BloomBoard - A new vision for professional learning

Jason Lange is the co-founder and President of BloomBoard. Prior to founding BloomBoard, Jason worked on a variety of projects in several different fields – he worked in investment banking and private equity, he helped develop the initial EdTech investment thesis for the New Schools Venture Fund, and he helped the Noble Network build the financial models it needed to embark on its first major network expansion. As a result of a fortuitous meeting with Arne Duncan (while Arne was still leading Chicago Public Schools), Jason was launched into a series of projects that helped him understand education’s most glaring shortfalls.

We recently wrote a piece on the problems with traditional professional development for teachers. In it, we highlight TNTP’s Mirage report and provide a handful of mindset shifts to help implement its ideas. You can read that here.

Thriving Schools: What BloomBoard is trying to do is so revolutionary, it’d be helpful to get a big picture view of the company. What’s the right way to think about BloomBoard?

Jason: BloomBoard is a platform that is facilitating a shift to the next generation of professional learning for educators, one that is founded on a competency-based, personalized development experience. So think of us as a development ecosystem – a platform that includes access to content, collaboration, credentials, and coaching. Yes – what we’re trying to do represents a huge change and it will require a massive culture shift. But the benefits that we stand to gain are about as large as you can get!

Thriving Schools: And who do you work with? Teachers? School leadership teams?

Jason: Who we work with spans the entire spectrum of educators – we work with individual teachers, school teams, networks of schools, districts, and states. And we have programs that we can create and set-up for all of these folks.

Thriving Schools: I think educators are all too familiar with the shortcomings of traditional professional development. But could you quickly review for us what you see as its main problems?

Jason: Fundamentally, the existing professional development world is an input-based system. And that’s the big problem. What this means is we “plug” teachers into “stuff.” And we hope they take this “stuff,” get really inspired, and go back to their classrooms and change their practices. What we know empirically, however, is no matter how high-quality that “stuff” is, teachers are creatures of habit. We’re all creatures of habit. And no matter how fired up they might be, when they’re bombarded with other demands it becomes very easy to do the same thing they were doing yesterday. Again, the problem here is that the system only focuses on inputs. It’s not about outputs at all. And here’s where the BloomBoard shift occurs. What if it didn’t matter how teachers acquired skills? Because you can go and learn from a teacher down the hall, you can attend a workshop, you can go to a video library. You can learn in all those ways and they’re all completely viable. Instead, what matters now is can teachers take what they’ve learned and anchor it in their own practice and demonstrate an output from their learning. So we’re no longer focused on teachers sitting through six hours-worth of sessions to earn credits and maintain their licenses. Instead, teachers build a portfolio of evidence for the skills they want to work on in their practice, and we help them create a pathway to mastery.

Thriving Schools: Again, this all seems so new! Can you give us an example of how this might work from a teacher’s perspective?

Jason: I would recommend going to the website and looking at one of our micro-credentials! The structure of each of these is pretty much the same – here’s the research on a particular competency, here’s the outcome you should expect to see, here are the artifacts you’ll need in the portfolio you build, and the rubric against how it will all be assessed.

Thriving Schools: Let’s dig into this a little more! How does the BloomBoard process work?

Jason: We’ve looked at all the research on PD and what effectiveness in teacher training looks like. And what we found they have in common is what we call the “4 C’s” – content, collaboration, credentials, and coaching. If you’re missing any one of these, it’s not going to work. That’s the gist of our model!

Thriving Schools: It’d be great to hear more about each of these pieces. Let’s start with the credentials. What can you tell us about how these are created and vetted?

Jason: It all starts with the partnership we have with Digital Promise, the premier non-profit thought leader on micro-credentialing for educators. Digital Promise has spent the past several years working to essentially create an “independent clearinghouse of rigor” for the micro-credentialing ecosystem, for which we are the underlying technology platform. Together, we currently have around 30 partner training organizations (aka micro-credential issuers) that have defined what competency looks like for more than 280 skills within our ecosystem. Each of our partners has a specialty or series of skills they’re expert in – this might be growth mind set, instructional strategies, or cultural relevance, among others. So, when a teacher uploads a portfolio of evidence demonstrating mastery of a specific competency, the issuer then reviews that portfolio and grants the micro-credential to recognize his or her mastery.

Thriving Schools: What can you tell us about the content that teachers access on BloomBoard?

Jason: Well, the content piece is actually where we’re most agnostic – there’s lots of great content out there and we work with our customers to find what they need. Sometimes that’s modules of content, links to great resources, videos, and more. We tailor the content to whatever the specific needs might be. And we do this in all the main areas of an educator’s professional learning where we also have aligned micro-credentials:

Thriving Schools: How does the collaboration component work?

Jason: The problem we ran into when we first launched BloomBoard was that teachers were having a very hard time going from an exemplar resource to demonstrating mastery. So we created a Facebook-like chat-environment where educators could collaborate with others working on the same competency or skills. Think of it as a virtual PLC, except it’s built around what you need to get better.

Thriving Schools: Where does the coaching come in during this process?

Jason: We provide access to a coach or facilitator so that teachers can get help when needed. This coaching takes on a couple of different forms. Some coaches offer office hours where you can talk to them about specific issues. Or you can upload practice video from your classroom and get feedback on it from the coach or other members of your collaboration group.

Thriving Schools: So, at the end of this process (when a teacher demonstrates mastery) they earn this micro-credential. What’s the value of this? Are states starting to recognize these?

Jason: Absolutely! The states and districts we’re working with are saying, “There’s no downside here and we’re only seeing better outcomes that are cheaper and faster. Additionally, the development is more aligned to what teachers actually want and need in their classroom to support their practice.” In the past 12 months alone we’ve signed 7 state-level contracts and initiatives for micro-credentials where states have said they want to move in this direction. These states, by the way, are Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Delaware, Tennessee, Washington, and Connecticut. And each of these states have various programs that award micro-credentials for things like new teacher induction or administrator training.

Thriving Schools: How do we know that BloomBoard works? How are you measuring the improvement and/or savings from the BloomBoard ecosystem?

Jason: Well, we’re still early in this process. But here’s what we do know. There’s a Carnegie Mellon study that was released about a year ago where they tried to study the effectiveness of “lecture-style learning.” They had two groups – one that completed a portfolio task while doing the lectures and one that did not. They found that those completing the portfolio task had 6 times the learning and retention. So each year, teachers report spending something like 200 million hours just on certification. What if we could cut the hours in half, have teachers demonstrate competency, and get 6 times the improvement in practice? Furthermore, when you look at the cost structure for typical PD (and everything it includes), we think you can save between one-half and two-thirds of the entire cost by moving to this type of approach. So when you think about what teachers want – job-embedded, personalized, output-based PD that’s super relevant and tangible to the work that happens in the classroom – it feels like we’re hitting each of those in a much better way. Thinking about the potential impact here, it’s totally ridiculous!

Jason provided the following example (from start to finish) of how the micro-credential process works: