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WGU Grad Jessica Shelley Named to Forbes 30 under 30

Edtech CEO and mother of five, Jessica Shelley was recently named to Forbes 30 under 30 in Education. She is co-founder of Dailies, an online learning platform that offers small group classes, personalized instruction, real-time reporting, and micro-learning engaging activities, as well as homeschooling resources. Jessica is building this educational platform to bridge the gaps between parents and teachers that she saw and struggled with when she taught in elementary schools. Her company has served more than 15,000 families in 30 countries and is valued at more than $5 million.

She has three degrees from Western Governors University, including a Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction, a Master of Education degree in Special Education, and a master’s degree in leadership and management from the WGU School of Business. We caught up with her recently to learn more about her company and her views as an educator and entrepreneur.

WGU: Becoming an educator is often a ‘calling’ for people. What made you choose this profession?

Jessica Shelley: My school years were challenging. I moved every 18-24 months resulting in six elementary schools, one middle school and three high schools. I was always new and didn’t have a sense of belonging. But in middle school, I had a pivotal teacher who really saw me and engaged with me. I was given some leadership responsibilities in the class and that built my confidence. From there I took on more, being a cadet teacher in high school and volunteering in the elementary school. By the time I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to be that light for kiddos who may not have that kind of support at home. I wanted to give them what I felt I needed when I was their age.

You earned your bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and teaching from Abilene Christian University, got licensed and went to work. How was your first year teaching elementary school?

It was an interesting start. I was hired by the school two days into the school year because the grade level was over-capacity. Students had already been in other teachers’ classrooms for four days before I had my first official day with them. I had to clean, prep and plan for my students to join me within 48 hours, all while taking care of the district-required onboarding. I spent the first couple of weeks intentionally focused on building our classroom agreements and community, talking about how we would engage with each other, and getting to know each other since I was a brand-new face in the school and the town. We became a strong and cohesive class. It was a great feeling. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve really made it, I’m a teacher!’ I had the best possible experience I could have and our chaos at the start of the year ended up being something that really bonded us together.

You’ve gone on to earn several advanced degrees. Tell us what made you want to earn your first master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from WGU.

My husband and I had moved from Texas to Oregon with our baby when I started my first teaching job in Oregon. About halfway through that year, I was working with a teaching partner who was doing the English Language Arts and social studies, and I developed the curriculum in science and math. I found I loved designing the curriculum for our class and personalizing it with student feedback as we went. I also found out I was pregnant with our second child. So, realizing I was going to have two little children 12 months apart, I wanted to boost my career potential and do something just for me, but needed to work on my master’s degree in those unpredictable pockets when my kids were sleeping. I knew I loved curriculum and instruction and the degree format from WGU was a great fit.

Looking back, how did completing that master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction benefit you?

First of all – empowerment. I felt like I had the credentials and experience through the WGU program to be more in tune with what my students needed. And the bonus was I was able to take what I was learning and use it both at home to help my children with preschool, and also to tailor lessons to my students’ needs in the classroom. I feel like the courses in my program laid the foundation for the success I’m having as an educator, and the program was the true inspiration point for my push toward personalized education opportunities for all learners.

Okay so there you are… a parent of two, you’ve earned a master’s degree, and you're teaching full-time. Why did you decide to go back for another master’s degree from WGU – this one in Special Education?

My school decided to use the full inclusion model and when I got my class roster for that year, I had 11 students on IEPs or 504s. (An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan required for each student with a disability. IEPs describe the individualized plan a student’s educational program should include, including current performance levels, student goals and services.) So, half of my class would have qualified as special education in the traditional, non-inclusion format. I was not prepared to teach across so many different needs and levels, so I went back for the M.Ed. in Special Education so I could best help all my students.

What was the event or events that led to your transition from the traditional classroom to working for Dailies in online, personalized education?

During my third year of teaching, I had a very challenging time. I began reaching out to parents to try to engage them more and bring them into the classroom for support. It had become evident that parents needed to be more actively involved in their children’s education and have better visibility into the day-to-day activities and learnings. My principal pushed back on engaging parents at that level, so I began thinking about other educator pathways and options. At the same time, I went on maternity leave to have my third child.

During that maternity leave, I began researching ways I could use my curriculum and instruction degree and passion for that kind of work. I found a very small start-up called Dailies that was trying to build and launch a learning app. I finished my maternity leave, left the school and went to work for Dailies where they brought me in to oversee curriculum development. Then COVID hit. We couldn’t launch the app, but we used the time to do research with parents and heard over and over that parents needed and wanted to know how their child was performing on a more frequent basis. They couldn’t see where the gaps in performance and learning were. That’s when we pivoted to offering small group classes online through our program, which have been very well received. Today, we also have a robust home-school program as well that families can enroll in. It has the full curriculum, we ship supplies and we offer study halls.

Congratulations on being named to Forbes 30 under 30 for your success with Dailies. Tell us how you went from COO building curriculum to CEO and Co-Founder.

The whole idea of learning pods began floating around during the pandemic and the educational shift to online delivery was a hot topic, too. Initially, when my co-founder mentioned the idea of learning pods, I was very concerned it would be exclusionary from a cost perspective. We employ highly qualified teachers – most of whom have master’s degrees and we are adamant about it being the highest caliber education experience possible. We worked the model and ended up with DailiesPods as our way of offering small group online courses where the teacher can deeply engage in each learning session with the student. Teachers send parents progress reports after every single session. Our classes do not necessarily have to replace the K-12 school classes; they supplement them and identify learning gaps very quickly because of the deep interaction and small group size class. Then we give the parents ideas for how to continue the conversation at home to build upon what the child learned in class. It was during the development of that model that I was made CEO and co-founder because of the leadership role I took in the company as we pivoted.

How are DailiesPods delivered? It is subscription-based?

The all-online classes contain integrated grade-appropriate reading, writing and math skills as well as social-emotional learning skill building in every session at every grade level. The 55-minute session can be bundled where students can come as few as one time a week or as many as five times a week, or they can be purchased a la carte as needed.

How’s the feedback been with DailiesPods?

Kids love the small group interaction and sometimes make friends that extend beyond the classroom with pen pal friendships across states. Parents love the learning personalization and intentional relationships with teachers as evidenced by glowing reviews.

What’s next for Dailies? Do you have anything new on the horizon in 2024?

We’re interested in building a learning analytics platform behind this work and will be partnering with a dozen or so mid-sized school districts in 2024 to expand our company strategically. With the teacher shortage, we can help shore up those gaps by coming in to assist teachers by providing small group, personalized sessions or RTI (Response to Intervention) or MTSS (Multi-tier System of Support) interventions they need and can’t offer because of teacher capacity issues. We know learning gaps from COVID exist and some districts are forced to place less than highly qualified teachers in the classrooms, so we think we can help with that. Everybody wins.

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