How to Change Education (From the Ground Up)

Seven years ago, my co-founder Liam and I launched ClassDojo from the studio apartment we shared. Today, ClassDojo serves tens of millions of children in over 180 countries every day, and is growing fast. This year Liam and I are working on sharing a bit more about what ClassDojo is all about.

Make Education Something People Love

‘Love’ isn’t usually the first word that comes to mind when people think of education. But consider how much more engaged you are when doing something you truly love. You get curious, explore with an open mind, and persist when things get difficult. You master things.

So what would happen if every child grew up with an education they loved? We’d have a world where everyone grows up with a chance to develop their unique talents. With so many people able to express their ingenuity, we’d solve many more of the critical problems the world faces. And because quality of education correlates directly with quality of life, we’d likely be happier, kinder and healthier, too. That’s the future we’d like to help bring about.

This is why ClassDojo’s long-term vision is to help every child on Earth get an education they love.

The People’s Choice

Such an education for every child might seem impossible. But what holds things back?

Traditionally, K-12 education has operated as an enterprise industry. To serve classrooms, companies courted the people holding the purse strings — not the teachers, children, families and school leaders actually doing the work every day. Their needs were at best a secondary concern.

But this way of doing things is dissolving rapidly. We believe the world’s $10 trillion education market is at the beginning of a shift away from selling products that appeal to top-down decision makers, and towards products that serve the true ‘customers’ of education — children — with a better experience.

A similar shift has happened in other industries. Customer satisfaction is growing as people are increasingly able to get the experience they want. Take entertainment: customers once had to tie TV-watching to decisions network executives made about broadcast schedules. Now Netflix gives us the entertainment experience that suits our taste. Or travel: vacations used to be dominated by pre-packaged experiences, decided on by a few hotel chains. Now Airbnb helps us choose the stays and experiences that are right for us. These industries shifted from top-down decisions to treating their customers as decision makers, empowering them to get and shape better experiences.

Now it’s education’s turn. Today, the majority of U.S. families are dissatisfied with their children’s education. And they’re beginning to see that they don’t need to put up with an unsatisfying education experience any more than they’ve needed to put up with unsatisfying experiences in any other part of their lives. ClassDojo’s journey so far is proof. Here’s some inside information:

  • From day one, ClassDojo’s growth has been 100% organic, fueled entirely by word of mouth to tens of millions of users. We haven’t spent a dollar on advertising.
  • On the strength of those referrals, today ClassDojo reaches 95% of US schools. 1 in 6 U.S. families with a child in primary school use ClassDojo every day.
  • ClassDojo has grown to a further 180 countries, making it one of the first global consumer brands in education. In 10 of those countries, more than 25% of primary school teachers use ClassDojo.
  • Today, ClassDojo reaches about about 3% of all children in primary school in the world.
  • Our Net Promoter Score is 76. That’s worlds apart from the legacy education companies — Houghton Mifflin, McGraw Hill and Pearson are 3, 6 and -2 respectively — and much more like the world’s most-loved consumer brands: Netflix, Nike, Apple or Disney.
  • In response to demand from families, we launched “Beyond School”, the beginnings of an optional subscription for families that helps them get more educational experiences for their children beyond school. Revenue from Beyond School keeps ClassDojo free for all teachers, children and families.
  • This was all done with input and feedback from tens of millions of teachers, children, and families around the world, supercharging our team of just 40.

We are excited about this shift in the world, and our progress so far — and there is much more to do. Raising happy, successful children is the most important job teachers and families do, and they’ll never stop demanding more and better. So we can’t rest on our laurels: if we fail to serve them, people are free to choose something else that does. But that’s convenient, because our incentives are perfectly aligned: to exist, we need to keep serving the global audience of teachers, children, families and school leaders who make education happen every day.

Change From the Ground Up

This ground up approach is critical to achieving our vision of helping every child get an education they love. That’s because education is not a product, like an iPhone or a Tesla, that can be built and ‘shipped’ into classrooms. Education is an experience that gets created every day by the people on the ground — the teachers, children, families, and school leaders doing the work. They are the most important part of the education system. The way to improve education is to help them make it happen, and that is ClassDojo’s plan: we listen to the people doing the work. We help them work more closely together as a community. And then we give them what they need to create an education experience their children love.

So can this ground-up approach really change things? We think it already is.

For example, one crucial part of education is having a connection between school and home. Teachers want support from families at home, and families want to know what their children are learning; however, building an effective relationship can be difficult when you only get to chat at a parent-teacher conference a few times every year. ClassDojo helps teachers, children and families share more easily and more often. They now share billions of pictures, videos and messages every year, starting real world conversations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. 80% of families say ClassDojo helps them feel much more connected to their child.

And we’ve heard from teachers everywhere that there’s much more to learning than maths and reading. For instance, when we asked them about the one topic they wanted to teach more of, teachers overwhelmingly said ‘social and emotional learning’, especially ‘growth mindset’. This topic is all about helping kids believe that they can improve (TED Talk here), and has 20 years of research behind it—yet it hadn’t found its way into many classrooms. So we partnered with the world’s leading growth mindset researchers at Stanford to create original learning experiences on growth mindset. In one school year, more than 10 million children (~1% of all children of primary school age in the world) tried these experiences in their classrooms, and shared them home with their families.

The most exciting part of this is that these ideas came from ClassDojo’s community. We heard real needs from teachers, children and families — the people creating education — and were able to help them get what they needed. And then these ideas spread rapidly around the world to everyone who could benefit from them, in weeks rather than in decades.

In the ‘top-down’ world, companies were incentivized to focus on selling to the districts with the largest budgets. But because our approach doesn’t rely on salespeople targeting top-down decision makers, we can reach and serve children in all communities equally, all over the world. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

This is a tremendously exciting development: the ability to help every community get the educational experiences they need for their children, faster and cheaper than ever before. We’re just getting started.

Onward

So this is our audacious view of how to change education: do it from the ground up, by serving the people doing the work. To do this, we’re building a rare consumer company in education, one that people truly love.

If we succeed, every child will get the chance to contribute their unique talents to the world. We believe there are few things as necessary, exciting and potentially world-changing. We’re optimistic because we’ve seen just how much communities of teachers, children and families can do together. We’re even more excited about what they’ll do next.

If you’re interested in helping every child on Earth get an education they love, we’d love to hear from you.

- Sam

You can see what teachers are saying here, sign up for ClassDojo at classdojo.com, or join us to change education from the ground up.