A Richmond-based startup coached teachers through the sudden transition to remote learning this spring. Now, the company is helping school districts prepare for the fall.

EdConnective provides virtual coaching and feedback to teachers to improve their performance. Teachers upload videos of themselves teaching to EdConnective’s platform and get matched with a mentor who gives one-on-one feedback.

“The single greatest factor that impacts achievement once a student walks into school is the performance of the teacher,” said Will Morris, EdConnective’s CEO and founder. “Giving teachers regular observation and feedback in a low-stakes way is the holy grail of how you move the needle in student achievement quickly.”

But teachers don’t receive enough feedback, he said. Only 50% of teachers report being coached every year.

When Morris started EdConnective in 2013, his goal was to impact the education system and close the opportunity gap.

Since then, the company has raised $1.8 million in venture capital, including an investment by Richmond-based Trolley Ventures this fall. The investment allowed EdConnective to hire more employees, enter new markets and further develop coaching strategies.

EdConnective is on track to coach more than 1,000 teachers and impact more than 20,000 students in 12 states this year, Morris said.

“One of, if not the, most important thing missing from the public school system is great coaching for teachers,” said Amy Lynn Ferry, an EdConnective coach and first-grade teacher at Highland Springs Elementary School in Henrico County. “Any person who is a teacher wants to do right by children. Sometimes, they just don’t know how.”

Ferry was coaching a teacher in Norfolk when Virginia schools transitioned to remote learning in March. Ferry attended the teacher’s online lessons every Monday, Wednesday and Friday; coached her on actionable steps to improve; and even practiced different classroom scenarios — all virtually.

“What may have been considered a ‘nice to have’ in terms of the format for some, became a ‘need to have’ practically overnight,” Morris said. “There are 3.7 million teachers, and the entire profession needs training on how to teach well in an online environment.”

As uncertainty for the fall remains, EdConnective is working with teachers to help them improve at both distance teaching and online teaching.

Gov. Ralph Northam released Phase Three guidance June 9 for reopening schools that allows for in-person, socially distanced instruction for all students.

Teachers expect to see a massive amount of learning loss in the fall because of remote learning, Morris said.

“For low-income students especially, there’s a summer slide, where students lose some of the learning gains that accrued over the course of the school year because of downtime in the summer,” he said. “Now if you add in COVID-19, students have been out of the physical classroom for five to six months. It’s going to be like the summer learning loss but on steroids.”

Morris said the difference between having an effective teacher and an ineffective teacher can have lifelong impacts on a student.

“It’s the difference between getting 1½ years of learning in one year — or half a year of learning in one year. It’s the difference between going into fifth grade at a fifth-grade reading level or going into fifth grade at a third-grade reading level,” he said. “Ultimately, it affects students’ career, their ability to seek higher education, everything.”

EdConnective impacts the well-being of the teachers it coaches, too, Morris said.

“It’s not an industry where you’re coming out as a millionaire. They became teachers because they care about students. And it’s heartbreaking to see teachers, now more than ever before, who are going through trauma or crying on a weekly basis because the stress is so high,” he said. “They feel ill-equipped from their teacher education programs. They’re struggling.”

Ferry has become friends with many of the teachers she has coached. They’ll continue to support one another as new challenges arise this fall, she said.

“As teachers, we already face so many challenges on a daily basis,” she said. “While I’m here to coach and support them, we’re supporting each other and learning along the way.”

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