BetterLesson Collects $10M to Push Teacher Development Software

As more K-12 schools adopt technologies meant to help deliver an education customized to each student, the methods for coaching teachers are becoming more digital and personalized, too.

The latest sign comes from BetterLesson, a Cambridge, MA-based edtech company that today announced it raised a $10 million Series B funding round to expand the use of its professional development software. BetterLesson’s virtual service pairs teachers with “coaches”—mostly former teachers—who help them identify and attack classroom challenges, and guide them as they try out new instructional tactics.

The investment was led by Owl Ventures, whose co-founder and managing director, Tory Patterson, will join BetterLesson’s board. Previous BetterLesson backers also contributed, including the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, New Markets Venture Partners, and Reach Capital. BetterLesson has hauled in $21 million in venture capital to date.

Former teachers Alex Grodd and Erin Osborn (pictured above) started BetterLesson in 2008. The company initially helped teachers organize and share lesson plans and curricula online. But, as Grodd told Xconomy last year, BetterLesson saw a bigger opportunity with integrating those course materials into a system intended to improve teacher practice. The company began rolling out the professional development service in 2014 and raised a $6 million funding round last year to support the shift in focus.

The company’s professional development software matches each teacher with a BetterLesson coach, based on attributes like experience level and subject matter expertise. Throughout the school year, the teachers receive one-on-one mentoring via online video chats held every two weeks with their coach. The mentors encourage teachers to innovate in their classrooms by drawing on techniques that are used to quickly build tech startups by “failing fast”—teachers will try new instructional strategies, measure how well they’re working, and quickly adjust their methods accordingly, BetterLesson says.

“We believe very deeply in learning by doing,” Grodd says in an interview. “Our coaching model is all about helping teachers try out strategies [and] do whatever it takes to make big gains for their kids.”

The goal is to develop teachers more effectively than with traditional methods, like workshops and assemblies. (Other edtech companies focused on teacher development include BloomBoard and TeachBoost—apparently everyone in this sector is a fan of camel case names.)

Ultimately, BetterLesson wants to help teachers enable students to hone skills like critical thinking and collaborative problem solving, in addition to learning the course materials.

“This gets into some pedagogy, but our point of view is we need to be preparing students to meet an ever-changing set of social and economic conditions,” Grodd says.

That means putting students “at the center of their own learning,” where they set their own goals and monitor their progress, Grodd says. It’s a shift away from the traditional classroom model of teachers drilling facts into students’ heads with lectures. But that shift doesn’t mean the teacher’s role will diminish—quite the opposite, Grodd argues.

Teachers must have a “whole new set of evolved [skills] essential for these classrooms to exist,” Grodd says. “The teacher will continue to be the most important driver of student achievement, and needs to be.”

Fifty-five K-12 school districts nationwide are currently using the professional development service, and sales have been growing “dramatically,” Grodd says. He declined to share exact revenues.

Now, BetterLesson will try to win over more schools with the help of the new funding. The 50-employee company will invest in sales and marketing initiatives, and will hire another dozen or so staff members over the next year, in areas like sales, engineering, and customer service, Grodd says. BetterLesson also plans to grow its network of coaches, primarily through part-time hires, he adds.

“We want to provide a place for world-class coaches around the world to be able to deliver instructional coaching to teachers in a flexible and really efficient way,” he says.

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