How to Change Education (From the Ground Up)

Sam Chaudhary
Feb 28, 2019 · 7 min read

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.

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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 you’re doing something you truly love. You get curious, explore it for hours, and keep going even when things get trickier. You put in the time and effort to master it.

So what would happen if every child grew up with an education they loved? We’d have a world where all children grow up with a chance to develop their unique talents. With so many people able to contribute their full 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 kind of 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: consumers’ TV experience was once determined by a few network executives deciding a linear broadcast schedule, giving everyone the same programs at the same time. Now Netflix enables each of us to choose the entertainment experience that suits our taste. Or travel: vacation stays used to be dominated by pre-packaged experiences, decided on by a few hotel chains. Now Airbnb enables us to choose the stays and experiences that are right for us. These industries shifted from making top-down decision-making to treating their customers as the decision makers, empowering them to choose the experiences they really want.

Now it’s education’s turn. Today, the majority of U.S. families are dissatisfied with their children’s education. They only get a narrow sliver of the learning experiences they truly want for their children. They are limited to the experiences their local school can provide. Most families can’t afford to go to a different school, or to find other high quality educational experiences for their children. Yet families are beginning to realize that they don’t need to put up with an unsatisfying education experience any more than they’ve put up with unsatisfying experiences in other parts of their lives. ClassDojo’s journey so far is proof. Here’s some inside information:

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 together as a community. And then we help them get the educational experiences 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 children than ever before.

And we’ve heard from teachers and families 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 both of 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 those 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.

The ability to help every community get the educational experiences they need for their children, faster and cheaper than ever before, is an exciting development. 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.

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