TeachBoost vs. BloomBoard vs. other observation platform contenders?


(Vanessa Palmer, Hiawatha Academies) #1

Hi all,

Our network is in need of a robust and user-friendly solution for centralizing our teacher observation data, and we’re currently trying to decide whether it’d be best to build it or buy it. Are there any Data Champions who have spent time with one or more of the for-sale platforms out there (e.g., TeachBoost, BloomBoard) who could share their experience? Specifically, we’re wondering about:

  1. Value add: Given the change management and financial costs of rolling out a new system, how useful do you think your teachers, coaches, and leaders would say the platform is in driving teacher development? Does it feel like a meaningful use of time and treasure to the people who use it most?

  2. Implementation process: How much of a lift was it to get the system off the ground? What were the major rollout successes and lessons, and why?

  3. Feature efficiency: How much of what you schools need does the platform offer natively? What would you say is the level of not-so-useful feature clutter within the platform?

Real talk and/or words of wisdom from anyone in the community would be hugely appreciated. Thanks, all!

Vanessa


(Kyra Marcano, Great Lakes Academy Charter School) #2

This is a great topic I am interested in following. I just purchased ClassGather for SpEd/behavioral data collection, but they have tons of tools available for observations that I plan to use for teacher observations as well. It is fairly low cost depending on the size of your organization ($249 for the SpEd edition, $199 for general). I’m still in the implementation process and figuring out what additional tools I want to add to align with what we are looking for as a school.


(Leo Bialis-White, Schoolzilla) #3

@vpalmer Great questions. Please let me know if you’re interested in talking to customers who use Bloomboard or Whetstone, and I can make the connections. Also, we have good relationships with these companies as well, so I can put you in touch with people at those companies if that would be helpful.

Excited to continue this conversation.

CC: @Erin_Palkot

Best,

Leo


(Vanessa Palmer, Hiawatha Academies) #4

@Leo and @kmarcano, thanks for jumping in!

@Leo, since there are other folks interested in this topic, would it be possible to ask your contacts at Bloomboard and Whetstone for quick blurbs to post here contrasting their platform with others in the market on the three things above (value add, implementation process, and feature efficiency)? I’d also love to connect with them directly for questions more specific to our use case – please put me in touch.

Thank you!


(Leo Bialis-White, Schoolzilla) #5

I’m on it. Stay tuned @vpalmer.


(Edmund Han, KIPP DC) #6

We also just signed on with whetstone for our middle schools, so Leo, I might reach out to you and Caroline to hear what SZ has in that area. But happy to share thoughts here once we’ve spent more time with it.


(Leo Bialis-White, Schoolzilla) #7

Thanks Ed. We’ve been in close contact with Libby, CEO at Whetstone. Also, you may want to connect with @Erin_Palkot at YESPrep!


(Erin Palkot, YES Prep Public Schools) #8

We have been so happy with Whetstone! It replaced an internal teacher evaluation software that we spent a lot of time and money to build, and it rolled out so effectively. We have a complex teacher career pathway system at YES that has been fully active since 2011.

Due to some sudden technological issues, we were in a position at YES Prep in May 2015 where we suddenly had to choose an external vendor for managing our teacher career pathway and evaluation requirements. I looked at about fifteen programs, and we were close to signing with one when I had my initial call with Whetstone at the end of May. We ended signing on with them in mid-June with core components required to be activated and built by end of July.

Here’s my overview of what was asked:

  1. Value add: Transition is hard! I had a few academic deans who hate change, and by December they had all come around to support (and love) using Whetstone. Everyone else was so frustrated with our clunky system that they were in full support from the first training. We pushed use through our instructional norming sessions after the initial training, and rolled out various components through the year. Using Whetstone saved our instructional leaders time, allowed us to be more aligned on teacher needs, and the more people adopted to the program, the more value they continuously found in it.

  2. Implementation was not hard overall–I had a clear idea of what we needed to do when and was able to prioritize based off of that, so it helped a lot. I shared to our users what would be rolled out at different points of the year, and that helped manage expectations (which won’t matter to you if you have more lead time). We have a very lengthy process for teacher eval with a ton of checks and balances at the end to ensure it’s consistent and fair, and that was the hardest part of the process for me to line everything out (we had three pages just filled with calculations) and to work out any kinks. I’d never managed an implementation of software before, and it was an incredibly good experience.

  3. There are some components of Whetstone that we didn’t use last year but plan to build out (videos time stamped, library of resources), but we more often had specific build requests since we’ve been doing this a while. They worked with use to change certain pages or hide features to make the process as streamlined for our users as possible.

