How Green Online Spaces is changing the education sector and the lives of teachers

Yvonne is one of the co-founders of Green Online Spaces, building the world’s premier LMS determined to change the education industry.

Tell me about Green Online Spaces. How did it come about?

It’s all about education and driving education for the future. My background is in teaching and I’ve been teaching business economics for the last 10 years. I kind of fell into teaching - people always say “out of desperation, comes inspiration.” 

I was in a really dark place and was newly separated under very difficult circumstances with no family in the country. A friend of mine who was in teaching, suggested teaching. 

My parents are educators - my dad’s a university professor and my mom’s a teacher by training but I’ve always said I would never teach, that’s one profession I said I wasn’t going to go into! 

But when I was in that deep, dark place, my friends told me I was a natural. They said kids gravitated towards me and I could hold conversations with them for hours. It just made sense. Why don’t you do something where you could enjoy what you do, but your kids would never be without you? And that’s how I got into teaching.

I’ve always been a solution minded person. So when I get problems in life I always ask myself what the solution is rather than what the problem is. And when I had lots of difficulties in teaching, I kept thinking there was a better way to do things. 

And somehow I got into supply teaching as a way not to be beholden to what the schools wanted me to do, but to do what I love doing, and also find a solution. Through my frustrations in teaching, I found out that there’s a lot of things that we do that are quite repetitive as teachers. If we just use technology a little bit better, then it will be a lot easier for a lot of teachers. 

I went out to 35 schools, spoke to 35 headteachers, hundreds of teachers and 1000s of students. I found out there was a drive for a better way to get better grades.

That’s how my startup came about and the product that we’re building is E-spaces. As teachers, we are collecting data in our country without realising and we can actually use that to make more objective decisions within the testing!

How do you use that to make more objective decisions?

I thought, why don’t we use the same principle as Google Adwords in the classroom? We’re asking questions all the time! You’ve been to a class and the teacher says, “hands up if you know the answer!” That’s data. 

We’re collecting data when we ask kids what the answers to things are. Why not put it on a website and let the kids answer it? Everyone’s got some sort of device that they use. So why not use it as a way to collect that information, and then build an avatar of what a student is, then decide what they’re likely to get in the future, when they sit their exams based on what they’re doing on a day to day basis. 

We’re collecting that information all the time as teachers, so we can record it at different points within the lesson and have a complete understanding. 30% of the students have understood what you’ve taught so you go over the content. 70% of students have understood what you’ve taught, now you can move on. That’s the whole idea.

We’re collecting data that we didn’t realise is data and we’re using that to drive decisions in the classroom. But we’re also making that process transparent so management and parents can know what’s going on in different classes rather than having that conversation where students are going home and telling their parents what’s happening in the classroom. 

The parents can get involved! We’re connecting everybody, and it takes a village, doesn’t it? So that’s what we’re doing. We’re making the classroom more transparent. 

What are you working on right now? Are you still teaching?

I’m still teaching, I teach full time - I am so glad it’s half term because I can focus on business more!

I’m teaching full time, bootstrapping through the whole process. And at the minute we’ve built a prototype of the product that we’ve got. And we’re using that prototype to check whether the idea that we have is actually applicable within the real classroom.

Have you joined up with schools in order to do that?

Yeah! So my school is currently doing it and then after half term, we’ve got another school doing it in East London. 

We’re having a lot of meetings and conversations with people who work with schools, but also with different head teachers. 

The idea is to get at least 10 schools to trial the pilot and then within that time, we want to partner up with an angel who understands edtech specifically. An angel who’s got the networks and an angel who wants to get involved and drive this process, because we believe there’s a lot of change that we can bring into the education market.

How far through the trial are you? And how long is it supposed to take?

We are just at the beginning of the trial, it’s going to take four months. We’re looking at February to May to carry out the pilot.

What have you learnt in the time where you decided to do the pilot and launched it up until now?

You can have an idea of what you think it should be but the reality of it is very different!

So my co-founder has been selling into schools for about 20 years, until he’s been selling with a very well known company, and he sells print solutions. Having that name behind you and opening those doors is very different than when you have a relatively unknown business to open doors with. 

Our assumptions were very different from the reality of what you’re doing day to day. So it’s taken a lot of planning. I’m literally planning week by week, day by day, hour by hour, task by task! 

I’ve got a lot of contacts and those people that said that they’d help us with it when we’ve built it didn’t necessarily translate into reality when you start going and talking to them once you’ve got the product.

How are you overcoming those issues?

Talk to more people! 

You’re only ever five people away from anybody in this world. Talk to more people and just be on the same wavelength and somehow it’ll work. 

Yeah, I listened to something the other day that said, guard your mind the way you would guard anything valuable in your house. Don’t let just one negative thought go through your mind and that’s exactly true! 

As soon as you do that, all of a sudden you’re talking to the next person, then talking to the next person, and the next person. So that’s what it’s about. It’s talking to more people and somehow by being in the right space and in the right mindset you’ll get to talk to the person you need. 

Can you take me back to the time when you came up with the idea for the business. What was happening at that time?

Five years ago, I was close to a nervous breakdown. I kid you not, I was in such a difficult position. I had been teaching for five years but the school I was working for, brilliant as the school was and lovely as the kids were, was just too demanding of me because I was working for a grammar school.

For anybody who understands grammar school, it’s all about results. These kids have worked really hard from when they were in nursery school they were getting tutors to get them into grammar school. In their final years of grammar school, it’s all about making sure they get As and Bs and become lawyers and doctors. 

