Select Page
Supporting Innovation in the Teacher Pipeline with AAEE

Supporting Innovation in the Teacher Pipeline with AAEE

Supporting Innovation in the Teacher Pipeline with AAEE

Collaborating for change can be a powerful force in driving innovation and progress, two important factors at the core of BenchK12’s mission. This is why we have forged strategic partnerships with a variety of companies since our inception who share our mission to solve educator shortages and ensure that we do a better job of retaining educators by valuing them meaningfully.

Working together towards a common goal, while leveraging and supporting the strengths of individuals or organizations, helps us all to achieve more timely and sustainable change that may not have been possible otherwise. Too often, especially, in the private sector going-it-alone is often seen as a requirement to keep your competitive edge.

However, at BenchK12, we can only be successful as a company if we are successful in transforming the future of work for the K12 educators we seek to serve and that mission takes a village.

We are, therefore, excited to highlight our partnerships in our “Collaborating for Change” Blog Series, with the goal to raise awareness about the work we are doing with some amazing partners in education and technology.

BenchK12 and AAEE logos joined with a plus sign

American Association for Employment in Education

Our first featured partner, the American Association for Employment in Education (AAEE), is also one of our newest. BenchK12 joined forces with AAEE to sponsor their 2022-2023 Pipeline Mini-Grant Program. The program supports innovative projects aimed at addressing the K12 teacher pipeline and launched in November 2022. In February 2023, six awardees were selected — four school districts and two non-profit organizations:

School Districts

Non-Profit Organizations

The mini-grant program was open to school districts, and for the first time, non-profit organizations in the United States implementing or expanding initiatives focused on attracting and supporting more individuals into teaching careers. Each awardee received $300 to fund their submitted project along with a one-year AAEE membership valued at $220.

As the teacher shortage continues to disrupt learning nationwide, we knew this program was a worthwhile investment that aligned perfectly with BenchK12’s commitment to change the future of work for K12 educators. While times are increasingly challenging in the education sector, there are still many bright spots and working with AAEE allowed us to help shine a light on a few of them. 

These funds provide a much-needed morale, publicity, and focus to the work of the grantees. Lucy Sanchez, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Specialist and Lead Program Developer for Round Rock ISD’s project, stated “While gaining $300 more towards materials is greatly appreciated, that isn’t the true benefit of this mini grant. Getting the funds is the easiest part. The benefit of any grant is that it requires documentation and accountability. This grant, and attention we may get as a result, keeps us on track, determined, with no option to fail.”

Quote from Lucy Sanchez: The benefit of any grant is that it requires documentation and accountability. This grant, and attention we may get as a result, keeps us on track, determined, with no option to fail.

The Pipeline Mini-Grant Program demonstrates the importance of investing in education and providing opportunities for new ideas to shine — even at smaller dollar amounts, educators appreciate the support and know how to make a dollar go a long way to drive impact. 

The projects supported by this partnership have the potential to make a real difference in the lives of students and educators, while increasing awareness about the importance of recruiting and supporting diverse, high-quality teachers, and ultimately strengthening our education system for future generations.

Do you want to join BenchK12 in leveraging the power of collaboration to ensure every classroom has a great teacher who feels supported and valued? You can start by investing as little as $100 in our community round live on WeFunder now!

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

Meet BenchK12’s Graduate Product Fellow Carey Jackson

I’m so excited to introduce you all to Carey Jackson, BenchK12’s current Graduate Product Fellow. As I often say, her title really doesn’t do justice to the wonderful role and work Carey has contributed to our small, but growing BenchK12 team. 

We hope that we’ll be able to keep Carey on the team for some time to come. As potential investors and client-partners of BenchK12, you can help us retain Carey and hire even more great educators into our organization as we grow. It is so important to us to have educators and parents on our team because they bring such a critically important perspective and fierce urgency to our work. Carey’s additional expertise as a partner to a Diplomat has also, further, grounded our work in making sure that BenchK12 also helps State agencies solve the technology challenges inherent in reciprocity for educators who are highly mobile. 

So, before this turns into a way-too-long intro before you can *finally* get the content you came for, I introduce you to Carey– who you can also find at the ASU+GSV Summit this week in San Diego!


First things first, tell everyone a little bit about you. How would you define yourself personally and professionally? 

