The Scalable, Affordable Solution: Taking Tutoring to the Next Level through the Interaction of Creativity & EdTech, with Founder of CanopyEd, William Minton: Podcast Transcript

Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

***

Ludo Millar 2:13
Hello, and welcome, dear listeners, to the 114th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners. Welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast. And of course a huge welcome to today’s guests. William Minton. Welcome William.

William Minton 3:26
Thank you for having me.

Ludo Millar 3:28
It’s a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for giving us a little bit of your time during this busy period for you. We will be finding out a little bit more about why this is a busy period for William and his business. But to give you an idea, listeners, of who William is, what his business is and why we’ve brought William on today, William is the Founder and CEO of Canopy. In addition to being an edtech company that serves as a high-quality Learning Management System and learning platform, Canopy also runs a statewide early literacy tutoring program that serves hundreds of children across the state of Louisiana in the US. In fact, William and his team have been helping to run the Louisiana statewide tutoring programme ever since the lockdown first hit and this has allowed them, as William mentioned to me when we first met, it’s allowed them to participate in larger conversations around the country on the most effective models of of tutoring and plans for tutoring-led learning. So all pretty exciting really.

Now, a former classroom teacher and Teach For America member in New York. William has a pretty profound understanding of how to fight the challenges that face our education systems today. Canopy is but one, highly successful solution to that; I’m sure there are many more solutions for the issues in our system to come, William. Now, this isn’t your first podcast, is it really? In fact, it’s not even your first podcast appearance this fortnight, is it?

William Minton 5:04
No, I do this fairly often, I enjoy the conversations.

Ludo Millar 5:08
That’s excellent. Now, one thing you may never have been asked to bring to a podcast really is a look back to your school, your childhood days. And I gather that you have located either physically or in your memory some feedback that you received from a teacher many, many moons ago. Is that right?

William Minton 5:29
Yeah, it’s interesting, I really enjoyed this question. And it prompted me to reflect back on lots of various feedback that I received from my college career down through elementary school. And one particular piece of feedback really stood out to me as having created an impression. This was from my seventh grade English class. And the assignment was to add another stanza to a poem. So there was this poem and there were three or four stanzas to it, and it was sort of a melancholy tone to the whole thing. And so there was the assignment to create a final stanza to the poem. And I had in my mind, and I remember this very, very clearly I was, I just thought, I’m going to make a twist, I’m going to take this poem, and I’m going to have the last stanza of the poem positive and it’s going to kind of like turn the tables on the the earlier tone of it, you know, I’m in seventh grade, I think I’m like 13 years old or something. I think this is really clever. And so I write something, I think it’s interesting. And it was graded by a teaching assistant, this is somebody who is in the classroom under the normal lead teacher, because she’s training to become a teacher, and she’s in charge of this assignment. And she just wrote back, ‘Did not follow directions’ and gave me I don’t know if it was a 0, but it was something close to zero, because the assignment was about tone. And it was about being able to match the tone from the earlier parts, like, this doesn’t match with the rest of the poem.

And I went to her afterwards to advocate for my grade, I was like, ‘Well, that’s the point. I know what you’re saying, I was trying to do something more interesting with it’. And she just wasn’t buying it. And this was this like, message to me that my schoolwork needed to be less interesting than it could be to fit into this box. And it really aggravated me at the time, and I don’t know how the lead teacher felt about it, but she kind of stayed back and let the assistant, you know, have this experience. But that really did stick with me. And it was a sort of a message about what formal education, what it tries to do to creativity, for the sake of following directions. And that stood with me, I’ve gotten more positive feedback, you know, as well, but that came to mind when you asked the question. So thank you for jogging that memory, I might do something else with that.

Ludo Millar 7:55
Well, no, thank you for bringing that to this conversation. And I think that is, you know, we can’t place all the blame probably on that assistant teacher, she was probably following her own assignment. But do you think then that that experience has informed the way you’ve approached your workings on education? 

William Minton 8:19
Yeah, I think that it’s one data point, right, that I use to juxtapose a lot of our approach to education, which you know, before being an edtech company and running the tutoring operation, we did consulting etc. And there was always an emphasis on participant agency, whether that’s participance of principals, or teachers or students, whoever it is creating a framework that allows them to be creative and learn in interesting ways. That is one data point that has informed a vision of one approach to education, a vision that is more compliance driven, that is ‘Here’s what to do, here’s how to do it. And now you execute within these very prescriptive lines’. That has never been my approach. It’s not what I wanted to do as a learner or student and it’s not been my approach as an educator, either.