So there’s a lot demanded from you. That teacher you see in a classroom is not just teaching, they’ve got a lot going on in their lives. And just coupled with all the other pressures that you have as a teacher, it can be very difficult.

I don’t know if you know this but one in 20 teachers are diagnosed with some sort of mental health condition. That’s a really high number! A third of all teachers leave teaching within the first five years of teaching. So it’s a really difficult profession to be in. And anything that we can do that makes our profession easier will help a lot. I mean, if one teacher is treated right that means 30 students get to have a better life.

So for me, it was about discovering whether we could do things a little bit differently that would make the life of a teacher a lot better. And what I did rather than give up was I went to the head teacher, who was a brilliant lady. She let me go into her office anytime I wanted to talk to her. 

Through that process, I was able to work through a lot of things and was able to get the support I got and then through that, for me the catharsis of it all was speaking to as many colleagues as I could, finding out if there was other people who were going through the same trials I was going through and I found that there was plenty. 

I started thinking, I was teaching business and economics and I was teaching these kids to be entrepreneurs and to find solutions. Why couldn’t I find a solution for myself as well? And that’s when the whole idea came about. I started talking to people about my problem and asking if it was similar to what they were experiencing and if so, what’s the solution - A lot of people came up.

I thought the problem was behaving in a classroom. And then through speaking to a lot of my colleagues, joining a lot of Facebook groups for teachers and going to different schools, I found out that it’s not. 

It’s the system that we use with teachers, everything else is way ahead but teaching is still 100 years old. The only thing that’s changed is we’re not using chalk and a blackboard, we’re using whiteboards, we’re still using pens. But we’re still expecting the same of teachers!

Whereas teachers used to teach a class of say, 10 to 15 students, teachers are now teaching classes of 20 to 30. But we expect them to know each student even when you have more special education needs now. 

There’s so many different things that children are being diagnosed with and one teacher. And they have to be the mum and dad of those kids in the classroom day in and day out. 

How do you know all that? How do you give your best? For anyone who goes into teaching, it’s always about wanting to do the best for these young people. So how do you do the best when you have so many kids? And there’s technology that we’re not using efficiently. That was how it began for me.

Once you’ve got all these answers about the problems in classrooms from fellow teachers and from Facebook groups, what do you do with that information? And how did you come up with the product that you’ve developed?

I had all these slips I had filled out from all the questions I’d answered and I started looking at what was in the market. So I started looking at what other businesses were doing and I didn’t find a single thing that was meeting the needs of the teachers and students.

I didn’t find a single thing that made the process simpler, easier or less repetitive for teachers. I looked for people who know stuff about technology so I went to Y Combinator and also things like Techstars Startup Weekend to look for people who understood the technology side of it.

I was lucky enough to find two gentlemen through LinkedIn who understood what I was doing. We had all these meetings, I think five or six, where they were asking me questions and they just got it. They understood exactly what I was trying to do and then we worked together to come up with a prototype. 

I had ideas of what I wanted a prototype for already from my experience, but they got it and they said I should dial it down and do something where I could go into schools with a prototype and build the initial product from that. Then once I had the funding in, they could hand it over to a CTO. That was the process.

Have those turned into your co-founders?

No, they’re not co-founders, they are contractors. So for them, their business is all about talking to small businesses, to build the prototype, an MVP and then hand it over to the CTO.  

They recognise that there are small businesses that want to build a product, but can’t always build the product because they don’t have the technical side of it.

They suggested putting together this minimum viable product, this test thing that you’re gonna put into the schools? What did you learn from the process of building that with them?

Ask lots of questions! That’s what I learned. 

And find people who you could go to a pub, sit down and have a good time with. That’s what my lesson was because that’s what they are. I am social, I can go out to a pub, and spend a whole evening, chatting and talking. And we just understand each other. That’s the kind of people you want to work with.

You have mentioned that you do have a co-founder. How did you meet them?

My co-founder was actually my partner!

You’re running the business side of things and they’re the sales side of things. You’re doing the MVP into the pilots in schools? Hopefully, we’ll get more of those in the bag shortly. But where do you go from there?

For us, the pilot is all about validating whether we’re on the right track. So we’re asking lots of questions again. And we’re gonna be doing surveys at different points of the pilot. 

What we’re looking to do is get funding. We’d like to get angel funding on board and the reason we’ve chosen to do angels rather than any other type of funding is because it’s not about the money alone - it’s about getting the expertise. 

I don’t have a background building a technical business and my co-founder doesn’t have a background building a technical business. So we’re looking to get the funding with somebody who has a background in the technical side of things. 

We really do believe with the amount of research we have behind us that there are some legs to this idea. We need somebody who can believe in it, who has the technical experience of building something like this, and who can bring other people on board as well. And also somebody who will help us to build the network that we need to get this off the ground. 

We have big ambitions. Year three, we want to go to America, Asia and Africa. The only way we can do that is by getting the right foothold in the market. In the UK, we’d like to get as many people as we can on board and get the data because this is a data driven process with AI.

It’s all about the amount of data you can get behind it. And beyond that, we’re looking at 20 million opportunities in year three. So that’s kind of where we're going from here!

Excellent! I wish you the best of luck and I really appreciate your time. Where can people learn more about E-Spaces?

People can learn more about us here!

James Parris

Managing Director

James was recently poached from the world of elite sport bringing his wealth of experience developing high performing teams to Rbbl