Giving feedback to teachers is complicated. It often involves a pre-meeting, where goals are discussed and the lesson plan is provided. The observation then takes place at a designated time, followed by another meeting about debriefing results, and finalized with formal documentation. Administrators must ensure all these steps are taken, in addition to giving teachers the right feedback at the right time to support teachers in their development.
TeachBoost is part of a new class of professional development tools aimed at making this whole process a lot easier. And this week, the company got some positive feedback of its own with the closing of a $1.5 million seed round led by Cue Ball Capital, with participation from Swift River Investments and the EdTech Fund.
Founded in 2012 by Jason DeRoner, along with Andrew and Mike Gioia, TeachBoost built a solid base in its hometown of New York City with pilots in local schools in the fall of 2013. It has since been bootstrapped for the past three years, operating solely on revenue.
But, as DeRoner explains, bootstrapping has its limits. “When you’re bootstrapped you have to be a heat-seeking missile, and that heat is revenue. You can’t invest in bigger opportunities, that might take a little longer to develop,” he says.
TeachBoost initially focused on supporting school leaders to keep track of the observation process and give feedback more easily to teachers. Administrators use it to schedule and track the observation process; teachers use it to set and track their own goals. The administrator can then use the platform to take notes during an observation, tag those notes based on a rubric, and share the final evaluation back to the teacher instantly.
In February 2014, TeachBoost expanded capabilities to allow users to create and share free resources from a digital library of professional development resources. They also let teachers create their own private groups where they can set group goals, conduct peer observations and collaborate with one another.
“It wasn’t so much switching gears, as it was getting to the next step in the process. We facilitate the feedback part of the process. We facilitate insights in growth areas. The next logical step is how do you help people improve,” says DeRoner. TeachBoost believes that schools can effectively supply their own professional development through building off of the skills of teachers within their building, instead of having to pay for outside consultants. DeRoner hopes, the new tools will help to “change the paradigm and allow districts to build capacity.”
With the new funding, the company plans to grow its team from 10 to 14 full-time employees in the next six months and expand the product’s capabilities. Currently, the tool is used by 20% of New York City schools, 25% of KIPP schools, and more than 300 schools across 20 states and five countries.
TeachBoost is the second professional development-focused startup to come out of Imagine K12 that has recently raised money. BloomBoard, a PD platform that focuses on both easing the observation process, as well as matching teacher’s goals and needs to third party professional development providers, raised a $5 million Series A round in April.
As questions remain over how to best use technology to support teachers, the feedback from the market certainly suggests that professional development will continue to be a big opportunity for edtech companies in the coming years.