Anyway, I could talk about Whetstone all day. If anyone wants more details (ha, maybe not after all the above! :), let me know!


(Vanessa Palmer, Hiawatha Academies) #9

Hi Edmund,

I’m sure we could all learn a ton from hearing about your Whetstone rollout. In the meantime, could you speak to the key factors you all considered when picking a platform, and what made Whetstone feel like the best fit? (Happy to take this conversation offline if it starts to feel like too much of a product endorsement!)

Thanks!
Vanessa


(Edmund Han, KIPP DC) #10

Sure - happy to give some initial thoughts as to why we went with Whetstone. As background context, we have 17 schools, and for a while now we’ve had at least 17 different ways of observing teachers and providing teachers. And so, we haven’t really had any KIPP DC-wide standard for such work, not even within each grade band (EC, ES, MS, HS), let alone all 17 schools. We’ve dabbled in some platforms like TeachBoost and Torsh (which serve different purposes as several of you may know), but nothing ever truly consistent.

We’ve recently brought on some major instructional leadership in the form of a new CAO for our secondary schools, new managing directors of literacy and STEM across our K-12, and so there’s a renewed push for such standardization/consistency. One area we’re now focusing on is around teacher observations/feedback for our secondary schools (to start with, likely to spread down to ES etc). Our MS principals recently went to a Relay school leader PD, and teacher observations was a big part of the covered issues. Relay has a partnership with Whetstone, and their platform is very flexible and able to adapt to rubrics, language, structures, really the philosophy behind observations/feedback that was presented at Relay. So that was definitely a big piece of it.

More generally, we at headquarters also took a guided tour of Whetstone and played with a demo. We hadn’t gone to Relay so we weren’t indoctrinated with that work (or pre-conditioned to like it), and yet we also loved the platform for its flexibility, adaptability, intelligent workflow — for those of you who know the new STEP online assessment system, I think that’s an elegant platform with really smart design… Whetstone was similar in how well it was designed for workflow, communications, observations, etc. We could make it work for us, and it also has a robust API ready to go, which was attractive to us. We are still using TeachBoost in many of our elementary schools, so we are approaching this year as a time to compare the two as they get implemented in different schools. I think we’re likely to drop TeachBoost and go with Whetstone more broadly. We’re committed to trying Whetstone for the next 3 years in our middle schools, so we’re really at the very beginning of this process. Happy to share more as we get there. I can say right away that their team is terrific - well organized, quick to respond, smart… the contract negotiations and the roster set up process was refreshingly professional and efficient. So that’s a good start and indicator of the org overall, I think… and that’s coming from someone who’s a little skeptical of ed tech/assessment orgs overall based on past experience.

Feel free to email me separately (edmund.han@kippdc.org) if you’re interested in hearing more as get more into the implementation.

Ed


(Vanessa Palmer, Hiawatha Academies) #11

Hi Ed,

Sorry for the radio silence here – we’ve been prepping for our teachers to come back today!

Big, big thanks for this thoughtful response; VERY much appreciated. Your experiences will be be incredibly helpful in informing our discussions in the coming months.

I’ve connected with folks at TeachBoost and I’m looking forward to hearing more from Whetstone. If they’re as responsive and collaborative as they seem to have been in your experience, I’m feeling optimistic. :smile:

For those of you watching from home: Will report back to this thread in the months ahead as we go through the vetting process.

Vanessa


(Vanessa Palmer, Hiawatha Academies) #12

@Erin_Palkot, thank you for sharing your experience! Really, really helpful. That sounds like a very snug turnaround to meet a high-stakes need, so it’s encouraging to hear that your implementation still felt smooth and that users ended up being fans. I’m looking forward to talking more with the folks at Whetstone. :smile:


(Mariel Matze, Schoolzilla) #13

As someone following along from ‘home’, yes please! Looking forward to hearing how your conversations unfold, @vpalmer, and whether they match with @Erin_Palkot and @edmund_han’s experiences.

@kmarcano, are there other tools you’ve found during your own shopping that you’d add to the list?


(Katherine Woodfield, Ingenium Schools) #14

I know this might be too late to be helpful, but we’re in our second year of implementing TeachBoost, and we’ve been really pleased with the platform. We’ve gone through quite a few changes as an organization, even a shift in our philosophy around teacher evaluation, but TeachBoost has been a constant amidst this change. They are extremely flexible and have made it possible for us to change many things within the platform to fit our new philosophy (the new philosophy is very reflection/teacher self-evaluation driven rather than administrator rating-driven). I’d be happy to share more about our experience; feel free to reach out to me at kwoodfield@ingenimschools.org

Katherine