Teaching Matters is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing teacher effectiveness. They have been working with urban public schools, predominantly in New York City, for over 20 years and help teachers develop the skills they need to lead their peers and drive school-wide improvement.

The Challenge

Teaching Matters is dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of teaching in urban public schools. Teaching Matters entered the micro-credentials space as an issuer of trackable credentials, that enhance their compentcy-based approach and  bring professional development currency and an enhanced career pathway to teachers and teacher leaders. They work with more than 200  schools and 1200 teachers annually, and needed to ensure that their LMS would help them reach everyone in their dispersed audience.

The Solution

Teaching Matters had used Moodle for several projects, making Totara LMS a natural next step. They found that Totara LMS’s micro-credentials functionality was a lot more robust than other LMSs they had looked at, and they chose to work with Totara Partner Envisiontel to help them design a platform which would suit their requirements.

Envisiontel’s Salesforce plugin was also of particular interest to Teaching Matters, as it allowed Teaching Matters to feed data from Totara LMS into their Salesforce database for easy learning tracking and data analysis.

Why Totara LMS?

Teaching Matters mainly uses Totara LMS for:

  • Custom automated reporting
  • Credentialing
  • API plugin from Envisiontel
  • Badges plugin
  • Audiences
  • Programs functionality
  • The ability to change CSS files themselves
  • Hosting by Envisiontel

Totara LMS has been valuable for reducing the time spent on learning administration. They found the Audiences and Program features particularly useful when it came to registering people quickly.

“Our clients are very dispersed. Onboarding them and communication with them had to be fast, clear and simple. Audiences is great for this, making the learning administration significantly easier.” – Evan O’Donnell, Director of Information and Technology, Teaching Matters

The powerful reporting functionality in Totara LMS allowed coaches to stay on top of demanding scoring requirements with some helpful automated reports. For instance, if a coach received 20-30 submissions at once, the reporting in Totara LMS streamlined the process to show them exactly what needed to be attended to and scored, and whether or not any learners were falling behind.

Totara LMS also gives Teaching Matters the ability to change CSS. Previously, if they wanted to modify these files themselves, they had to host everything themselves too. As part of their partnership, the hosting of the site was outsourced to Envisiontel, while Teaching Matters had the ability to change the look and feel of the site with access to the CSS and JavaScript.

Teaching Matters coaches are also using Totara LMS to foster more personalized learning relationships. For example, when someone submits an assignment, Totara LMS can send personalized emails using data from their Salesforce database. This ensures that everyone feels more connected, and  part of the program.

As well as this, the Teaching Matters team likes that Totara LMS is open source, and they love the direction it’s heading in. They have been using open source products for years, meaning Totara LMS was an ideal choice for them.

Emerging Teacher program

Teaching Matters has several programs, some of which are largely resource-based. A key project is their Emerging Teacher Leader program. This initiative is aimed at supporting  emerging teacher leaders to develop into new roles in their schools. 111 schools based in high-needs urban areas participated.

Teaching Matters and the NYC Department of Education set up the program, which combined an online course, in-person workshop series, and virtual support from Teaching Matters’ education consultants.

Totara LMS was used to develop competencies for teachers and schools. The Department of Education and the Teacher’s Union also developed a new Teacher Leader position. This was a big incentive for teachers, as they could secure a promotion and credentials.


The Results

Teaching Matters launched Totara LMS two years ago. To date, there are currently around 800 users enrolled on the LMS, with around 200 very active users on the Emerging Teacher Leader program.

This project showed the importance of the relationship between the teacher and the coach in the training process. The results following the tiered rollout of the Emerging Teacher Leader program were eye opening. Over 300 badges were issued between February-May, when this project ran.

More than 60% of emerging teacher leaders demonstrated mastery of competencies and were invited to interview for the formal Teacher Leader role. This increased the pool of Teacher Leaders in struggling schools by more than 65%.

Feedback from principals at urban schools has also been very encouraging. 92% of principals said that their Teaching Matters-trained Teacher Leaders had improved in overall teacher effectiveness, and 91% reported that their Teacher Leaders had had a substantial impact on teacher evaluations, improving staff retention.

In addition, an amazing 92% of Teaching Matters-trained Teacher Leaders plan to stay in the profession beyond the next five years, far exceeding the national average of 50%.

The future

Owing to the success of their current programs, they are looking to offer more in the future. The next program they are focusing on is aimed at kindergarten and 1st grade teachers. It is a content-heavy project focused on helping young students struggling with reading, and Teaching Matters intends to develop competencies within Totara LMS for help those teachers increase their teaching effectiveness.

The Teaching Matters team is also committed to breaking into other markets and are eager to bring their services to other cities which could benefit from a close focus on urban public schools. Totara LMS has enabled them to scale up their learning easily, without the prohibitive cost of flying to different states to deliver learning face to face. Scalable learning is important to the future success of Teaching Matters, making Totara LMS the ideal platform to support their plans going forward.