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AI Now Used to Mentor Teachers in Several States

San Francisco-based Edthena's AI Coach has been sold to school districts in Texas, Colorado and Washington state, where educators can customize the tool for staff development purposes.

Image of a woman's hand activating an AI button
During her 30 years of teaching, Donna McDaniel’s job evaluation was limited to a 45-minute annual class observation with a school administrator who followed up with occasional classroom walk-throughs.

McDaniel, a high school biology teacher in Keller, Texas, always appreciated any feedback, understanding why principals and district leaders had limited time to mentor educators one-on-one. That changed when her district implemented AI Coach, a professional development software tool which McDaniel volunteered to test last semester.

“I figured I’d be a good person to gauge it because I am not at all technology-savvy,” McDaniel told Government Technology during an interview Thursday.

She had no problem navigating through AI Coach’s prompts on her computer with the help of the product’s virtual assistant, Edie. McDaniel asked Edie to provide feedback on her teacher-to-student interaction as well as the student-to-student interaction she facilitates in her classroom. Edie filmed the class instruction, provided McDaniel suggestions and scheduled a follow-up session to track her progress.

“Anyone who uses this will be able to hone their craft much faster,” McDaniel said. “Especially with the student-to-student interaction, because they don’t like to feel like they are being observed.”

Keller Independent School District is one of three districts to pilot AI Coach since its launch last year, according to its developer, Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, a San Francisco-based software company. The product is targeted at K-12 schools, but the underlying technology has the potential to eventually serve a greater variety of learning spaces, Geller said.

Users can access AI Coach with a phone, tablet, computer or any other web-browsing device. The tool is subscription-based, with charges factoring in the number of instructors who use it and number of buildings where it is used. Geller would not disclose the price range, but he said an annual subscription likely costs less than what a district would pay a guest speaker for one staff development day.

Geller demonstrated the product Friday during an interview with Government Technology. Following the filming of an instruction session and a brief review by Edie, it becomes clear that the tool is used more for a give-and-take discussion as opposed to a systematic rating of the teacher’s performance. Edie suggested using hand signals, analogies and other techniques as a “pulse check on students’ understanding.” The teacher then decided she wanted to change the order of her questions to the class, starting from lower order and moving to higher order, to foster more engagement from students and make their learning progression more efficient.

“Those quick-hit questions really loosen up the crowd,” the teacher told Edie.

The self-paced AI coaching process consists of four steps — analyze, reflect, enact and impact. Geller said the full cycle ending with the follow-up interaction with Edie takes about two weeks, though teachers can move in slower increments if needed.

“Learning to watch yourself is conceptually a complex task,” he said. “AI Coach strives to be more than just a quick-hit solution for a teacher. It’s not just about an instant answer or a 45-second snippet.”

Geller said the concept of the process is simple: Help teachers become more well-prepared for classroom instruction.

“It’s a tool to engage with and collaborate with others in the school community,” he said. “The goal is to help teachers be the best they can be so students reach their potential.”

Prospective users can try out AI Coach on the Edthena website. Spokane Public Schools in Washington state and the St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado are also using AI Coach, Geller said, adding that time spent with this tool can be applied toward state-required annual staff development hours.

The St. Vrain Valley School District has been using AI Coach for about eight months now, and it's been a help to the district’s seven-member professional development staff, according to David Baker, who oversees teacher development in the district that encompasses more than 2,000 educators and 33,000 students over 411 square miles. Teachers use AI Coach on their own, but they still work with Baker’s staff on goal-setting and supplement the mentoring process with peer face-to-face contact.

“It’s a huge advantage for us and it’s saving everyone a lot of time,” Baker told Government Technology on Monday. “They [teachers] really like the independence, and they really like getting immediate feedback that works on their time frame.”
Aaron Gifford has several years of professional writing experience, primarily with daily newspapers and specialty publications in upstate New York. He attended the University at Buffalo and is based in Cazenovia, NY.