Archives for the month of: August, 2011

Too often large media outlets don’t pay much attention to education startups, but there’s more that we can do to promote ourselves and to educate the media on what good ed tech products look like. I started thinking about this issue while reading an article in a major magazine that was comparing different methods of accessing college textbooks and was surprised to find that Inkling, a great startup company that provides digital textbooks, wasn’t mentioned. So, I wrote to the magazine and am hoping they get a shout out. Why? Because Inkling has a great product, and I’d want them to do the same for LessonCast.

When Michael Staton of Inigral railed against the media for giving up on software for education , sharing his frustration with limited coverage of smaller startups, I started thinking more about how we’ve gone about garnering coverage for LessonCast. As a teacher and administrator, I know the education world well, including the media outlets to reach, but those are often quite different than those that the tech world reads. Very few folks live in this crossover space.

Audrey Watters is one of those rare folks who does live in the educational tech space, and we were fortunate that she wrote a great MindShift piece on us after our launch at ISTE but there aren’t many journalists like her. She, like Michael Staton, is a former teacher, so she understands the value of what we’re doing and she has the language to speak to both worlds.

Audrey’s response to Michael’s article, Why the Education Technology Press Ignores Ed Tech Startups/What We Can Do About It, was dead on when she said that ed tech startups rarely contact her. We can’t blame journalists if we’re not sending them information and letting them know we exist. Why aren’t we contacting bloggers? As a teacher, I’m not used to contacting media outlets to advertize what I do. It’s funny because I “sold” ideas every day to my students and I’m continually selling teaching ideas when I provide professional development for teachers. So why was it such a jump to sell LessonCast in the beginning? Teachers aren’t used to thinking of themselves as entrepreneurs or self-promoters, so it was a bit of a shift for me. Believing that what we’re doing can truly help teachers inspires me to figure out how to get our message out.

Audrey Watters’ MindShift article on LessonCast provided us with a great tool for initiating conversations with professors, superintendents, principals and teachers. When the ASCD SmartBrief picked up the article, we had another piece to share with potential partners; I believe the articles provided us with some highly valuable legitimacy despite our youth as a company.

There are other issues. Teachers trust other teachers, not tech companies. Many tech companies claim to be able to simplify teaching by providing a program that will fix all ills in education. These claims feel disrespectful to teachers because teachers recognize that the craft of teaching is difficult, often messy, and highly nuanced. Educators also mistrust top-down initiatives, so winning over a university president or a district superintendent may be wonderful but might not make any difference at the classroom level. If professors or teachers love an idea, they’ll run with it and share it with colleagues.

The tech world doesn’t always understand education well. When we were at the Education Startup Weekend in San Francisco (highly recommend for anyone wanting to launch an ed tech startup!), there were very few true educators in the room. The handful of us participating all quickly agreed on the same 5 projects we felt would genuinely be effective in the classroom. What was striking was the fact that most of the other participants and investors didn’t always agree with our choices. In fact, they were enamored with a few projects that all of the teachers knew would not work.

As ed tech startups, what can we do?
• Draw attention to other ed tech startups in the press—create our own buzz.
• Reach out to bloggers in education, education technology and tech spheres. (Audrey’s right—as a group we don’t do a good job of this.)
• Develop a media outreach strategy.
• Learn to speak the language of the tech world.
• Encourage more educators to participate in ed tech startups.
• Educate non-educator journalists on what good teaching looks like and what kinds of tools teachers/schools need or want.
• Keep building a good company!

I know this weekend that I will be spending some time identifying and reaching out to education tech journalists, especially those who have asked for article ideas. Thanks Michael and Audrey for inspiring me!


Teaching is not easy. Most of us do not go into teaching because we want to reach tenure and then simply show up to receive a paycheck. We certainly don’t go into teaching to make a lot of money either.

Watching Matt Damon’s interview after the Save Our Schools event in DC, I understand why teachers are championing his comments. The reporter’s assumption that Damon did his best acting on projects because he wanted to keep making more money underscores how little the reporter and others understand what motives teachers and other professionals. Many actors like Damon are motivated by wanting to improve their craft, wanting to reach for an unattainable perfect portrayal of a character.

As teachers we often refer to our profession as a craft. We are constantly striving to find effective ways to reach more of our children. Watching a master teacher is similar to watching a well-choreographed dance number: what appears effortless belies all of the planning involved and the constant micro-decisions made to adjust for each nuanced interaction.

The satisfaction I feel after a lesson has gone well is what keeps me motivated; it’s watching students have those “aha” moments. It’s not the fear of losing my job or the desire to make more money. Teachers don’t need external motivation to want their students to achieve.

People whose careers are driven by the bottom line find it difficult to understand intrinsic motivation—they see the world through their own financial lenses so they want to offer carrots and sticks as motivators. Offering a teacher a little more money isn’t going to help her when she’s teaching 5 classes of 40+ students in a poverty-stricken area. What she needs is more collaborative planning time, fewer students, and sustained professional development so she can meet the specific needs of the student population.

In Drive, Daniel Pink highlights the research that illustrates how we’re hard wired to want to be truly good at something. Part of the current debate about education is a misunderstanding of what a teacher truly does. Carrots and sticks work as motivators for mundane repetitive tasks, but not creative endeavors. A teacher’s intrinsically motivated to want to improve his or her craft which looks much more like a creative endeavor than a set of mundane and repetitive tasks. Teachers need the autonomy and tools to become more effective, not the fear of being fired.

What do teachers want?

  • To be valued
  • Time to collaborate with colleagues
  • Time for professional development
  • Public respect and recognition
  • Parent and community support
  • Adequate facilities and supplies
  • Reasonable compensation

When teachers are provided these reasonable supports, then it is truly amazing what they can do to improve student achievement and to help develop the whole child.