My approach to education has always been around creating structures and frameworks that support a level of creativity and improvisation, sometimes. Now, the structure part of that is really important. You need to provide good materials and good sequence and good structure and good questions. But you also need to allow room for authentic creativity and expression and student growth in a way that’s more authentic and human really, as opposed to just being sort of prescribed step by step. And that might be one of my earlier memories of being forced into conforming when I knew that what I was doing was more interesting intellectual really, it was better for my growth as a writer and as a thinker. And I was being asked to roll that back. So it was interesting. And again, even as I’m explaining the story, now I’m thinking of turning it into some content to make this larger point. So we’ll see what I do with that later.

Ludo Millar 10:18
So there’s clearly a route here that’s kind of developing. There’s how you experienced education when you were younger, and that’s tending to inform the way that you’re approaching education as a professional. And those two are slightly contrasting to each other. How is CanopyEd and your business helping schools and educators see that approach, that approach that you have have learned and that you have lived?

William Minton 10:51
So Canopy, the learning platform, makes it easy for educators to create effective learning experiences. What I mean by that is, it’s easy to do activities that are high leverage for deep and durable understanding. So that might be the way that audio and video is incorporated, the way you can do PDF annotation directly with that, the way you can incorporate discussion threads. And you can do all of this in a really simple and seamless way. So the learner going through is, you know, watching a video, and then they are annotating a PDF with some key ideas. And then they engage in discussion with peers around ideas that stood out from that. And then they do an audio response question where they verbalise, you know, their key takeaways. And by engaging in these multiple ways to be engaged with the content, as well as multiple ways to demonstrate the understanding, that’s creating more deep and durable learning experiences for the learner.

And then on the teacher side, having access to this palette of different media types allows them to be creative and how they’re developing those learning experiences. And to also see it as this back and forth between content and demonstration of learning and engagement, as opposed to just communicating content, which is what most learning platforms are built for. They’re built to communicate from the teacher to the learner with less concern for the learners engaging in demonstrating understanding, right, that ends up getting limited to like, a little quiz at the end, then you call that engagement. And you know, that’s good, you should go to do that. But you should be able to do a lot of other stuff that is woven throughout the experience if you’re actually really serious about deep and durable learning, as opposed to just wanting to check a box for compliance so that you can pat yourself on the back and say I communicated it, I did my job. But you know, talking isn’t teaching because there’s a difference there.

Ludo Millar 12:53
And that’s what the progress, the rise in edtech should allow us to do, isn’t it, is to build even more interactive, even more engaging systems. And I feel we cannot miss out on that point in this conversation, William, because we’ve got you here, we’re lucky enough to have you in front of us. And this has been a burning question for me ever since I joined the tutoring industry and ever since the lockdown hit really, you say that you grew up with your philosophy being to build systems in education that allow creativity in learning? How then do creativity in learning and edtech interact? How do we make those two things work together?

William Minton 13:35
Yeah, so that’s interesting, because a lot of the tendency in edtech is to programme away a lot of the creativity so that everything is just being sort of adaptive, and adaptive learning is good. That’s a good trend. But our approach is really more to equip educators with tools that can enhance what they’re doing that allows them to employ their existing knowledge and mindsets and skillsets to create these really dynamic learning experiences. Or we provide a framework skeleton of what that could look like. And then they’re able to customise it, right. So we might have a course or tutoring curriculum, for example, that is pretty solid, but we don’t say that it’s fully fleshed out. And this is the only way to do it, right. Because it’s the framework and then you can customise it for local context by adding in some other pieces editing what we have there. And that ability to edit the pre-made materials is also somewhat unique to our learning platform. And this is mostly on the tech side of what we do and then we use the edtech to facilitate the tutoring programme.

Ludo Millar 14:43
So just explain briefly to our listeners, then how do the two parts of the business work together then?

William Minton 14:54
The platform can be used by any education organisation to create any type of learning experience and the applications are very broad, right. Some people use it for working with kindergarteners, some people use it for adult professional development, some people use [it for] coaching etc. Anywhere where there’s teaching and learning, the platform is a good fit. We then have a separate contract with the Department of Education to provide tutoring services around the state. And so that’s one application of the platform. And as the largest application, the largest, probably just single application on the platform right now is to run this statewide tutoring programme. And so we have this fully scripted phonics curriculum and placement screeners to place students into particular places. And then locally, they can customise it with the audio response question so that students are able to do a read aloud and then play it back to themselves and submit that and the tutor can listen to it before the session, so they’re going in already with an idea of progress that the student’s made, the student can continue to engage with it between the session where they’re practising doing these audio read alouds and so it’s really effective for this tutoring-specific case. And the use of the audio attachment and video features makes it so learners can go through it even if they can’t read very well which most of our learners can’t because they’re in an early literacy tutoring programme. So they can get the audio video and then practice their letter sounds with the read alouds.

