General | January 20, 2021

Our New Vision and Mission

save humanity

After a chaotic 2020, we are entering 2021 with a new company vision and mission. We hope this new direction will guide our focus not just for the next year or two, but for the next decade.

Our vision is for humanity to flourish at the dawn of AI and beyond.

Our mission is to scale coaching in education, using technology.

The future is inextricably linked with technology. Social media and early forms of AI have already changed our world, and not in entirely positive ways. These changes are showing us that emotional maturity is now our most valuable currency. More than anything, it determines how society functions and the meaning we are able to derive from our lives. And given recent events, it’s fair to say that we have a crisis of maturity on our hands.

Our education system is one of the few options available to affect this problem at scale. To do so, we need to start shifting the debate about the purpose of education. To get beyond the objective of reductive skill building to include the development of emotional maturity. We believe a dramatic increase in the amount of coaching students and teachers receive, along with the greater discussion required to make this happen, can help us recover from the pandemic and put humanity back on a positive course.

The rest of this post will expand on this mission and vision, as well as make the connection between the two clear.

We need to start shifting the debate about the purpose of education.

A New Role

As our ten-year anniversary, 2020 was bound to be a year of reflection at Swivl. When COVID arrived, our reflections were put on hold as Swivl was thrust into a new role of supporting hybrid classrooms. Now, after a year of many revelations, we’ve been able to consider our accomplishments and our future.

Even before COVID, we have proven that audio and video technology can provide new opportunities for meaningful coaching in education. Over a million teachers have received feedback in the classroom through video thanks to our solutions. And we’ve created applications that opened up new opportunities to coach millions of students through Recap and Synth.

We’ve accomplished this by working within the system of education. This has given us a deep, broad view into the education system, and a unique understanding of its potential. Yet this experience hasn’t changed our DNA as optimists, technologists, and builders. There are no corporate suits at Swivl. And not just because the pandemic has us working in our pajamas.

Given our position straddling education and technology, we feel compelled to take on a new role – to help translate the impacts of technology to educators and to partner with them on the best ways to respond.

The Maturity Crisis

Thanks to humanity’s remarkable ability to solve problems, we continue to make large gains in quality of life. But without objective evidence to prove this, you wouldn’t know it. Modern life has a pervasive sense of anxiety and stress. We are more divided than ever, radicalized about issues both big and small. And we feel increasingly isolated.

The reason for this disconnect is now becoming clear: as we optimize technology for our attention and convenience, it exploits our emotional immaturities.

At its core, maturity is the ability to prioritize values over emotions.

The more technology is optimized for our attention, the more it provokes our emotions. This is leading to more emotion-driven action and decision making across society. As our daily actions become more driven by emotion, we lose self-control and accountability to others. We have become more transactional in our dealings, losing the ability to see each other’s actions in good faith or with positive intent.

Provoking emotions also calcifies our thinking, making our opinions nearly immovable. Critical thinking has mutated into a reality-warping exercise.

Optimizing for convenience only worsens the problem. With ubiquitous entertainment and information, we have become much more impatient. We’ve lost the ability to be bored or uncomfortable because we rarely have to experience those feelings. And this makes finding common values and reaching compromise less and less possible.

Beyond fraying society at the seams, the problem is that as super-intelligent AI nears, the way we talk about our values is more important than ever. AI will develop an understanding of human values based on this.

What is less obvious is that there is a technological flywheel effect to consider before AI arrives. The more we are exploited, the more observable behavior there is demonstrating this is who and what we are. Machine learning then uses that as training data to create technology that accelerates the exploitation.

At its core, maturity is the ability to prioritize values over emotions.

Our fear is that long before super-intelligent AI arrives, we will get driven into highly-personalized, deeply isolated, digital prison cells – completely unable to discuss our values and possibly even disconnected from them. This will leave society in a weakened state, at further risk of being manipulated by immature actors. And the values we are loading into future AI grow even more concerning.

Technology itself likely can’t prevent this. In order to change this course, we need to create a human counterbalance – one that starts to nurture our emotional maturities again.

The Human Counterbalance

COVID has accelerated this crisis. We’ve been forced to replace human connection with technology in countless ways in the interest of social distancing. The effects of this are evident pretty much everywhere, but no more evident than in the problems we’re seeing in education right now.

Student progress has diverged wildly. Some students have just disappeared completely. There are record numbers of teachers planning to abandon the profession. And parents mistrust the system of education more than ever.

These circumstances demonstrate that core relationships are fraying, and they lead to a legitimate sense that our system of education is at risk. If we treat recovery from the pandemic as a return to “normal,” then this risk could be real. And this is a huge problem, because this system is one of the few hopes we have of a wide-scale human counterbalance.

To change it, we need to start shifting the debate about the purpose of education. We need to get beyond the objective of reductive skill building to include developing emotional maturity.

And we have to start guiding reforms in ways that accomplish this goal. This means investing in teaching methods that nurture emotional maturity with a long-term view. It means further reducing our dependence on transactional teaching methods with short term objectives (ie, lectures, grading, teaching to the test, etc). And it also means challenging approaches that reinforce or worsen the emotional maturity crisis, which we believe includes the use of personalized and adaptive learning technology.

