How Creatively Focused Is Using Technology To Help Special Educators Everywhere – Forbes

How Creatively Focused Is Using Technology To Help Special Educators Everywhere – Forbes

Recently, I was asked to participate in a short interview about my career in journalism and how I got here. My career’s origin story actually has nothing to do with journalism. I’ve always loved (and excelled at) writing, but I never went to journalism school nor do I possess a college degree of any kind. If you look at my recently-redesigned portfolio page and scroll towards the bottom, you’ll notice my background is in special education and early childhood development. This past May marked my 10th year as a journalist, but the previous decade was spent working as a paraprofessional in special education classrooms at various levels. As a lifelong disabled person, I spent my life receiving special education services, so working for the very same school district I grew up in was a full circle experience. What’s more, my start in tech journalism was kickstarted by writing about accessibility and assistive technologies—namely, iPads—we used with students to augment the curriculum.

What took me from the classroom to the news media was burnout.

Burnout is exactly the sort of thing the team at Creatively Focused tries to prevent. The Minnesota-based company, in business for the last six years, describes its mission on its website as “[helping] special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators feel connected and supported in the world of special education as it continues to change.” The startup accomplishes this by way of software they’ve built called axis3, billed as a “multifunctional resource created specifically to address the things special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators are tasked with each day.” In using axis3, special educators can take advantage of services such as person-to-person support, time management, professional development, and more.

“As a former special education director, I’ve witnessed the burnout that plagues many educators in the field. I distinctly recall a teacher sharing with me that she didn’t want to leave the profession but felt trapped,” Elizabeth Orme, founder and chief executive officer of Creatively Focused, said to me in a recent interview conducted via email. “Creatively Focused was started with an unyielding commitment to addressing this issue because I’ve experienced it firsthand and I’m dedicated to making a change. [By] cultivating the feelings of value, expertise, and connection, we can revolutionize the education system, allowing educators to not only thrive but also evolve as lifelong learners.”

The decision to pursue a life in special education, Orme told me, is more than a career choice. It’s a personal commitment. Orme said “there are far too many special education classrooms staffed with educators who simply don’t have the tools and support they need to be successful.” The lack of support isn’t burdensome only on the school staff; it also has lasting rippling effects on students and their families. Creatively Focused, Orme said, strives to “[address] the challenges in special education head-on, ensuring that educators can thrive, and in turn, provide the best possible support to those who depend on them.”

Creatively Focused’s mission is a deeply personal one to Orme.

“I’ve been in the shoes of the very special education teachers and administrators we’re supporting today,” she said. “I’ve experienced the relentless burnout, the late nights, the early mornings, and sacrificing weekends to tackle endless paperwork. It’s not just about teachers and paraeducators; it’s about students and families who all deserve better.”

Technology in the classroom can be a “lifeline,” according to Orme. Educators already are saddled with juggling so many responsibilities, “they deserve a reliable resource that guides them on what to prioritize, how to accomplish it, and when to do so.” A reliable resource for teachers and administrators is what Creatively Focused aspires to be.

“An educator’s cognitive load directly impacts their ability to build relationships with students,” Orme said of the heavy workloads. “If we [at Creatively Focused] can reduce the load on the educator and ensure they have everything they need to feel successful in their role, regardless of experience, we will see a great impact on student outcomes.”

In terms of feedback, Orme was happy to report it’s been “incredibly positive.” She added teachers are excited by the level of autonomy they have in choosing the learning that addresses their needs rather than rely upon the opinions of others on what they should learn. Orme shared a testimonial from one user, saying the person marveled at how Creatively Focused was a “lifesaver” after years of trying to develop a good system for keeping track of all the paperwork involved in teaching special ed.

“Our approach to supporting teachers is holistic, encompassing the executive functioning skills required to effectively manage the demands of their role,” Orme said of Creatively Focused’s philosophy for its tools.

Asked about the future, Orme told me her company is “prepared to support every school district across the United States,” adding their focus is steadfast on what changes need to be made to prevent educators from feeling like they need to leave the industry. Moreover, Orme said Creatively Focused will put its creativity towards continually building tools that help special educators flourish instead of flounder.

“The relationship between teacher and student is what is invaluable. That connection cannot flourish unless our educators stay fulfilled and confident in their roles,” Orme said of the impetus for change. “Nurturing their fulfillment and expertise isn’t just what we aim for. It’s the very bedrock upon which the future of education stands.”

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