***

Okay, let’s go

Ludo Millar 23:52
Welcome everyone to this, the 11am event on Monday 24th January at the Love Tutoring Festival.

[QT MUSIC]

Okay, here we go.

Jack Simmonds 24:03
So, the first prize that we are going to give away today is … number nine! I need an extra monitor. That’s what I need …

[QT MUSIC]

Ludo Millar 24:17
So welcome to the 2pm keynote at the Love Tutoring Festival Day 2, Tuesday 25th of January, 2pm UK time where many of us here are based. Our speaker today is Michael Bungay Stanier, who is a, as you can see here, Wall Street Journal bestselling author on coaching.

Michael Bungay Stanier
Maybe I hand it back to Ludo as a kind of ‘what needs to be said’ to wrap us up here.

Ludo Millar
Well, Michael, you’ve made my job very simple. There doesn’t really need to be much more said, that was world class.

Yes. For those of you wondering, those were just a few highlights from the incredible Love Tutoring Festival 2 that took place at the end of January of this year 2022. The big news from Qualified Tutor and the Love Tutoring Festival team is that … we’re BACK!

From Monday 27th June to Friday 1st July, the Love Tutoring Festival 3 will return. The focus of this festival is on alignment and new beginnings. The festival will have a slightly different feel to it but all of the main tenets will still be there. A host of amazing speakers, including world renowned leaders in education, such as Craig Barton, will be joining us for a festival of fanfare, of training and of connection. Those are the values which hold the Love Tutoring Festival together and those are the values that we want you to come and take part in over the week of the festival.

Head to qualifiedtutor.org/love-tutoring-festival to find out more and book your ticket today.

***

Ludo Millar 18:58
No, William on that point, it’s almost summer 2022, two years on from our first en masse venture into virtual learning, I guess. And you’ve talked a little bit there about how you’ve been helping in the state of Louisiana and running the tuition programme. Tutoring has had a massive couple of years, I think it’s safe to say that. How do we make sure that this momentum is not lost in tutoring? How does tutoring take the next step into this progress?

William Minton 19:32
Well, that’s a very important question. And it’s a question that a lot of smart people are grappling with right now. And there are increasing resources flowing into, coming up with answers to that question. So as you mentioned at the beginning, I’ve been able to participate in some of these, you know, regional, national conversations about what works, what doesn’t work. How can we do this at scale? We have seen that today, tutoring is incredibly effective. And that’s the most important thing. It’s the most effective intervention that can be provided for students, especially those who are falling behind in some specific area.

Our own internal data is showing that with two months’ worth of tutoring, students receive 16-18 sessions over two months, they’re growing five to six months’ worth of growth, right. So we’re seeing, you know, close to a triple acceleration of growth. And that’s assuming they’ve been growing at a grade level benchmark previously, which if they’re in the tutoring programme, they were probably getting less than two months of growth every two months and we’re getting that up to six. Because it turns out when you get students in small groups, and we go from one-to-one up to groups of three, and you use a placement screener to figure out their instructional level, as opposed to the grade level so that you know, the level of instruction that they’re at, and then you work with them in a real methodical way. In a phonics based model, it’s really effective at closing gaps. It’s incredibly effective at closing gaps, because a second grader who’s doing you know, kindergarten-level work, will learn it much more quickly than a kindergartener at that same level. So you can catch students up, if you take the time to do it really deliberately. But a second grader that’s just getting the second grade stuff, and nobody’s taking the time to step back and do phonics with them, then they’ll have a lot more trouble ever filling those gaps. And so being able to intentionally figure out where they are, and then methodically move them through is very effective. Our data shows it aligns up with some of the new national data coming out around how powerful tutoring is.