And perhaps through that process, we can rebuild support for our education system and make a dent on greater society about the importance of emotional maturity – both for its value towards restoring a functional society, and the meaning it can bring to our lives.

We need to get beyond the objective of reductive skill building to include developing emotional maturity.

Why Coaching

It’s proven that you can’t teach ethics, at least in traditional ways. The only proven way to develop maturity is to model it through relationships.

The transactional nature of traditional teaching too often de-prioritizes the relationship-building process. We believe that the education system can teach ethics and address the emotional maturity crisis through coaching.

When most people hear the word “coaching,” they think of what they have experienced directly. Sports coaching. Technology coaching. Instructional coaching. Life coaching. Executive coaching.

To us, coaching is also advising, tutoring, counselling, touchbases, feedback, etc. Teaching methods like 1-1 and small group instruction are really also coaching. Even aspects of parents’ involvement in education should be considered coaching.

Fundamentally, coaching is teaching through relationships.

Generalizing the definition of it makes it a relatable unit of action that can be tracked for progress. And we believe it is the essential act for recovery from the pandemic and combating the crisis of maturity.

Scale the Unscalable

The problem with coaching is that it is unscalable. It takes time, skill, and focus. And this is hard to do within the scope of a modern teaching or administrative job. These challenges are the most obvious reason why traditional lectures still dominate despite the decades old mantra “Go from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side”. Guide is just another word for coach.

Yet you can’t get coached once a month or once a semester and expect growth – emotional or otherwise. It’s simply not happening at a frequency that leads to the human development we need. For that, we need scale.

Counterintuitively, this observation gives us confidence in the path. There is a saying by Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator, that to find and develop great ideas, you should do things that don’t scale. This comes from someone who transformed angel investing into a system of education for entrepreneurship on the basis of coaching (ie, their “office hours” are famous).

The goal of our future technology development will be to scale the unscalable act of coaching.

Coachability as a Value

In our process of reflection, we had another realization. We realized that the most important decisions we made as a company – the ones that truly determined our path – were the result of coaching received from educators on how to support their needs.

What made it work was that we, ourselves, were coachable.

We believe coachability is embracing learning with emotional maturity. It was what enabled us to listen and adapt, to confront failure and roadblocks, and ultimately find the way forward.

The only proven way to develop maturity is to model it through relationships.

Since we’re bound to encounter more feedback and challenges, this led us to define our core values on it. We want to build upon what has worked and model this as a practice to the educators we work with.

Our new core values are simply:

  • Be coachable
  • Deliver our services with a coaching mindset
  • Maximize coaching opportunities within and outside our business

Getting Started

As we enter 2021, we are kicking off a range of new initiatives.

We are launching a new blog – Our aim is to expand the public discussion on the purpose of education to include developing emotional maturity. It is also aimed to help define the art of coaching.

We will also be investing in reforms broadly by supporting organizations and initiatives that help shift teaching models towards coaching. This includes Project Based Learning (PBL), Inquiry, Design Thinking, Blended Learning, and more.

Interested in partnering with us? Let us know.

We are also diving into the challenge of how to build technology that scales coaching in education. This starts with defining a hierarchy of how relationships in schools should function, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

  • Build culture of support [Safety]: Make teachers feel supported and empowered in their hard challenges (ie, digital transformation) by recruiting everyone to participate in coaching.
  • Set a relationship foundation [Safety, Belonging and Esteem]: Set a trusting foundation of stronger relationships between students and teachers, as well as teachers and administrators, through regular, unstructured dialogue.
  • Overcome Challenges [Teacher Self-Actualization]: Get teachers coaching on the hard teaching challenges that require shared observation, whether in class or online.
  • Coaching for instruction [Student Self-Actualization]: Make coaching live and breathe as an instructional method alternative to transactional teaching methods in classrooms.

Creating the technology that accomplishes the full scope of these goals will necessarily take time. But schools need help now. To accelerate our progress, we’re launching a new initiative called Project Flourish.

Project Flourish is about using the full resources of our organization – human and technology – to aid schools’ recovery from the pandemic.

This means designing coaching initiatives for schools based on this hierarchy with the help of Swivl’s expert Customer Success & Training teams. This also means re-focusing our existing product solutions in support.

We’ll be aiming towards building a culture of support within schools by better connecting teachers over how they use technology. We will be relaunching Synth to make time for building relationship foundations through asynchronous communication. And we’ll be focusing Swivl Teams to make it even easier to get help on those hard challenges that elevate performance.

Interested in working with us on Project Flourish? We’re seeking Beta schools to partner with for a kickoff in mid-February. Just send us an email.

Just the Beginning

How we accomplish this mission will necessarily adapt over time. There will be learnings, more initiatives and likely even more new products. We are committed to being coachable as we forge onward and are excited to partner with educators on this journey toward a positive future for humanity.