Whetstone has supported KIPP NOLA with our observation and coaching platform since 2015. We are happy to announce we have partnered with two additional KIPP Networks, KIPP DC and KIPP Bay Area, for the 2016-2017 school year! “Whetstone has a deep respect for the KIPP schools’ commitment to supporting each teacher’s professional growth with frequent observations, feedback, and coaching. We are excited to expand our relationship with KIPP, and the opportunity to now support over 600 of their teachers, coaches, and school leaders," says Libby Fischer, CEO of Whetstone.

Read more about our expanding relationship with KIPP Charter Schools!

“You can find it in the Google Drive”

“You can find it in the Google Drive” is a banned phrase at Whetstone. As a company leader, I’ve made a conscious effort to make Whetstone’s culture flexible -- everybody’s got unlimited paid time off, and we can work from home or leave early pretty much anytime we want to accommodate daycare pickups and dentist appointments. In general, I try not to be a tyrant, but I did make a tyrannical (albeit necessary) move when I placed an absolute BAN on this phrase: “You can find it in the Google Drive.”

If you haven’t already stopped reading, you may be wondering why I’m devoting an entire blog post to something as mundane as a Google Drive. Well, mundane as it may seem, “You can find it in the Google Drive” is a direct contradiction of Whetstone’s company values.

Whetstone-ism #1: Make it easy.

Whetstone has 5 core values, but the one I credit with bringing us the majority of our success is hospitality. Everyone has a different definition of hospitality, but at Whetstone we distill it down to this: “Let me make that easy for you.”

When I think of the best dinner parties I’ve ever attended, what made them great was that the host made me feel like everything was a breeze. I knew exactly where to put my coat, where to get a drink, which person I should talk to because we have “this, this, and that” in common. A great host makes it easy for me to have a good time at their party, and that’s what we want Whetstone to feel like for Whetstone users and team members alike.

So, what does this have to do with a Google Drive? Well, the drive itself isn’t the problem. The problem is the You can find it part of the phrase, “You can find it in the Google Drive.” The problem is sending someone to hunt for something that you could have shared with them directly in a matter of two clicks. When you welcome someone to your home for a dinner party, do you say, “Dinner’s in the fridge; go ahead and heat it up in the microwave when you get hungry”? No. Of course you don’t say that. If the goal of a dinner party is to make your guests happy so that they come back, isn’t it much easier to get that outcome by saying, “Dinner will be served shortly; here’s a beer, come join us in the living room.”

It’s the same with the Google Drive. If I want someone to do something with my document, isn’t it easier to get that outcome by just sending them the document directly?

Whetstone-ism #2: It’s really easy to make it easy for people.

As I write this blog post, I know that I’m going to send it to a team member to copy edit. I could write an email that goes like this:

  • “Hi Allison, my blog post is ready for you to edit. You can find it in the Google Drive.”

OR, I could write an email that goes like this:

  • “Hi Allison, my blog post is ready for you to edit. Here’s a link to the document.”

Whetstone-ism #3: When you make it easy, you get the results that you want.

The difference between these emails is subtle, but important. By taking the extra 5 seconds to link the document, I can:

  • Convey to Allison that I think her time is just as valuable as my time; that we are equally important contributors to Whetstone
  • Get my document edited faster by (i) reducing the amount of time Allison has to spend finding the document and (ii) by giving her a clear action to take -- Click the link. Telling her to go find the document herself in the Google Drive is akin to saying, “Edit the document when you get around to it.”

By simply linking a document, I’ve reiterated to Allison that I value her, and I get the outcome I want -- my edited document -- faster than I would otherwise.

Are you sure this matters?

Libby, seriously? How long does it really take to find something in a Google Drive?

You’re right, it takes about minute to find something in a Google Drive. The time lost searching for a document isn’t what matters; what matters is that, in my experience, “You can find it in the Google Drive” is a bellwether of a company’s culture. I’ve worked at companies where that phrase felt like punishment. It felt like hearing the other person say, “My job is more important than yours” or “Your time is not valuable.” It felt like hearing, “We are not teammates.”

It’s SO easy for office relationships to become strained. Whether it’s peer to peer or manager to subordinate, the stress inherent in a workplace is enough to manage on its own. If you can reduce that stress by taking 5 additional seconds to link a document in an email, why wouldn’t you?

Beyond employee morale, if you’re in the habit of making life easy on your teammates, then you’re probably going to make life easy on your clients. And when you make life easy for your clients, they’re more likely to tell their friends about your product, renew their subscription each year, and pay their invoices on time. What have you got to lose?

