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lesson planet
M any people think that teachers have it easy: They finish their day by 3 p.m. and enjoy long summer vacations. However, a teacher’s day does not end when the final bell rings, which is why Lesson Planet, an online curriculum search engine founded by Gaucho alumnus Jim Hurley, strives to deliver curriculum to busy educators.

“Teachers are really passionate about what they are doing,” explained Hurley, ’83, TEP ’85, M.Ed ’93. “They see it as a higher calling and it is, but it makes them the busiest people in the world. They’re swamped: They need all the help they can get.”

 lesson planet

Founded in 1999, Lesson Planet is an online curriculum search engine for PreK-12th grade educators. The company offers more than 400,000 teacher-reviewed curriculum resources, allowing teachers to bring new ideas to their classrooms and save time when creating lesson plans. Lesson Planet provides curriculum for 21st century learning skills, college and career readiness, English language development, health, language arts, languages, math, physical education, science, social studies, special education, and visual and performing arts. New features of Lesson Planet include EdTech Tutorials, which are professional development video courses for teachers, and the Educational Apps Guide, which are teacher reviews of the best apps for the classroom.

“There is a gap in what teachers do and what people think they do,” elaborated Judith Smith-Meyer, Education Communications Specialist at Lesson Planet. “Teachers spend three to four hours per week looking for curriculum.

At Lesson Planet, we understand why teachers need to get something that’s valuable quickly and how important those three to four hours really turn out to be when everything else crowds into their time.”

Teachers can search for curriculum by grade or subject. Hurley noted that teachers are very collaborative and social people, leading to the high number of teacher reviews and the 168,000 followers on Facebook.

“What’s so incredible about the web is that it’s what we call a global hallway,” Hurley said. “Now you don’t have to hope the teacher down the hall is going to share a resource or have a resource. You can get a world of ideas online and teach it in your own way.”

Hurley began to wonder how technology, such as the Macintosh computers of the ’80s, could empower teachers and students, which inspired him to find ways to instill technology into education.

“[Jim Hurley] saw it at the right moment,” said Smith-Meyer, ’88, TEP ’90. “He could see what would become of the web and how it could help teachers before it was commonly accepted the way it is now.”

 lesson planet

 lesson planet

The web boom further convinced Hurley to found an educational technology company, originally called Education Planet. This website served as a general education portal for parents, teachers, and administrators, but teachers composed the majority of the traffic. The company changed its name to Lesson Planet after it targeted teachers and began charging for curriculum in 2004.

“We have over 20 teachers at Lesson Planet,” Hurley said. “Unlike a lot of other companies, we are super teacher-centric and understand what teachers need. We have a built-in focus group.”

Of the 50 employees at Lesson Planet, 23 are UC Santa Barbara alumni. Smith-Meyer said that these employees are lively, engaged, and committed to their work.

“And they’re Gauchos—they like to have fun!” Hurley added with a smile. “Santa Barbarans really love being in Santa Barbara.”

Lesson Planet has made its home in the historic Lobero Building in Downtown Santa Barbara, just across the street from the Lobero Theatre. Inside, the employees are hard at work adding more educational apps to integrate iPads into classrooms and more resources that uphold Common Core Standards, which is a nationwide initiative to provide consistent educational goals.

One such former teacher, Mollie Moore, M.Ed.’10, began to review curriculum during the summer while teaching history. Eventually she decided to leave teaching to be a Curriculum Resource Manager at Lesson Planet, but her job keeps her updated on the best teaching practices.

“It’s about using the expertise of different people from different fields to create the best product that we can,” Moore said. “There’s a lot of learning, which I love, and a lot of collaboration.”

Nichole Schon, Education Content Developer for Lesson Planet, also enjoys being able to continue learning while pursuing her passion for teaching outside of the classroom.

“I had my education and [writing skills], so those allowed me to do all the things I wanted to do while staying in education and contributing in a bigger way to teachers,” explained Schon. “Working here allowed me to up the ante and reach a broader group of teachers.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in English at UC Santa Barbara in 2003, Schon went on to receive a Masters in Education in 2005. She began to teach throughout the Central Coast, but all the schools in the area had only been able to hire teachers on a year-to-year basis. This meant that all of the newly hired teachers received a pink slip and did not know if their contract would be renewed for the next year.

“When I got a pink slip for the umpteenth time,” Schon sighed, “I decided to shift gears for a while.”

Schon resolved to pursue writing more actively and began to work part-time at Lesson Planet. She has since been promoted to full-time and writes articles about teaching. In addition to working at Lesson Planet, Schon is involved in the South Coast Writing Project, which improves how educators teach writing. Schon heard about the project through the UC Santa Barbara teaching program.

“When I went to apply at [Lesson Planet], it turns out that the person currently directing the South Coast Writing Project went to college with the CEO, [Jim Hurley],” said Schon. “The connections I have made at UCSB have on multiple occasions allowed me to earn income and be able to live here.”

Although Hurley and Smith-Meyer joke that their favorite part of working at Lesson Planet is the abundance of dark chocolate that they eat in the office, both agree that helping teachers is rewarding.

“One of my favorite things to do is look at our testimonials,” said Hurley. “Every day we get a lot of really nice testimonials from teachers. We have an amazing team of teachers, editors, reviewers, developers, designers, marketing, management—it’s a fun, meaningful mission, so we get a lot of really passionate people to work at Lesson Planet.”

Find Out More
Although one has to subscribe to Lesson Planet to view the lesson plans, the public can read articles written by teachers about a variety of academic subjects and issues that teachers face. Go to www.lessonplanet.com/ and click “Articles” at the top left to read more.