These days, my personal life is defined by being a mom to my three little kids – 7, 5, and 2 years old. In between dinner prepping and driving to soccer practices, I love traveling, reading, and music (I’m a violinist and singer when I get the chance). Professionally, I still define myself as a teacher, even though it’s been three years since I’ve been in the classroom full-time. I started teaching high school social studies in 2012 and adored it. I’m still actively involved in the K12 school world. My husband is a U.S. diplomat and we’re currently posted in Guatemala for his embassy assignment, where I serve on the Advisory Board of Guatemala City’s main K-12 American school.

Top three career highlights in education and/or tech: 

  1. There’s no way to choose a specific highlight from my time as an educator; the daily experience of teaching, relationship-building, and helping students understand how to play with learning were all highlights for me. 
  2. Another highlight was starting a small social studies curriculum development business almost ten years ago – it’s been extremely rewarding hearing about my ideas being implemented in tens of thousands of classrooms since then. 
  3. As for a career highlight in tech, other than working with BenchK12, I also work with another EdTech startup called Kyron Learning. Kyron is developing an AI platform to support K12 learning while maintaining a focus on empowering teacher autonomy and centering the teacher-student relationship. It’s been really interesting to be part of this work and it feels especially important to keep the educator perspective present during the current AI boom.

What made you want to do a Product Fellowship at BenchK12?

The main drivers for my current work in EdTech have been my experience as a teacher and wanting to address issues in education on a larger scale than I could from my classroom. While teaching through COVID, I became increasingly converted to the transformational possibilities EdTech holds for K12 education. I’m committed to improving the lived experiences of teachers and students in the classroom; the national teacher shortage, in particular, is the issue closest to my heart. Teachers are and always have been the beating heart of education – addressing their needs and creating rational systemic changes is one of the best ways to simultaneously improve student educational experiences. I see the EdTech field as doing some of the most innovative, implementable, and impactful work in K12 education. As an MBA student and a Partnerships Director in the MBA EdTech Community, I’ve had the chance to observe and interact with many of today’s leading EdTech companies and most interesting startups. BenchK12’s mission and product jumped out at me as important, logical, and massively scalable – I immediately wanted to get involved!

What has your experience at BenchK12 been like so far and what are some of the things you’ve worked on? 

I’ve loved being part of BenchK12! Something I really value is working with good people who are committed to social justice values. That was always a hallmark of my work experience in the teaching world, but it’s a bit less part of the culture of the MBA world. I valued that BenchK12 was a woman-founded company and that Brooke is open about intentionally creating a progressive and ethical work environment. I’ve since seen that its employees walk the walk. All of BenchK12’s employees are aligned in seeking to improve experiences and amplify voices among under-represented groups.

At BenchK12, I’ve had the chance to work on a variety of things at the intersection of product, partnerships, and strategy. I’ve contributed to research on and discussions with potential strategic partnerships with educational agencies, tech vendors, and interest-aligned organizations. I’ve also assisted in implementing integrations and designing BenchK12’s product.

When you look ahead ten years, where do you see BenchK12 headed as a company?

In ten years, I see BenchK12 serving as a credentialing platform for most certified positions in K12 education across the majority of states. BenchK12’s use case is so strong and it is implementable with such high efficiency and low cost, that I see it being adopted by states quite rapidly after our first successful pilots are completed. In ten years, I also see BenchK12 improving not just numbers of classroom educators, but also their experiences as we partner with organizations providing teacher pipeline programs, professional development, and advocacy.

What are the trends that you’re watching in K12 this year?

I (along with everyone in the EdTech world!) am very interested in the application of AI to educational technology. There are transformational possibilities in this area and we’ve only scraped the surface. As a former educator, however, I’m especially interested in making sure we tread carefully and apply a “do no harm” standard when developing AI technology to interact directly with young learners.

Another important trend this year is that EdTech companies are increasingly shifting their focus from individual consumers to contractual/enterprise partnerships with institutions and education agencies. During the pandemic, many users engaged with the K12 EdTech for the first time, largely as individuals from their homes seeking resources to meet needs on their own. We’ve probably never seen such a rapid increase in EdTech individual use, adoption, and mindset shift. With growing user familiarity and expectations, institutions are now spending more effort and dollars on establishing partnerships and contracts with EdTech companies. Specifically, within K12 education, The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund allocated 190 billion dollars to schools, the largest single federal investment in K12 education ever. Most of that money hadn’t yet been spent by the end of 2022, as schools and education agencies have been wary of the economic downturn and have been reserving their funds in case of slashed budgets. The ESSER money has an obligation deadline of September 2024, however, so I believe that in the upcoming year, K12 education agencies will be looking to partner with EdTech companies on a scale they’ve never done before.