Whetstone Hires New Customer Success Manager!

We are excited to share that we are growing our team! We have hired Maria Plotkina as our second Customer Success Manager. Maria comes to us from one of our partners, Firstline Schools in New Orleans, where she was the Talent Coordinator. This means she is already an expert Whetstone user, ready to hit the ground running and support our customers! Maria Plotkina

A little more about Maria! She originally comes from Brooklyn, and is currently getting a Masters in Arts Administration from University of New Orleans. She is also fluent in Russian and an avid reader and artist in her spare time.

If you would like to get in touch with Maria, email maria@whetstoneeducation.com.

Whetstone Wins 1st Place in Propeller Growth Accelerator

Whetstone is happy to announce that we have won the spring 2016 Propeller Growth Accelerator program! The Propeller Growth Accelerator program supports early-stage companies with a focus on water, food access, health and educational equity. For three months, entrepreneurs received support from leaders in the New Orleans community in the form of weekly mentorship, networking opportunities, and access to the Propeller co-working space.

Whetstone was awarded first place in the program through a scoring process in which participating companies voted on each other based on a given set of criteria. This award gives Whetstone the chance to secure funding to help continue our rapid growth.

Thank you to Propeller for the support of Whetstone throughout the Accelerator!

4 Ways Teacher Coaching is Like Getting in Shape: Part 4

Strategy 4: Tools can help you accomplish your goals.

Technology has completely transformed both the educational and health sectors, making it easier than ever to map your progress. Fitness tools can help you effortlessly track your steps, heart beats, calories consumed, and even sleep quality—just as education tools can help you identify which standards students are struggling with. Most ed tech tools are student-focused, but teacher coaching platforms are growing in popularity.

These tools have two main benefits: putting everything in one place and real-time insights on teachers’ strengths and areas for growth.

Many school leaders try to cobble together observation systems with a mix of binders, spreadsheets, and email chains. Having one place to store observation notes, share feedback, and analyze trends can reduce the amount of time principals have to spend managing paperwork, leaving them more time to spend in classrooms. Plus, these tools are designed to help users meet their observation frequency goals, with reports that, like a FitBit, track daily progress and help identify and prioritize which teachers should be observed. Beyond that, many platforms have tools for teachers to take the lead on their own professional development, with the ability to conduct peer observations, self-reflect on videos of their own teaching, and goal-setting tools to track their professional growth over the school year.

This post is a 4 part series. Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone Education.

4 Ways Teacher Coaching is like Getting in Shape: Part 3

Strategy 3: Accountability is a powerful tool.

According to a study conducted by the Society of Behavioral Medicine, while many people struggle to reach fitness goals by themselves, they show significant improvement when exercising with a partner—even if that friend was only there virtually, communicating via text or an app like DietBet.

Sharing your observation and feedback goals can be similarly motivating. If you have an assistant principal or instructional coaches, set goals as a group and check in regularly to talk about your progress and where you’re struggling. Challenge your leadership team to a friendly competition to see who can observe the most teachers in a given month. Beyond the incentive to win, these types of competition help to identify trends across a school as well as highlight inefficiencies in your process. You’ll get great insight into whether a special PD session should be given to help a group of teachers working on the same skills or if unequal coaching loads should be reassigned.

Don’t have anyone on your leadership team to hold you accountable? Ask your teachers!  If teachers expect you to share feedback with them, it will be much more difficult to cancel or postpone observations. Plus, by investing teachers in the process, you can set the expectation that coaching is all about feedback ahead of time, and help quell any discomfort that comes with having the principal in the back of the classroom.

This post is a 4 part series. Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone Education.

4 Ways Teacher Coaching Is Like Getting In Shape: Part 2

Strategy 2: Planning Ahead of Time Will Set You Up For Success To build a culture of feedback, scheduling is key. School leaders lives are BUSY. There is always a pressing issue to deal with that may make it tempting to postpone an observation. But just like it’s difficult to get up and go to the gym in the morning after a late night at work, you’ll be glad you did it once you get there. Every teacher, no matter how veteran, can benefit from feedback, and every opportunity to watch them teach is valuable.

Here are three scheduling strategies to help you set yourself up for success:

  • Set goals: Identify how many times you will realistically be able observe each teacher in your school over the school year. Is it 3 times a year? Once a month? Once a week?! Whatever is feasible, write it down and post it somewhere in your office. As they say, “What gets measured tends to get done.”
  • Schedule in advance: At the beginning of each month, add all of your observations and feedback sessions to your calendar for the next four weeks. You’ll be able to schedule your other priorities around observations, and if you share calendar invites with teachers, they’ll hold you accountable to delivering the feedback.
  • Batch process: Things come up that make it easy to cancel or postpone observations. If you can’t schedule four weeks out, block off one or two mornings each week on your calendar to knock out all of your observations, and build your schedule around that.

