Community//

Nick Gaehde: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”

As a wealthy and developed country, there is no reason why we can’t close the literacy gap and help students of all backgrounds and experience become more proficient readers. Lexia Learning provides scientifically-based resources teachers use to work with students of all abilities. We provide meaningful, real-time student performance data that helps teachers assess what […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

As a wealthy and developed country, there is no reason why we can’t close the literacy gap and help students of all backgrounds and experience become more proficient readers. Lexia Learning provides scientifically-based resources teachers use to work with students of all abilities. We provide meaningful, real-time student performance data that helps teachers assess what concepts kids have mastered and where they struggle, enabling them to personalize instruction for each student. Literacy opens an abundance of opportunities and it all starts with the fundamentals of reading, writing and speaking.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Gaehde.

Nick Gaehde is the President of Lexia Learning. He has been with Lexia since 2005 and became a member of the Rosetta Stone leadership team in 2013. Nick brings to Rosetta Stone deep industry experience in literacy, software development and K-12 educational publishing. Having guided Lexia through several transformations, he has maintained a keen focus on the company’s mission to help improve student literacy in schools and districts throughout the United States.

Prior to joining Lexia, Nick served as President of Educators Publishing Services, Inc. (EPS), a publisher of literacy solutions for the K-8 market. Before that, he held product management and marketing positions at Vertigo Development Group, Lotus Development Corporation, and News England Business Service. Nick has served on the boards of Massachusetts Branch of the International Dyslexia Society and ELLevation Education, a company focused on the needs of English language learners. In 2011, industry peers voted Nick as one of the five “EdNET Leaders to Watch,” recognizing him for his significant contributions to the education industry. Nick attended Pitzer College, where he earned a B.A. in psychology with a focus on early childhood development and earned his master’s at Boston University’s School of Management. He speaks English and German.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start on your career path?

I grew up in a primarily German-speaking household and didn’t start speaking English until kindergarten. On top of that, I also have dyslexia. Back then, English Language Learners (ELL) were typically thrown into classes with the native English speaking students and, quite honestly, I hated school as a result. I passed my dyslexic gene to my two kids and, fortunately, was able to get them the right instruction early on. Seeing and comparing their experiences with mine is what inspired my career path.

Prior to joining Lexia Learning, I worked at a print publishing company that focused on K-12 literacy. We had a number of programs that were highly effective in building literacy skills; however, I thought there had to be a more effective way to help teachers personalize their instruction and meet the needs of every student in the classroom wherever they are in their English language fluency. Technology offers teachers much greater flexibility than print programs can, which is what attracted me to Lexia Learning 15 years ago.

Did you set out to start a movement? If so, what was your vision? If not, what did you imagine would be the impact of your work?

Lexia Learning’s founder, Bob Lemire, had this vision of meeting students where they are through personalized instruction that inspires confidence and creates successful readers. His son was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 4th grade and was the inspiration for the technology behind Lexia Learning. The concept of meeting students where they are resonated with me because it not only helps the students, but also the teachers. I’ve seen first-hand just how impactful Lexia Learning can be at creating confident readers of all abilities and how much time teachers save when they’re armed with real-time performance data. We’ve helped educators deliver personalized literacy instruction for millions of K-12 students across the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

While working at the print publishing company, we had this idea to digitize our materials and allow educators to create their own curriculum off of that. What I didn’t realize at that time was how labor intensive it was for the teachers. Teachers already have a huge challenge of teaching students with diverse needs — and they have limited resources with which to do it. When you add even more work, that teacher is destined to fail. From then on, I’ve worked to make sure the technology and products don’t add to a teacher’s workload. When we evaluate new products, feature or technology updates, I always ask: “Does this add more work for the teacher?”

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Literacy is the foundation of every subject taught in school. However, in the U.S., nearly two-thirds of students were considered non-proficient readers before the pandemic hit. The “COVID learning slide” that has occurred since March 2020 is only expected to make matters worse.

Additionally, we’re helping millions of children become confidently bilingual. In fact, emergent bilinguals will make up nearly 25% of the total K-12 population in U.S. public schools by 2025.

As a wealthy and developed country, there is no reason why we can’t close the literacy gap and help students of all backgrounds and experience become more proficient readers. Lexia Learning provides scientifically-based resources teachers use to work with students of all abilities. We provide meaningful, real-time student performance data that helps teachers assess what concepts kids have mastered and where they struggle, enabling them to personalize instruction for each student. Literacy opens an abundance of opportunities and it all starts with the fundamentals of reading, writing and speaking.

Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted this cause?

We worked with a high-needs, Title 1 elementary school in the state of Washington that had students with significant disparities. Some begin kindergarten or first grade with no letter recognition or experience with English. Some lack access to computers, reading material at home, or stable housing. Others come armed with pre-literacy skills and are able to jump right into grade-level material or above.

