How EdConnective’s Will Morris Is Transforming Education at Scale
The Transparent Collective alum on maximizing the single biggest factor affecting student achievement.
By Jessen O’Brien
From distributing iPads to decreasing classroom size, there are a variety of strategies out there for improving student achievement. But studies show that teachers are what make the single biggest difference in students’ ability to succeed.
School districts are well aware of the importance of nurturing educators. In fact, they typically “spend $18 billion a year in teacher professional development,” says Transparent Collective alum Will Morris. “The challenge is that the typical supports that teachers receive don’t move the needle that much because they’re antiquated and suboptimal in terms of their delivery; teachers are crowded into a room for hours and lectured at.”
That’s why Morris founded EdConnective, a coaching platform that provides teachers with the individual attention and actionable insights they need to hone their skills.
“EdConnective was born out of the desire to make a massive impact on some of our neediest and historically disadvantaged populations in the U.S.,” Morris says. “Our goal is to ensure that every student gets access to a great teacher and that every teacher gets access to a great coach.”
We sat down with the founder and CEO to learn more about social entrepreneurship, building effective solutions at scale, and the challenges facing underrepresented founders.
Tell me about EdConnective. What inspired you to found the company?
I had the privilege of having some exposure to social entrepreneurship. I fell in love with the idea that you can teach a man to fish and he can feed his family for a lifetime. But then I thought: What if you could change the fishing industry?
That really encouraged me to think about impact at scale. What if I could change not one classroom at a time, but one school, district, or state at a time?
What kinds of problems does EdConnective solve?
Once a student enters a school district, the single greatest factor that impacts [her or his] achievement is the performance of the teacher in the classroom — hands down. Having a great teacher versus an ineffective one makes a difference of about $1 million in lifetime earnings for a classroom of students.
There are 3.7 million teachers in the U.S.; it’s one of America’s largest professions. If they were all performing at high levels, we’d see incredible movement in achievement for the populations that need it the most.
It’s not that teachers aren’t working incredibly hard. It’s that most of them don’t have the support they need to reach their maximum levels of effectiveness. Teachers get better faster when they have regular access to ongoing feedback and coaching.
How does EdConnective work?
We start by capturing a recording of your classroom instruction and sharing that game tape with one of our coaches, who will analyze the video, take notes, and provide feedback through a video chat. So when you start your session, your coach has already curated data points around what went well and is the highest yield action strategy you can take to improve tomorrow. It’s bite-sized, it’s actionable, and it’s timely — the session happens within 48 hours of that initial observation.
We know that, historically, professional development has an incredibly bad reputation for not really changing teacher behavior. So the last piece of each feedback session is practice: 10 to 15 repetitions of the new strategy we’ve recommended through role-playing and role modeling. That builds muscle memory and automaticity, which raises our implementation rate to about 95%.
What qualifies someone to be a coach?
We take a competency-based approach to vetting our coaches. We want to assess you by your performance, not by what you’re saying. By giving applicants videos so they can coach us as if they were coaching a teacher, we can screen for people’s exhibited ability to do the job we want them to do. That’s why we’ve had over 10,000 applications for about 200 coaching positions.
What are the outcomes like?
We typically see around a 35–40% difference in measures like student engagement — going from 10 out of 30 students to 20 out of 30 students being engaged in a task. We see similar outcomes for measures like rigor and content mastery.
And in an industry where people typically have poor professional development experience, [we find that] even when people are apprehensive [about EdConnective to begin with], they say things like: “This is the single best experience I’ve ever had in the profession.” Or: “This was better than all of the classroom management courses I took in college.” It sounds hyperbolic, but we hear statements like that every day.
What drew you to the Transparent Collective?
I reached out to a fraternity brother from my school, William & Mary, who also has a startup. I thought, let me talk to him to see if he has any feedback or advice.
He asked if I had heard of the Transparent Collective. He said, “I did it and you should consider it.” I did the next class that they had.
What was your experience like with the Transparent Collective?
If people have the opportunity, it’s a unique ecosystem to be part of, one that I’ve found very supportive in a number of ways.
One part of the value-add is that they give you vital feedback on where you are, how to improve your pitch and your talk track, and how to position yourself to be more attractive.
The second part of the value-add is that they are operating out of the Bay — pretty much startup central. They give you access to that scene and accelerate your ability to navigate it.
Venture capital — especially in the Bay — is so relational; being able to quickly advance and make strides when you’re starting from scratch is immensely valuable. Especially coming from Richmond, Virginia, which is pretty much the opposite of Silicon Valley, it would have taken me a lot to be able to build what [Transparent Collective] is able to provide.
Why do you think the Transparent Collective’s mission of helping underrepresented founders is so important?
It’s really, really difficult to be successful with a startup, and even more so as an underrepresented founder.
A lot of companies die on the vine because they run out of time and money. There’s such a disparity in household income for underrepresented founders compared to majority founders; if you’re coming from a place where you don’t have a lot of friends and family money to play with — which is a huge part of early-stage funding — you’re working with sandbags.
Also, this industry is notoriously relational and it’s notorious for pattern matching. So if you don’t meet that pattern, you’re at a disadvantage and you have to take more swings at the bat.
Anything that can level the playing field or lessen the disparity in terms of the opportunity to be successful is vital.
What advice would you give to other underrepresented founders?
Seek feedback early and often from the right people: prospective customer operators who have been successful in your particular vertical.
Getting feedback when you don’t know what you don’t know is critical to getting better faster, but you’ve got to get it from the right people. Spending time with prospective customers is the quickest way to be successful as a company.