This post is a 4 part series. Click here for Part 1.

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone Education.

Guest Post: A Tool for Accountability and Growth

Kelley Hampton is the Director of Strategic Growth at Equitas Academy in Los Angeles. In this post she describes how Equitas uses Whetstone to drive accountability and growth in their network. There are two questions that we ask regularly at Equitas: “What does being truly data-driven mean?” and, “How do we become accountable to our data in meaningful ways?” The answers to these questions involve believing that data matters, having strong data, and having processes that invite useful analysis of that data.


We began using Whetstone primarily as a way to document our teacher support and to help instructional staff grow in their practice. Whetstone offered a user-friendly way to capture all action steps, pushes and celebrations through observations, one-on-ones and other rubrics on the site. As our engagement with the database grew, we began to see that there were even more applications Whetstone provided to increase our support of all staff across our network of schools. We focused on building strong processes for supervisor one-on-ones (O3s) across the Network, created goals for O3s, and a process for review and accountability to these goals. Our school leaders and department heads review the on-time completion of O3s regularly.

Now that we have the data and it is available real-time, we are able to ensure that all staff receive consistent and timely feedback. This is one practice driven by our data that helps us answer our questions about what being data driven means and how we are accountable to this data. Strong data and data processes helps us grow as a Network which means we can better support our staff to support our scholars.  

4 Ways Teacher Coaching is like Getting in Shape: Part 1

Building habits is hard. Whether you’ve resolved to get in shape or a school leadership team resolves to start observing and coaching teachers, success does not happen overnight. Luckily, the same strategies that help people accomplish fitness goals can be applied to the goal of providing regular feedback and coaching to teachers. For the next four weeks, I’ll share strategies to help set school leaders and their teachers up for success when implementing a teacher coaching program. Here’s the first:

Strategy 1: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Like all good habits -- whether that’s eating more vegetables or working out regularly -- sharing regular feedback with teachers takes time to develop. The thought of observing every single teacher every single week can seem daunting, especially for school leaders who already have nearly every minute of the day booked. But, just like marathon training -- which begins with a 1-mile run and works up to 26.2 -- successful school leaders slowly build a culture of feedback in a school by starting with small steps.

Start small with this sample schedule:

  • Quarter 1: Pop into each teacher’s classroom for 5-minutes, once a month; leave a sticky note with one thing you observed that you loved
  • Quarter 2: Keep up the monthly pop-ins, and add one monthly, 10-minute face to face feedback meeting with each teacher to discuss what they think is their biggest area for growth
  • Quarter 3: Continue the monthly pop-ins and check-ins, and add one 15-minute observation focused on the area of growth the teacher identified (email the feedback or share it during your check-in)
  • Quarter 4: Keep up with everything above, and add one 30-minute end-of-year conversation with each teacher to reflect on growth and set goals for the following school year.

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone Education.

Los Angeles EdSurge Summit

Are my teachers getting regular feedback from instructional coaches? Edsurge-Tech-for-Schools-Summit1

This is the #1 question we heard at the EdSurge summit in Los Angeles last week, and one we hear continually from educators across the country. Beyond that, it was fascinating to learn about the different methods of teacher coaching happening in California schools, and to share how Whetstone is supporting schools nationwide with a customizable platform to meet their unique needs.

Interested in learning more about Whetstone? Let’s chat!

Give Thanks for Teachers!

Tuesday, May 3 is Teacher Appreciation Day, and at Whetstone, we couldn’t be more thankful for all of the amazing teachers we work with and all of our teachers who got us to where we are today! At Whetstone, we took a moment to say thanks: Libby Fischer, CEO: I have many favorite teachers, but I think the one from whom I learned the most was Mrs. Routman. Mrs. Routman was a Kindergarten teacher at Hayes Cooper Academy in Merigold, Mississippi, where I taught for two years during Teach For America. I struggled A LOT as a first year teacher, and I spent many planning periods observing in Mrs. Routman's classroom to figure out what good teaching looks like. Mrs. Routman was an amazing teacher for many reasons, especially for how fun and engaging she made her lessons. Often during observations, I found myself just as entranced with the subject matter as the students were. There are so many things to learn as a new teacher, but her lessons continually reminded me that the true joy of being a teacher is helping students discover their own love of learning.