E-Learn Podcast Featuring BenchK12: Changing K12 talent management

E-Learn Podcast Featuring BenchK12: Changing K12 talent management

E-Learn Podcast Featuring BenchK12: Changing K12 talent management

What if technology could help solve teacher shortages? That’s what BenchK12’s Founder and President, Brooke Barrett, and Makaela Kingsley, Head of Strategic Partnerships for and substitute teacher, discussed with Stephen Ladek on his eLearn Podcast

Take a listen at the link above or via YouTube. Don’t have a full 40 minutes?  Jump to a section that you want to learn more about: 

03:40 › Teacher Shortages, An American Silent Crisis—How Brooke and Makaela became aware of the depth of this crisis first-hand during the pandemic and how the situation could be solved by simply creating better systems.

09:50 ›  How BenchK12 Can Help—By allowing educators get credentials faster and why opening this critical bottleneck will change so much for so many

12:17 › Logistics and Nuances behind all of the different school systems across the US, and how Brooke and her team are able to present a solution that is compatible with them all.

17:00 › Makaela’s Experience Trying To Be Helpful—by becoming a substitute teacher for her kids’ school during the pandemic

20:26 › BenchK12′s current challenges, as a start up and the immediate next steps in its future (including a call to action for everyone to help)

We are confident that with the right technology, we can change the current course of the teacher shortage crisis nationwide. This is why our team at BenchK12, is building modern technology that leverages decades of experience in education and enterprise technology to be a part of the solution. 

Now YOU can join us by investing in our community round on Wefunder with as little as $100. Current early bird terms are closing fast, so please make your investment today. Our teachers and schools can’t wait. 

Meet Your Crowdfund Lead: Mike Baur

Meet Your Crowdfund Lead: Mike Baur

Meet Your Crowdfund Lead: Mike Baur

First things first, tell everyone a little bit about you. How would you define yourself personally and professionally? 
If someone has met me in the flesh, I’d hope a key takeaway that person would have is “Wow, that guy is passionate, investment-savvy, technologically-aware, and he authentically wants to solve big problems…particularly within Education.” As a full-time #GirlDad, I want to change the education environment my girls are learning in daily. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities that have put me in my current role, and also know  how much more work there is to do to bring effective teaching & learning practice into the modern era.   

Top three career highlights in education and tech: 

  1. Helped lead a strategic focus within Amazon Web Services’ EdTech vertical that is scaling ground-breaking technologies across the worldwide EdTech sector while improving the lives of students, teachers, and parents. 
  2. Helped invest millions of philanthropic dollars with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation around data-driven education practices while starting several organizations and initiatives specific to addressing awareness for better “data interoperability” practice in Education Technology.
  3. Brought a major product line to market which is now used by more than 2,000 universities worldwide.

What has your career taught you about what makes a successful enterprise tech company serving the K12 market?
Relationships + Talented/Empathetic Leadership + Execution + Patient Capital = Successful EdTech company 

What are the trends that you’re watching in K12 this year?
Generative Artificial Intelligence (e.g. ChatGPT)

How did you get involved with BenchK12?
Brooke and I have known each other for years and worked together in different capacities at various organizations. I have been a big fan of her ability to “Think Big” as an educator and also seen her ability to execute with precision and quality as a consultant and educational leader. She asked me to join as an advisor on technology and sales strategy. 

Why did you decide to not only invest in BenchK12, but serve as our lead investor? 
When I saw the shocking data of what is happening with teacher and substitute shortages nationwide and how easily current technology could remedy this for the current, and arguably more importantly, next generation, the foundation of what BenchK12 is building is a no brainer. When I see the equation I laid out above coming to fruition, I not only want to invest my time, but also my own capital.

When you look ahead ten years, where do you see BenchK12 headed as a company?
The numbers don’t lie. The data is real. The total addressable market for what BenchK12 is offering to the market is incredible. Contingent the State Education Agencies involved complete their pilots and roll to production (which is moving forward rapidly!), the scope of where BenchK12 could go is quite remarkable. I can’t fathom how impactful the company will be in 10 years but I do see success to be highly probable. 

BenchK12 has a fresh look

BenchK12 has a fresh look

BenchK12 has a fresh look

Image of iPhone showing BenchK12 app overlaid on branding elements like color swatches

BenchK12 began with a simple, but ambitious idea—give educators technology that empowers them at every step of their career. After watching a decades-long educator shortage from the front lines, we founded BenchK12 to create a lasting solution.

