Former educators create technology platform to aid teachers in reaching every student.
PROFILE | by Victor Rivero
“At Goalbook, teachers are heroes.” This philosophy has clearly guided the company from its inception in 2011. Two years later, the company has grown rapidly to partner with over 200 district customers in 40 states, as the energetic team continues its mission to empower teachers to personalize instruction for all students. Founded by former teachers and administrators, Daniel Jhin Yoo and Justin Su, the company graduated from ImagineK12’s inaugural class and became the first company funded through New Schools Venture Fund’s Seed Fund.
A former software developer at Google and Oracle, Daniel (pictured) decided to leave the tech industry and received his special education teaching credential. He spent five years as a middle school special educator and district coordinator in Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, CA.
Founders: Daniel Jhin Yoo, Justin Su
Notable: graduates of ImagineK12 inaugural class; funded through New Schools Venture Fund’s Seed Fund
In those five years, Daniel learned from exemplary teachers and administrators. Teaching students with disabilities energized him on an intellectual and emotional level. However, he was overwhelmed by having to tackle compliance tasks, while also designing individualized instruction for his students, who encompassed a wide range of academic and behavioral needs. He felt compelled to pursue a way to help teachers reach their potential through technology.
While Daniel found many new products and apps aimed for students, he noticed a dearth of technology designed for teachers. Daniel joined forces with Justin, a district administrator who helped design and launch blended learning models at four charter school networks across the country, including at Rocketship Education. Justin’s business background, with prior experience at Deloitte and IBM, combined with Daniel’s unique experience as educator and developer, and the company was formed.
A holistic approach to supporting teachers
The company’s key to success draws from its unique approach to teacher development. Daniel and Justin have created a holistic solution that combines innovative technology, pedagogical research, and professional development. “Decades of research show that teachers are the most important school-based factor in a child’s education,” says Daniel. “We believe the best way to overcome existing achievement gaps is to empower educators with the resources and tools to design instruction that accounts for each student as an individual and makes the success of every child attainable.”
For many educators, it is the connection between academic research and practice that sets the company apart. Teachers learn instructional strategies and are able to apply them to their classrooms on a daily basis. In particular, the company utilizes Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a design framework for applying evidence-based strategies to reduce learning barriers and improve the learning for all students.
Drawing from the challenges they faced as district administrators, Daniel and Justin emphasize the importance for districts to gain teacher support and communicate effectively to ensure a successful implementation. Their team forms deep working relationships with district leaders to support implementation planning, professional development design, and program evaluations.
“We partner with districts to implement technology and design professional development thoughtfully,” says Justin. “We work together to equip teachers with the tools to smash learning barriers and make a real impact in the classroom.”
Their content spans PK-12 in the core academic subject areas, in addition to behavior, social emotional, English language learner and autism support.
A district success story
The company can point to many district success stories for their work. A notable example is Churchill County School District in Nevada. Before implementing Goalbook, the district was facing the same challenges as districts nationwide in creating a successful special education program.
“We had made a lot of progress on [special education] compliance in recent years. It was now time to shift the focus from compliance to quality instruction,” says Will Jensen, the district’s director of special education. “What made this shift even more challenging was the adoption of the new set of Common Core standards for our educators to learn.”
The company partnered with Will Jensen and Churchill County, and they worked together to empower the district’s IEP teams break down the needs of a student and create goals to meet these needs. By doing so, the IEP became a blueprint for designing specialized instruction that met the needs of the student and aligned with the new standards.
“I believe traditional one-and-done professional development misses the mark. I wanted a program that provides an infrastructure for continued learning, and that’s what [this company] delivers,” says Will.
An experienced district administrator, Will understood that a tool alone does not automatically lead to intended results. The implementation and ongoing program evaluation are absolutely critical. Will took the time to communicate and receive feedback, working to ensure that teachers were fully invested in the change.
“I initially had one teacher that said he found the program not to be useful. First of all, I was expecting a lot more pushback. I was amazed that I only had one dissenter,” Will says. “After several months, I get a note from the same teacher. It turns out he dived into [the program] and he now felt it was a great tool for the district. I’ve never had an implementation go so well.”
Will has structured ongoing evaluation so that he and other district leaders could be 100% sure that the company delivers a positive impact. His team has monitored teacher usage and analyzed IEP goal development. The analysis shows that goals have indeed been more precise, measurable and appropriate with regard to grade level standards. During the next school year, Will plans to dig deeper into instructional planning and look at student achievement trend data.
“A success story like Churchill County validates the innovative work at Goalbook,” says Daniel. “We are excited to continue our partnership with districts as we work together to empower and support our teachers with personalizing instruction for all students.”
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]