Cody Brumfield, CTO: Teachers, more than anyone, see the potential in every child and show infinite patience working with kids in tough situations. Teachers never give up on their students and their belief and example can make such a difference in a child’s life.

Allison Maudlin, Director of Marketing: Teachers really listen when kids have something to say. That's powerful and life changing. Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

Lizzie McDonald, Manager of Customer Success & Growth: My favorite teachers are also my role models. They’re people who, to this day, I continue to keep in touch with and appreciate for their commitment to helping me grow as a student and a person. I’m thankful for teachers today and every day!

Improving Teacher Evaluation

The Aspen Institute’s Education and Society Program recently released a report titled “Teacher Evaluation and Support Systems: A Roadmap for Improvement.” The report identifies 10 strategies to improve teacher evaluation, acknowledging that some may be easier to implement than others. Ross Wiener, Vice President of the Aspen Institute, wrote an article for Education Week pointing out 3 of the most important strategies covered in the report. State leaders who helped the Aspen Institute compile the recommendations believe these 3 strategies hold the most promise to improve teacher evaluation.

  1. Ensure that evaluators are trained and certified to focus on professional growth, not just ratings.
  2. Allow districts some flexibility in accounting for student learning.
  3. Test and ensure the integrity of the evaluation system.

To learn more about all 10 strategies to improve teacher evaluation, click here. Which strategies will you try to implement? Would you recommend another strategy for improvement?

Danielson's Thoughts on Teacher Evaluation

In a recent Education Week article, Charlotte Danielson, author of the Framework for Teaching, wrote about her plan to rethink teacher evaluation. Danielson describes the difficulty in differentiating great teaching from good or mediocre teaching. She points out that there is also not a consensus in how individuals should be determined as a good or great teacher with states using a variety of different measures. Therefore, Danielson proposes a rethink of the way we think about teacher evaluation. If around 94% of teachers are practicing at the standard or above the standard, we should focus on their professional development with a focus on continued learning. Danielson points out four important characteristics of professional learning:

  1. It requires active engagement from the teacher, using self-reflection and assessment.
  2. Trust must be created between the teacher and the school and district.
  3. An expectation must be set that there is always something to learn.
  4. Policy and decision makers must realize that professional learning is not “One size fits all.” Often the most learning happens from colleagues.

Danielson then goes on to explain her idea for a comprehensive personnel policy to go along with these professional learning requirements. What do you think of this redesign of teacher evaluation? What would you add? What would you take away?

Providing High Quality Coaches and Mentors

“Trust is essential for a close relationship, along with willingness by both partners to reveal themselves and to risk making mistakes.” - Marcy Whitebook As Marcy Whitebook points out in a recent article, trust and experience is essential to a coaching or mentoring relationship. Whitebook is the Director at the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment in the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, and her article focuses mostly on young children.

She writes that for a successful pairing to take place, a coach or mentor must have notable experience working with young children and knowledge about adult learning and teacher development. Whitebook is careful to point out the difference between coaching and mentoring. She explains that there are important distinctions between the two. While mentors usually work on the individual development of a teacher, setting goals with that teacher and working toward them, coaches focus more on cohorts and sometimes individuals, usually with a more broad agenda for the group. In practice, more often than not, these roles become blended.

What are the other differences between a coach and a mentor? How is trust integral to either of those relationships?

EdSurge LA Tech for Schools Summit

Whetstone is heading to the upcoming EdSurge Tech for Schools Summit on Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23 at the Hilton LAX in Los Angeles, and we would love to meet you!imgres-1 This unique event brings together school leaders and education technology companies for engaging, small-group discussions about how the latest products and solutions can support schools and districts. We’ve attended two prior EdSurge Summits in New Orleans and Pittsburgh, and we couldn’t be more excited to join the Summit in LA.

The best part? Registration is FREE for educators! Sign up today, and we will see you in Los Angeles!

Women in Tech at Collision Conference

Whetstone is excited to attend Collision, a national conference that draws speakers and attendees from the country’s fastest growing tech startups. Collision has moved its conference headquarters to New Orleans this year, and the conference is slated to run from April 26-28. imgres

As part of Collision’s commitment to change, they’ve offered complimentary tickets to women in tech in an effort to bridge the gender gap in the industry. The women at Whetstone (75% of the company!) snagged a few of these tickets, and we couldn’t be more excited to attend the conference!

Collision was created by the team behind Web Summit, a conference in Europe that has grown to hosting 22,000 attendees since beginning in 2010. The conference now boasts itself as “America’s fastest growing tech conference” with 7,500 attendees from over 50 countries across the world.