Back then, we weren’t focused on logos or stylesheets. We were mapping out a path to the future. This year is a pivotal one for BenchK12—and the educators and education agencies we serve—and the time has come to better align our brand with who we are and where we are going.

We are proud to announce that our refreshed brand does just that.

Animation of old BenchK12 logo turning into new logo

Accessibility, imagination, and empathy

You might notice we have an updated logo, now including ‘K12’ to represent our full name. The symbolism of the players bench and playbook-style marks are inspired by our early founders who met on the soccer pitch at Scripps College. What our Founding Partner, Brooke, learned playing competitive soccer translated directly into her experience in the classroom. Education is a team venture and you need a deep bench of players in critical roles to ensure the success of every child. And BenchK12 is building to help every school and community do just that.

As educators, parents, and professionals with experience designing for K12 education and clients like PayPal, Melinda Gates, HBO, Microsoft, and more, we were excited to help take BenchK12’s identity to the next level.

Without straying too far from what you know about BenchK12, we enhanced the look and feel of our brand with new colors, typography and imagery to improve accessibility and to evoke imagination, courage and empathy. And we designed a more inviting and informative website to better reflect our product and our vision for the future of work for educators.

Larissa McCartney, Director of Design

Larissa McCartney,
Director of Design

Speaking with a clear voice

Jen MacDonald, VP of Brand

Jen MacDonald, VP of Brand

Our brand goes beyond the aesthetic of our product, marketing initiatives or campaigns. It’s so much more than an updated logo—it’s a deep reflection of why we do what we do and where we plan to go. An authentic and engaging brand identity is essential to creating great experiences for the educators and communities we want to serve. We want you to see and feel that you can trust us, but also expect more from us—innovation, empathy, and courage—than you have been given previously by those adjacent to education claiming to serve educators and students.

As experienced educators, parents, and technologists (and more!), we’ve never been shy about our point of view or why we do what we do. Now, that unique perspective is infused throughout the BenchK12 story and mission, so that our message is always clear.

While our brand is maturing, trust that we are, and will always be, dedicated to K12 educators, administrators and students.

Reflections on my first ASU + GSV Summit

Reflections on my first ASU + GSV Summit

Reflections on my first ASU + GSV Summit

White 3-D lettering and purple sunburst logo spelling out ASU+GSV 13.0 SummitASU+GSV 13.0 Summit Entrance.

I’m writing this on the Thursday post-ASU+GSV SummitJustice Jackson has been confirmed, my feet are sore from being in heels after a two-year hiatus (one pair didn’t survive the three days…), and my heart is full from reconnecting *in person* with friends near and far, and exhilarated exhaustion was had by all.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Summit, it “started in 2010 with a collaboration between Arizona State University (ASU) and Global Silicon Valley (GSV) [and it] connects leading minds focused on transforming society and business around learning and work.” Its “north star is that ALL people have equal access to the future” and a special note was made about how this is particularly relevant given the ongoing conflict and invasion of Ukraine. Kudos to the GSV Team for generously matching and raising funds for Ukraine families (join them!).

Navy and blue banner for the ASU+GSV Summit with a message that says “all people deserve equal access” with a Ukranian flag emoji on either end.ASU + GSV Summit website and banner with a message of solidarity for Ukraine.

I wasn’t planning on attending in person this year, but as the requests started filing in for meetings and I looked through the attendee list on the ASU+GSV app, I realized it was time to emerge from my pandemic cocoon.

Picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy the Vampire Slayer looking extremely disheveled.
Live shot of me emerging from my house, pre-conference.
[Credit: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, S4.E05]

As an admitted ambivert (borderline introvert) being thrust back into jam-packed restaurants, bars, and conference halls felt a bit jarring at first. Thankfully, our lead angel investor and advisory board member, Mike Baur, was back at his *fifth* ASU+GSV representing AWS. He helped me navigate the throngs of attendees who, like us, seemed to be equally composed of veterans and newbies.

Picture of Yoda with text overlay “Much to learn you still have young padawan.”
A much less flattering and much more green picture of Mike, as he led me through the first few hours of the conference. [Credit: Yoda.]

For those who haven’t yet attended an ASU+GSV, here are my first-timer tips to help you navigate next year (or any major education conference):

1.Build-in breaks. This is tough to do because you know you have limited time and you want to connect with a ton of folks, but to be at your best, you need some breathing room. Sometimes a meeting runs long, you need time to coordinate via emails and texts, and your brain needs to digest all the great conversations and ideas coming your way.

