Teacherpreneur Spotlight: Celebrating Innovative Educators

(This is the first post in a Teacherpreneur Spotlight series I’m writing for EdSurge.)

Lynbrook Tech Menu Day

Tech Menu Day at Lynbrook High School

How do you spot a teacherpreneur? They are the secret force that will lead to true educational reform, yet very little attention is paid to these important agents of change.

As we rethink the future of education much of the buzz, especially in edtech, is focused on the technology and tools. Very little of the conversation is about the individuals using these tech tools to transform this complex system. However, as we all make big bets on what is going to improve teaching and learning for all students, a significant factor will be how the role of educators will evolve and adapt to match the energy of new learning environments and methodologies.

So who are we talking about, exactly? The teachers on the front lines in the classroom who are looking for online tools to help with their math lessons? Or the tech coordinators and specialists who help decide which ones to use? Or those who, after many frustrating years in the classroom, decide to take it upon themselves to build the tools that they wish existed? And what about the librarian?

MindShift’s Tina Barseghian wrote a great post back in 2011 asking the very same question: “What the Heck is a Teacherpreneur?” Barnett Berry, who founded the Center for Teaching Quality and was one of the first to use the term “teacherpreneur,” has a book out later this summer,Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave, that focuses specifically on identifying these talented educators and empowering them with opportunities to be entrepreneurial while maintaining a strong role in the classroom.

And over the past few years I’ve met some incredibly inspiring ones myself. This was one of the reasons that I launched TeacherSquare, to support entrepreneurial educators and improve the resources available for them to pursue innovative approaches while working within the confines of the K-12 system. There are other similar teacherpreneur communities popping up around the country–some of which you may have heard about already on EdSurge, such as the Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore and EdUnderground in Rhode Island (which I covered in my previous post.)

Too often the conversation around education reform focuses on all that is “broken.” But I hope to shift that conversation by celebrating positive change that local educators are cultivating in their own communities. In this series, we’ll explore profiles of teacherpreneurs who are actively taking matters into their own hands, and showcase their talents and energy to encourage others to join the mix.

Keep an eye out for our first profile in the coming weeks and maybe you’ll discover the teacherpreneur in you!

Top 5 Tips for Edtech Storytelling

Sharing your Story: Marketing to the Fragmented K12 World

In consulting with several education related startups, I often get asked the best way to approach marketing to the fragmented K12 space. While there is no easy way to get the attention of massive numbers of teachers & parents at the same time, here are the key strategies I’ve found that successful (read fast-growing) edtech startups leverage to tell their story. Expert marketer and blogger Neil Patel outlines tips for low-budget storytelling through his post on 21 Big Marketing Ideas for Small Marketing Budgets. Pulling from these strategies, I’ve highlighted the Top 5 ways to start with a lens from the edtech perspective.

  1. Comment on blogs

Edutopia and Mindshift are great places to start as they already have vibrant communities that contribute posts and comments. Join the conversation by following a few key authors and establish your own voice through consistent commenting.

  1. Start blogging yourself

Use your own blog as a platform to share information about your product and progress, as well as general trends in a specific aspect of edtech. Choose 1-2 key areas (ex. STEM, Blended Learning, Mobile Learning, PD, etc…) and provide useful updates/tips on what’s going on in that space. There are many great blogging platforms (Tumblr, Posterous) but teachers love WordPress and if your blog takes off a bit, this is another way to build community with educators through WP following and commenting. Invite your early-adopters to guest blog. This deepens their engagement, provides an authentic voice (educators love hearing from other educators rather than product folks) and offers fresh content.

  1. Leverage social networks: Engagement > Size/Reach

If your startup has been around for more than 5 minutes, then it’s likely that you already have a FB page and a Twitter handle. Social Media Marketing, specifically to teachers, can be it’s own massive post but for now the top tip is engagement matters more than the size of your community. On FB, this means looking at the number of people ‘talking about your page’ rather than just the total likes. On Twitter, follow the Top Edu Tweeters and join the weekly chats to share updates and get a sense of what educators are talking about. Lastly, Edmodo, striving to be FB for schools, also has a feature where you can create a community around specific content areas or tools/services and engage with the teacher and students who are on their site. With over 6 million users (as of March 2012 and is gearing up international expansion) this is the largest centralized community of educators anywhere on the web and it’s growing fast!

  1. Craft some Case Studies

Another benefit that comes from early adopters are enthusiastic testimonials. Take time to develop these into case studies, even a couple 1-pgrs can be useful to spread the word about your effectiveness and build your brand. Remember, educators love hearing from other educators and case studies can help you capture the enthusiasm and results from your initial users. Want examples? Check out how LearnBoost has captured early user stories.

  1. Speak at Events & Schools

The edtech scene is heating up and with that comes an increase of events and speaking engagements. Meredith Ely runs the monthly EdTech Meetup (Thurs evenings in SF) and often seeks to shine the spotlight on members, giving startups a chance to share their story. This is great practice for more formal speaking events and even pitching to investors. EdSurge, the weekly edtech newsletter, always highlights upcoming events (it’s long so scroll all the way down) and reach out to the organizers to see if you can join a panel or even give a quick pitch.  Reach out to local schools and see if you can stop by a staff or department meeting to talk about your work. This requires some cold outreach and can be particularly challenging, but if successful, will lead to some very valuable relationship building and customer development opportunities.

Overall, just remember that utility drives adoption and community drives retention, and the challenge is figuring out the best way to tell your story. If you’re delighting your users, especially teachers and parents, they will be drawn into the community and will happily evangelize your product on your behalf.

Blended Learning in the Bay

Last Friday, KQED Forum discussed some of the blended learning programs in the Bay Area and in CA more broadly. While the conversation focused heavily on Rocketship‘s current model and ambitious growth plans, Tina Barseghian, editor of MindShift, also shares some feedback from students, teachers and other districts.  It’s a quick 30min discussion and worth it if you’re curious to hear current sentiment around blended/hybrid learning and some of the arguments for/against the role of teachers in a technology and data rich teaching environment.