The conference is also conveniently placed between the two weekends of New Orleans’ greatest festival, Jazz Fest. Interested in joining us at Collision? Come on down! Want to meet up at Collision? Email allison@whetstoneeducation.com.

Future Ready Leaders Month

April is Future Ready Leaders Month organized by the Office of Educational Technology. In an effort to support the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, the Office of Educational Technology put together a personalized set of tools superintendents can use in order to become Future Ready. images

The personalized toolkit pulls from 50 short videos that are generated after the superintendent takes a short assessment of his/her district. In the assessment, the superintendent will be asked to rate the district on each focus area of Future Ready leadership: Collaborative Leadership, Personalized Student Learning, Robust Infrastructure, and Personalized Professional Learning. Available for leaders is also a research synthesis on the Characteristics of Future Ready Leadership. The report dives deeper into practices Future Ready leaders may use to leverage technology to benefit teaching and learning.

Throughout April there are also multiple Twitter chats, including a chat on Collaborative Leadership from 8-9 PM. EST on April 6 and a discussion on Personalized Professional Learning from 7:30-8:30 PM EST on April 30.

Do you plan on joining in on Future Ready Leaders Month? How else can you be prepared to be a Future Ready leader?

Whetstone Receives Line of Credit from Local Bank

We are pleased to announce that we have recently received a line of credit from iberiabank, a local Louisiana bank. This line of credit will help to support Whetstone’s rapid growth, giving us the flexibility to develop our product to better support our school partners across the country. imgres

Our partnership with iberiabank truly shows how Louisiana companies can support each other to create a stronger business ecosystem. It will allow us to grow, create more jobs, and continue to provide our partners with a quality product and excellent customer service. We look forward to continued growth and success at Whetstone!

Pen and Paper vs. Online Evaluation

Is it time to switch to an online platform to track my [fill in the blank] data? There are all sorts of school data platforms out there:

  • SIS: Student Information System
  • LMS: Learning Management System
  • MOOC: Massive Open Online Course
  • FAP: Formative Assessment Platform
  • TEP: Teacher Effectiveness Platform
  • RtI: Response to Intervention Platform

Usually before making the full switch to a data platform, schools try to manage the different types of data they track with pen and paper. Often when we say “pen and paper,” we’re actually referring to Excel. Every once in awhile I run across a school that is still completing evaluations on a paper form, making three copies, and submitting each copy to the necessary stakeholder (i.e., teacher, school office, district office), but more often than not, schools have cobbled together observation systems out of spreadsheets and word documents.

And this is a fine and logical place to start! Whether you’re tracking teacher observations or behavior systems or assessments, spreadsheets allow for complete flexibility and customizability. However, these benefits can actually create problems in the long term.

Sharing Problems

  • Spreadsheets must be formulated, linked, and shared with all stakeholders across a district (i.e., teachers, instructional coaches, principals), and then shared back at various points of the year. The process of tracking down all of this information usually leads to the creation of more spreadsheets, to confirm who has/hasn’t received emails, responded to emails, or turned in their data.
  • An errant click or keystroke can undo a complex formula in the blink of an eye. When dozens of people have access to a spreadsheet, the likelihood of this happening goes way up.
  • It’s difficult to confirm that everyone is using the system the way it’s intended. I have modified many a spreadsheet because the original I was asked to use didn’t work for my system. This worked for me day to day, but when it came time to report at the end of a term, I had to translate my data to match the original. This process creates double the work, generally means data isn’t input until the last minute, and, when the data finally is inputted, the translation makes it unreliable by nature.

Privacy Problems

  • Trackers are very rarely encrypted, meaning it could be easy for an outsider to access them. Plus, when you factor in FERPA, you may risk non-compliance with regulations by students in an unencrypted system.
  • With both Excel and Google Sheets, employees have the ability to make digital or paper copies of the data that the owner of the spreadsheet no longer has control over.

Paper Breeds Bad Systems

  • When you’re not confined by the constraints of a database, it’s easy to create a system that doesn’t actually measure what you think it measures. A prospective client came to us with their paper system, which was essentially a mash-up of a checklist and a Likert scale. By trying to measure two things at once (i.e., “Is this thing happening?” and “How well is it happening?”), the scores were either diluted or inflated, and ultimately the data was unclear and untrustworthy.

If you’re running up against any of these problems with your self-made data systems, it may be time to explore platforms.

We want to hear from you: What are the benefits of a self-made system? What other problems have you run up against?

Libby Fischer is CEO of Whetstone Education.