2.Figure out your meeting space in advance. I was wise enough to set up a few reservation slots in advance at Sally’s Fish House and make friends with a lovely server named Emily. If you go with a restaurant table, make sure you “buy” your time there by tipping generously and ordering snacks for the table as your guests rotate through. When I didn’t have enough time at Sally’s, I, like many others, was hunting for any place to sit and have a meeting that was conducive to a good conversation. Thank you, again, to AWS who let us use their room from time to time, and my other secret spot shall remain just that for future years…until next year when we announce our new and improved meeting space.

3.Bring an extra pair of shoes. RIP to a pair of my favorite nude heels and thank you to my new runners & the Hyatt gift shop for stocking socks!

Tan wedge heels with a broken strap.
RIP shoes. …until I get you fixed…

4.Put an OOO notice on your email with a backup contact, your mobile number, and an ETA for response times. You will not be answering many emails.

>5.Make a virtual card. If you are still riding the LinkedIn train, you can create a quick and easy QR code for your profile here. We signed up with HiHello which has a free card option that you can use as a signature in your emails or screenshot the code on your phone and use it as your background for easy scanning. I liked HiHello because it also prompts anyone who scans your code to share their contact information back with you and instantly stores it for you. It also includes a business card scanning tool for those still obsessed with keeping up with Paul Allen.

Picture of the Paul Allen business card from American Psycho.
The Paul Allen card. [Credit: American Psycho]

6.Find a friend. Or two. As part of building in breaks, make sure you have a few friends who you can relax with, in between meetings. This aligns with number one, while also giving you time to unpack ideas with trusted eyes and ears. I’m happy to say I got to catch up with some old friends (and even talk Premier League soccer!) and make some new ones.

Beyond these general conference guidelines to help you get back into the swing of things, here are a few first timer observations I had about ASU+GSV, specifically:

1.It’s intense. It feels a bit like SXSWedu in the earlier days– a lot of vendors, entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders. I was lucky enough to have a free lunch on my second day and sat down with some awesome educators from Michigan, but that was the extent to which I felt any presence of educators at the conference. I do feel like there is an effort to bring more educators in and SXSWedu made this intentional shift as well, so I hope that it continues to balance out in future years. I also know –because it is [ahem] what we do– that it is incredibly hard for educators to take time away from the classroom for events like these, period, but especially during a pandemic. But we need more educators there and we need their day-to-day reality.

2.Web 3.0 was the focus, but most folks still don’t really know what that means for them. While we were excited to see the theme of the conference focused on Web 3.0 and verifiable credentials, a lot of folks we talked to said that they felt like we were one of the few companies that legitimately had a Web 3.0 strategy that made sense and had viable use cases. In fact, we often talk about how we really need Web 2.5 strategies right now to get us to a real Web 3.0 world. This isn’t something that you want to fake or work into your roadmap unless it applies to you, truly. Focus on solving your problem and if a decentralized solution makes sense use it. If not, don’t force it.

3.Are you a feature or a product? A lot of folks we talked to were also more focused on features versus products. While we’ve heard time and time again that there are riches in the niches, a lot of the early-stage companies we talked to felt *too* narrow– more like things that existing products should be able to do (i.e. features) vs. fully realized products. And many didn’t seem to have strategies to get them to more than that one thing. Education is saturated with that right now and our schools don’t have the capacity to just be testing grounds for nice-to-have features. I’d love to see investors serve as better arbiters of this. With a lot of the M & A happening in private equity, there’s a great opportunity to pull together a lot of features to make a great product, but that’s not happening yet. If paired with a future vision of Web 3.0, and cohesive technology to support it–rather than a lot of the “Frankenstein-ed” efforts we’re currently seeing, a lot of great solutions could exist.

4.Interoperability is still a massive challenge. See two and three above. Folks are *still* talking about “why can’t we decide on one standard?” and I don’t know if that is the right question. We’re close enough among standards that I don’t think that is what matters. A shift in how vendors do business, one that moves away from locking data into a crappy product, which is what the promise of decentralization could bring, will also get us closer to an interoperable future that better serves students, families, and educators–and can still be profitable. If you’re interested in that future, you’re in the right place with BenchK12.

5.It was worth it. This was the lucky number 13th year of the Summit and, as I shared previously, the first I’ve attended. I’ve always known about the Summit, but as an educator and then consultant to K12 orgs it never felt like the right place for me to spend time. I can affirmatively say that if you are an education entrepreneur or investor, this conference is well worth your time and effort to attend, even if you’re just hanging out at Sally’s, in the lobby, or hitting the many off-site events being hosted during the conference.

See you next year!