Now how powerful it is, is getting people’s attention. And so there is this effort to figure out how do we do this, once our, you know, COVID stimulus money runs out, because the other shoe dropping here is the fact that it’s expensive, right? So you’re paying, you know, adult professionals a decent rate to work for in these hour, 45-minute to 90-minute blocks. And it is very expensive for public systems to make this work. So, how do we do that? How do we find efficiencies there, while we can still make sure we’re paying people a wage that will, you know, attract qualified tutors that can do this effectively? Because not anyone can tutor, as I’m sure your audience knows, or at least not do it well. So how do we find efficiencies here? How can we use technology to find economies of scale here? How can we find new avenues of funding to make this sustainable? How do we shift resources from other places? These are all questions that large school systems are having, as they’re trying to prioritise this. And it’s not clear how it’s going to pan out, right. So they’ll come up with solutions. And I think some places will probably find a way to make this sustainable and other places will not be up to figuring out that challenge. But it’s been really interesting to be in these high-level conversations where people are noting, okay, this works, this works really well, it might be the best solution to these problems that existed long before the pandemic as well. We’ve had these funds to pilot a bunch of different things. And now, let’s figure out what’s working and try and do more of that. And let’s reorganise the rest of the system so that it can support these high impact interventions.

Ludo Millar 23:42
Absolutely, absolutely. That’s a pretty complete run through of the current state of play. I think it’s clear that you’re at the very forefront of that. And two particular points that are of note amongst those is the cost and the economies of scale, and the scalability of it. Now, I want to ask you, William, how do we make online tutoring a scalable, affordable option?

William Minton 24:12
Well, you need to make it easy for teachers. So that means providing quality materials and again, they should be able to customise etc, they should have a baseline so that they’re not needing to create extra materials beyond that. And then we need to make it easier for schools and families. And then as far as when and where the delivery is happening, this is a lesson that we’ve learned. So if you are talking about a more affluent population that has sort of more stability and daily schedule, you might be able to be successful with after school once a student’s home logging in from their home, their kitchen table, you know, there’s less noise etc. You might be able to be successful with that type of a model. When we rolled out our tutoring programme earlier in the pandemic, we were predominantly focused on lower income communities. Louisiana is one of the lower income states in the US, and our population that we’re working with predominantly fits that profile more. And we learned that when you’re working with families in these high stress communities, there’s a lot more turbulence in their daily schedules and their ability to get their kid on Zoom every Tuesday and Thursday at 5:30. And so we ran into a lot of rescheduling issues and no show issues. And that becomes a morale issue for tutors as well if the tutors are there and prepared and the families are texting five minutes before to say that they want to reschedule.

And so I’m bringing that up to emphasise the fact that we need to be conscious of when and where the tutoring is happening. And so we found that we have a lot more success when we’re able to work off the structure of the school day. And this means having tutoring happening sometimes before school, sometimes you’d have virtual tutoring happening during the school day, where if you had a school that has one-to-one devices, which most schools do now that, you know, we’re past the pandemic, so students are sitting at the computer and they’re working with a tutor who’s from another state or another country, but a one-to-one virtual, right. So working in the structure of the school day, or immediately after the school day, the school day finishes and students are still at school, and then the families pick them up afterward.

And so to recap the answer the question, what do we need to do to make more sustainable, we need to make sure that it’s easy for tutors, we need to make sure that it’s building off of existing structures for students to be able to find the time and we need to make sure that we are measuring progress, we need to make sure that we are doing it at that student’s instructional level, meaning that it’s being tailored to what the student actually needs. We’re not just going through a generic seventh grade math curriculum with them. We’re finding like, ‘Oh, you have issues with positive and negative integers and fractions, or giving problems we’re going to work on specifically the things you need help on’. It’s best when there’s communication with teachers, it’s best when it’s aligned with the curriculum that the student is using in school as well.

Ludo Millar 27:33
And just quickly, I mean, have you found that the schools in the state of Louisiana have been receptive to this?

William Minton 27:43
Yes, they are trying to be more so and this is beyond Louisiana to me, we have in these conversations and other states like Texas and Maryland and elsewhere around the country, schools right now are adapting to this new priority being placed on tutoring. They like it, but it’s still new, especially when you’re talking about, you know, a large school system that has a lot of bureaucratic inertia. So like moving, but to keep things still and to keep things moving the way that they’re moving, it can be difficult to reorient. So we’re still in the growing pains of shifting these systems around. But it’s been interesting. And there’s been legislation as well passed recently in several states that requires access to tutoring for families and children who are behind. So Texas passed this recently, where students are behind, their school systems are required to offer this type of tutoring. And so once the legislation is there, they need to find the money to fund it. And you’re starting to see more and more of these types of programmes being enforced by legislators and hopefully they will continue to provide the additional resources to support that as well.

