Education Opinion

Alex Grodd, Founder, Better Lesson

By Sara Mead — May 18, 2011 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Alex Grodd knows that teaching can be isolating work--particularly for novice teachers. He’s experienced that for himself, as a middle school teacher in Atlanta and Boston. And that experience motivated Grodd, now 30, to found BetterLesson to help change things for other teachers. BetterLesson is an online community that enables teachers to share lesson plans and access proven content from effective educators. Applying the tools of social networking to education, BetterLesson helps teachers to connect to one another. It’s already gaining traction in some of the nation’s highest performing charter organizations and has even greater future potential to leverage the highest-quality instructional content and connect teachers so that they no longer feel alone. [Read more.]What’s your “elevator pitch” for BetterLesson?

BetterLesson is a platform for educators to connect and share lessons, techniques, and ideas. We are making it simple and easy for teachers to access the highest quality instructional resources in the world.

Why did you decide to create BetterLesson?

BetterLesson addresses a problem I’ve been interested in solving since my first week as a TFA corps member teaching 6th grade social studies in the Atlanta Public Schools. My principal gave me a textbook and that was it. I spent every night over the next two years trying to figure out what to teach, how to teach it, and where to access the materials to effectively deliver the instruction to my students.

This was in 2004. The Internet had been around for a decade. It seemed crazy to me that there wasn’t an easier way for me to find effective lessons.

I then moved to Boston to teach 6th grade at Roxbury and there was this painful realization that all of the content I had created over the past two years was going to move with me, that it would die on my desktop. It was this moment when I first started thinking seriously about the idea behind BetterLesson.

Roxbury Prep was an amazing school but I was the only 6th grade English teacher and I was struggling to connect with other 6th grade English teachers in the Boston area. After phonebanking a number of local middle schools, I eventually started an email list with five
other English teachers but it didn’t last long.

In the summer of 2008, I decided to jump in full time to solve this problem. I connected with Matt Lenard, Erin Osborn, and Jonathan Hendler, the BL founding team, and we started figuring out how to build a company.

BetterLesson offers FREE lessons, classroom materials, and instructional resources to teachers--where does the revenue come from to support what you do?

We offer a premium knowledge management package for school networks and organizations, where we offer custom branding, privacy permissions, detailed analytics, professional development video, and the ability to feature and curate content within their network.

What have been your biggest victories/successes to date?

For me, the successes are all about the individual stories of teachers coming to the site, connecting, not feeling alone or having to go it alone. There’s a transformational moment for teachers on our site when they connect with another teacher in the same grade-level and subject and are no longer forced to “reinvent the wheel” each evening. This has a profound effect on their personal morale and the quality of their instruction.

This fall we implemented our business model and brought on a number of customers--KIPP, Achievement First, Rocketship. The metrics over the past 8 months have been awesome. We have close to 50% user activity in all our paying customer networks. KIPP had 921 of their 2000 teachers upload content in the month of March--almost half of their teachers didn’t just log in but took the time to upload their content.

We also send out a weekly download digest e-mail so teachers can see who’s been downloading their content. I personally had 35 downloads last week from teachers across the country, which was incredibly rewarding.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Teachers are really busy, especially the best teachers. Creating the right incentives for teachers to take time to upload and create content is going to be the core challenge for a site like ours. We’re getting better at it every week.

The other really tough challenge is committing to stay focused on the teacher as the core customer. In a space like ours a lot of companies are targeting teachers, students, parents, administrators, guidance counselors, etc. We’re open to those conversations, but for us the key to our success so far is our focus on creating value for teachers.

What do you ultimately want to see BetterLesson become? How is this going to help transform public education and teachers’ work 10, 15 years from now?

We want BetterLesson to be the place where every teacher in the world comes to access the highest quality instructional content and practices. We want to replace the current content industry--which is closed-off, expensive, and anti-social-with something that is open, free, and crowd sourced. We want to save every teacher from “reinventing the wheel” and allow them to focus their energies on “innovating on the margins” and delivering engaging instruction to their students.

There is a growing consensus that teacher quality is one of the most important drivers of student achievement. There are teachers today that are really moving the needle--making 2-3 years of progress with their students in a single year. We believe that we can dramatically improve student achievement by sharing the content and practices of these high-performing teachers with every teacher in the world.

Who are some entrepreneurs and/or educators you admire and who influence your work?

Larry Berger of Wireless Generation has been a really great mentor and advisor to me. What I really admire about him is his willingness to help young entrepreneurs. I’ve learned a ton from him about all the nuances of building a company.

I also really admire Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook launched my senior year of college, so I was a very early user. Being able to see the evolution over the past 7 years has been really inspiring, in terms of their approach to product development, all of their iterations, not being afraid to take risks. The motto for Facebook’s product development process is, “Move fast and break things.” For any start-up you need to have some of that.
Another thing Facebook did early on that we’ve emulated: They didn’t try to create a new Facebook community, as a lot of the social networking sites that were in the space when they started out were doing. Instead they took existing communities and put them online. That’s also what we’ve tried to do with our network: Take an existing real world community like KIPP and create a way for people to share with their real-world social connections.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

I like to play ping-pong and I’m a pretty good juggler.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
Education Investigation: Flush With COVID Aid, Some Schools Steer Funding to Sports
The Associated Press found some districts are using federal pandemic relief to cover athletics projects they couldn’t previously afford.
7 min read
Fans fill the stadium at the football field at Whitewater High School on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, in Whitewater, Wis. A growing number of school districts in the U.S. are using federal pandemic funding on athletics projects. When school officials at Whitewater learned they would be getting $2 million in pandemic relief this year, they decided to set most of it aside to cover costs from their current budget, freeing up $1.6 million in local funding that’s being used to build new synthetic turf fields for football, baseball and softball. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)