly a high poverty school, it is difficult to understand how hard teaching is (let alone principaling). It’s emotionally draining to extend your circle of concern to include 30+ children. It’s physically taxing to stand in front of class. It’s mind numbing to comply with all the conflicting central office directives.
Teaching is legitimately hard. Where are all the tools to make it easier?
Consider how much has been spent on software to support the sales workflow. Salesforce. HubSpot. Eleven digit companies. What percent of that has been spent on software to support a teacher’s workflow? 1%? Less?
Technology will never make it easy to be a teacher, but we can certainly make it much easier than it is today.
2. We need to focus on what matters
The reality is that learning happens in classrooms through the interactions between teachers, students and content. All the rest is noise. Yet, when I was leader in a mid-sized network of schools, I sometimes felt like I was spending time on everything but what happens in classrooms.
We need to cut through the noise and focus on developing tools that are directly targeted at improving teaching and learning, and can be used by people who are already teachers, at the schools they already teach in, with the kids who already need our love.
3. We need tools that actually work in schools
One of the most difficult things for technologists to understand when I pitch EdLight is that we are trying to minimize the role of technology. I frequently get questions like: “Teachers are still using clipboards? Don’t they have iPads?”, or “Could we make this a wearable?”, and of course “Can’t an AI do that?”
Too many Ed Tech tools want to completely disrupt the way teaching happens. How many time have you heard: “Why do schools today look exactly like schools from 100 years ago?” First, they don’t. And I’d take the current state any day over the dysphoric visions I hear promoted at ed tech conferences.
The reality is that authentic learning requires paper — and it always will. You can’t learn to calculate perimeter without drawing a picture of a rectangle. You can’t learn to read without turning the pages of a book.
The data is starting to support the primacy of teacher-driven learning: On last year’s NAEP, students who spent more than 30 minutes reading on a device each day did significantly worse. (8 points worse! That’s a lot).
Yes, there is a role for technology in school. The Chromebook explosion has been a godsend for essay writing. But during class, students should mostly be working hard, talking to each other and talking to the teacher, not troubleshooting crummy technology.
EdLight is a technology company building tools to enable authentic learning. To do this, we need to break through the screen walls that divide learning and data. I see a world where teachers and students are able to use paper as an interface to technology, without wedging a keyboard in the middle.
Why did I found EdLight? To change lives.
It’s time for us to treat teachers for what they are: the greatest resource we have to build a better world for our children. It’s time to build tools for great teaching.
Ready to join me? Shoot me a note: ryan [at] edlight [dot] com.