Ludo Millar 29:01
So, I mean, just drawing to a bit of a close here. But I think this final question will help to contextualise that. Do you see, then, a future of mainstream tutoring without that government capital?

William Minton 29:20
I mean, for affluent families, definitely. I think that that existed before, [and] it will continue to exist afterwards. I have taught at all types of schools, I’ve taught in some of the lowest income, low performing schools in the country. And I’ve taught at some schools where the student body is very affluent. And in that more affluent school, I was surprised at how many of my students were getting tutoring like all the time. And that’s great for them and it works for them. I’m glad they had access to that opportunity, it was already very much a part of the student culture and the parent culture, that you get tutors and you get individual coaches for sports and this type of thing. If that was happening before, it will probably accelerate and be happening even more in the future.

When we’re talking about schools where the need for tutoring is greater there, it does cost money. So where will the money come from, right. So if families don’t have the resources to fund it, then you’re going to be looking at government in some shape or form, whether that’s the local school systems prioritising it and figuring out a way to fund it or that money coming from the state or national level. But we will need the funding now, whether it has to be in addition to what’s currently out there, or if there are ways that we can find efficiencies and existing budgets, which there usually are in public education in the US. That’s another question.

So I think there’s the managerial will to dig into the budgets and you know, taking money away from somebody who’s already getting it is always going to be politically tricky. But if there’s a way to do it, and I’m hopeful, maybe even optimistic, that we can make it work, but it’s a question that hasn’t been answered yet. So it’ll be really important over the next couple of years here. As the stimulus money sort of gradually goes away, for the people that see the power of tutoring, and the effectiveness, to be very bold and very vocal about sharing their data in their family testimonials. And to try to use that as a way to secure more sustainable funding for this. And again, that’s developing those models is what a lot of groups are trying to do. And we’ve been able to be at the table for those conversations and share some of the lessons that I’ve mentioned here. So I’m hopeful we can make it work. Maybe I’ll be optimistic once we start to see some more traction with it.

***

Ludo Millar 32:04
And now, a quick word from last week’s guest, Tania Khojasteh …

Tania Khojasteh 32:12
Hello, this is Tania Khojasteh from Über Tutors and Fearless Knowledge. Ludo, who is the host, is an incredibly humble, genuine and like-minded person who I had a great time speaking to and having lots of laughs with. I also loved being asked amazing questions about my why, why fearlessness, vulnerability, and emotional intelligence goes so deep into the fabric of everything that I do at my two companies, and why it matters so much.

***

Ludo Millar 32:52
I think you are allowed to be optimistic, William, [LAUGHS] I think that’s a powerful message that you’ve just ended that with. And perhaps as well, you’ve actually answered my final question, which is, William, what’s next for you? What’s next for you on a personal or professional level?

William Minton 33:15
Well, grow everything that we’ve been talking about. We’re growing our tutoring programme, we’re looking to try and secure funding to develop some artificial intelligence software that can assist with tutoring as well, which is part of that scalability part. And then also growing access to our edtech platform and getting more institutional users using Canopy for teaching and learning in their organisations.

Ludo Millar 33:46
And if folks want to get in touch with either part of what your business does, William, where are the best places to go for that?

William Minton 33:55
Folks interested in the teaching and learning platform can check us out at canopyeducation.com. And for information about the tutoring programme and other consulting services that we continue to offer, you can check out canopyed.com.

Ludo Millar 34:11
Wonderful, both of those links will be in the show notes below as well the link to William’s LinkedIn profile, and I’m sure if you connect with William, he’d be very happy to chat with you and to take that conversation further. There’s also as we spoke about at the very start of this episode, William recently appeared on the Teacher Career Coach podcast with Daphne Gomez. So make sure you have a listen to that, before the next episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast comes out, which I know is already in your diary.

But for one final time for this episode #114. A huge thank you to you, William, for joining us.

William Minton 34:51
Thank you. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Ludo Millar 34:55
And we will see you all next time, where we’ll be chatting to Sheena Ager about conversations around the curriculum and vocabulary and reading. So do join us for that as well. Thank you, William and see you all next time. Cheerio.

***

Ludo Millar

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re a regular listener of this podcast, or you’ve just stumbled across it, join the Qualified Tutor Podcast Group within the Qualified Tutor Community. To stay up to date with our latest news offers workshops and of course, simply to meet other tutors like you, whatever your level is as a tutor, our training courses will be the next step in your professional development. Visit qualified tutor.org/training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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