Shelly Blake-Plock says all great teachers are great content creators, an idea he’s hoping to make stick through Sanderling.
Available only as a responsive web app for now, it’s a social, mobile journaling tool for K-12 teachers and the first product released by An Estuary, the startup Blake-Plock cofounded and launched in April focused on professional development for teachers.
“The resources teachers use are disparate,” he said. “Sanderling creates a goal-based social community, something for teachers to create, share and document new content and ideas.”
This month, two separate cohorts of 15 teachers each had a chance to test out Sanderling in week-long Summer Institutes, the second of which ends today. In early August, An Estuary launches the public beta of Sanderling. A launch of the product on iOS and Android platform is planned for several weeks later.
Envisioning what Sanderling does, however, is admittedly confusing. It’s something of a mash-up between a blogging tool, like Tumblr, and the social connectivity afforded through Facebook, where K-12 teachers can document what they’re doing in their own classrooms in personal feeds.
With Sanderling, teachers can:
- Share photos
- Create lists of goals for themselves, which are searchable by other teachers in their networks
- Tag posts, photos and goals with hashtags, so teachers can see what other educators are doing.
According to Blake-Plock, Sanderling is less about helping teachers facilitate “specific tasks” and more about “capturing what it’s like to be a teacher,” all while providing teachers an outlet to make notes about what’s working for them in specific lessons, and then share that information with other teachers in the Sanderling network.
And that’s the market Blake-Plock, a faculty associate at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, wants An Estuary to fit within: products that promote continuous professional development for teachers—and embracing mobile tech to achieve that aim—as opposed to the one-day, all-day conferences teachers are used to.
It’s a field he already has some experience in. As the founding partner and former co-executive director of the nonprofit Digital Harbor Foundation, Blake-Plock helped organize last summer’s EdTech fellowship for 10 Baltimore city public school teachers, during which they learned basic mobile app development, digital production and other tech-related skills they slowly integrated into their classrooms this past academic year.
While the Digital Harbor Foundation abandoned doing an EdTech Institute this summer in favor of two-week-long MakerCamps, Blake-Plock imported the idea for An Estuary’s two Summer Institutes, with professional development classes held at Johns Hopkins’ campus and overseen from An Estuary’s offices inside the Emerging Technology Center incubator at Johns Hopkins’ Eastern campus.
As for the product itself, the free, public beta of Sanderling is being opened up first to teachers who pre-registered. Paid versions may come next—Blake-Plock said An Estuary has “contracts to bring in revenue.” Not to mention the price tag of the Summer Institutes, which was $1,000 for Baltimore City Public Schools teachers, and more for teachers from out of state.
“By integrating service and products both internally and with partners, we are able to mitigate some of the overhead associated with having an in-house development and design team,” he said.
Although the distribution strategy Blake-Plock and his three-person team have in mind for Sanderling, and future products, doesn’t go through schools.
“We’re building technology for professional development and education industries,” he said. “We’re more interested in working with service companies and software companies—people involved in the professional development services industry.”
Which means, right now, no one’s collecting a salary, as An Estuary makes an early-stage bet on teachers wanting a new type of professional development integrated with mobile tech.
“You have to have the courage as a team,” he said, “to go out there and try this and be fully willing to fail.”