At the time, the school’s principal was rebuilding its Learning Assistance Program in order to help all of the students meet state standards. The school implemented Lexia Learning’s Core5 Reading program to provide adaptive instruction in six areas of reading that aligned well with their intervention curriculum. In less than one school year, the percentage of students reading at or above grade level in Core5 rose dramatically from 67% to 95%. One of the school’s reading intervention teachers said she noticed a boost in her students’ confidence and motivation, including those with attention and behavioral issues. The teachers were able to closely monitor each child’s progress and identify re-teaching opportunities along the way, saving them time and increasing capacity.

That’s just one example of one school. We’ve worked with thousands of others across the country that have achieved similar success.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There’s a critical need for more funding for schools, including fair pay for teachers. The policies and infrastructures are in place to deliver. This year’s CARES Act took steps in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. One of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic is that parents and communities now have a renewed respect and appreciation for the invaluable role teachers play in our kids’ education. It’s been challenging for a lot of parents, especially for working parents who are having to balance teaching their kids. But I do believe there’s capacity both at the federal and community levels to impact change and allocate more funding to ultimately help the kids who would benefit from it most.

There’s also been a lot of conversation around the digital divide and the federal government’s role in boosting connectivity for students at home. We’ve seen progress, but we need to continue putting policies in place now to help students who are at risk of falling behind in their learning. The digital divide has made it clear that the students who don’t have access to supportive learning programs and teachers will slide in their learning very quickly. It’s very hard for students two to three years behind to catch up — it’s not impossible, but it can be helped with equitable access to technology and quality education programs.

Finally, more needs to be invested in teacher training and ongoing professional development. It’s a travesty that most teacher prep programs don’t actually teach the science of reading. That puts teachers at a disadvantage from the start. They get into the classroom and don’t understand why students struggle or what they can do to address it. The quick shift to distance learning and blended pedagogies earlier this year has also put added pressure on teachers. They’ve had to learn new technologies and techniques on the fly. Teachers are incredibly adaptable, resourceful and creative and they’ve made the transition as best they can. However, school districts need to recognize that the distance and hybrid learning model is here to stay — at least for the foreseeable future — and should commit to provide ongoing professional development so their teachers are best equipped to help students succeed.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My belief is that, as a leader, you develop a mission and vision, make sure you have the right people in the right roles and ensure they have the right resources they need to do their jobs. Then, just get out of the way and trust the team you’ve built.

Our most recent release, Rosetta Stone English, required a very broad group of linguists, engineers, product marketers and designers, all working collaboratively. This team hadn’t worked together because it was the first time we were leveraging the expertise at both Lexia Learning and Rosetta Stone. We painted a very clear picture of what success looked like, the metrics we were looking to achieve, and then got out of their way. By doing that and letting them do their work, this past July we were able to launch the most powerful solution for English Language Learners in the market.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

First, I’ve learned that focus is the key to success. Organizations that spread themselves too thin are not as thoughtful or as strong. When I joined Lexia Learning 15 years ago, we spent a lot of time figuring out what people are passionate about and where we needed to focus as a company. Then, we shut down everything else and dedicated all of our resources to become the best at scientifically-based literacy software.

Second, even in today’s tech-enabled world, I wish I had known just how hard it is to reach students. About 20–25% of students don’t have access to technology or the internet. Even if they have access, some don’t have a guardian at home to help them. This is often a big hurdle in education technology and something many companies are trying to address, especially with the acceleration of remote learning.

Third, it takes a long time to scale a K-12 product. Selling to school districts and individual schools is incredibly complex and there are many decision-makers. That makes it difficult to scale even the most effective products. Plus, you need to ensure the product can be used on the widest range of devices and the lowest bandwidth levels as possible, given the resource constraints many schools and households have. From the beginning, our focus was to provide content-rich resources that require as little bandwidth and computing power as possible so they could be available to the greatest number of students and educators.

Next, I’ve learned just how important intense research is at validating the efficacy of a product. At Lexia Learning, we’ve focused our research on treatment, control, and randomized samples to test and highlight the effectiveness of our programs. Our research team is constantly testing and collecting data so we can continue improving and innovating.

Finally, leadership isn’t about dictating. As a leader, you’re at the front of the company, paving the way of success. Provide the vision and direction, then trust your team and get out of the way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

  • “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.” — Nelson Mandela
  • “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with their results.” — George Patton
  • Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” — John F. Kennedy

These quotes embody who I am as a leader and what I believe to be effective leadership.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Visit our website at www.lexialearning.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-gaehde-a3ba271/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LexiaLearning

Your work is making a massive positive impact on the planet, thank you so much!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Rosetta Stone President Matt Hulett: “Why It’s So Important To Reinforce Your Organization’s Values”

by Charlie Katz
Community//

Big Ideas: “Deliver the best one-on-one, individualized early literacy instruction to children everywhere” with Deb Mallin, CEO of Literacy Matters Foundation

by Christina D. Warner, MBA
Community//

Vertical Literacy: Reimagining the 21st-Century University

by Otto Scharmer

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.