This might not be the view you’d expect from the CEO of a technology company, but I don’t believe that a great education is made by technology. It’s always been the case that it’s actually made from people working together.
Education can’t be ‘made’ in a tech company or office somewhere and shipped out to classrooms. We have to enable teachers, kids and families all over the world to work together in creating incredible learning experience in every classroom, home and community.
Granularity and detail
I’ve talked to teachers across the UK and throughout the world about their experiences of technology procurement in schools, and it seems that things tend to go wrong as a result of top-down decisions made elsewhere; when there’s been little consultation or input from teachers, pupils and families.
I was chatting recently to a MAT leader who admitted they’d seen considerable sums of money spent on technology solutions that never even made it out of the delivery box, because they didn’t provide value to the people who’d actually be using them.
Decisions around technology purchases and usage should be informed by the views of classroom teachers. They will have a nuanced view of what their own workload is like, and what their pupils and their families will need. That level of granularity and detail is hugely important, because these are ultimately the people we’re relying on to produce the educational experience. Let’s make them more central to decision-making process.
Getting things backwards
It’s often been the case that people attempting to ‘improve education’ have started the process outside the classroom by developing some big piece of technology, bold new policy or curriculum idea and just started putting it into classrooms in the hope that it works, which is getting things backwards. Better learning experiences come about from the interactions of those most closely involved in them everyday – namely teachers, kids and families. To me, it makes far more sense to start in the classroom and work things out from there.
ClassDojo began life as a communication app for teachers, kids and families. Our first step was to try and create a community in and around every classroom, because it struck us as odd that parents seemed increasingly more connected to everything else in their lives other than the people they cared about most of all – their children. They would only find out every three months at parents’ evenings the specifics of was going on in their child’s life during their time at school.
Where ClassDojo aims to help with that is by serving as a communication app, facilitating the sharing of pictures, videos and messages between teachers and parents and across the whole school in a way that helps to foster a wider community. Once that community is working together across multiple classrooms, it’s then possible to support it with the best and most helpful ideas available for improving the learning experience.
That’s where the second phase of company came in. A couple of years ago we began polling teachers and families, asking them about the ideas they most wanted to see introduced into their classrooms, and one that kept coming up was teaching based around the concept of the growth mindset approach developed by Carol Dweck.
Develop and grow
Growth mindset teaching considers how we deal with failure, and helps kids learn that they’re not limited or fixed in what they can do, but can develop and grow through appropriate levels of challenge. We soon found ourselves working with Carol Dweck directly, discussing with her how we could get the growth mindset message out to thousands of schools.
We ended up distilling large chunks of her research into a short, animated series for schools that included prompts for classroom discussions and which could be used as interactive learning activities.
These were distributed through ClassDojo and proceeded to be used in thousands of classrooms; teachers could show them in class, and then share them with families at home.
The notion that we could take some of the best educational research out there, present it in a more accessible form and then provide it to any school that wanted to teach it was pretty exciting. It’s something that’s not really been possible before.
We endeavour to visit schools wherever we can, researching ways in ClassDojo can be used to help teachers. One example comes to mind of a school in rural California, where we spoke to a teacher who was using ClassDojo to communicate with families at home, but finding that the families of half the kids in her class weren’t engaging – the parents simply didn’t seem that involved. We dug a bit more, and soon realised that the families in question were those for whom English wasn’t the main language spoken at home.
We asked what support was available for these parents and it turned out they had access to a school district translator, but that there was a three- to four-week turnaround for school materials to be translated, which seemed like it wouldn’t help anyone.
That prompted us to add a feature to the app called ClassDojo Translate, which lets teachers send messages home in their country’s native language, and have those messages be automatically translated into whatever language the parents speak or use on their phone. The parents can then message back in their language, and have their words displayed in the teacher’s language, instantly removing the language barrier between school and home. It’s one of those simple, yet highly effective things you might miss if you weren’t listening closely to teachers all the time.
From our experiences of comparing schools and classrooms around the world, we see far more similarities than differences. There’s not a parent or family in the world that doesn’t want their kid to have a great experience at school. Families want to be engaged, they want to feel useful and they want to provide support at home, but aren’t always sure how.
The ‘why’ of what we do
For me and ClassDojo’s co-founder, Liam Don, the ‘why’ of what we do hasn’t changed. Ultimately, we’d like to see every kid on Earth gain access to a world class education, and want to help create the network, app, whatever form it takes, that makes that possible.
The first part of that is what we’ve done by connecting schools and classroom communities, which is how ClassDojo has grown. About 85% of primaries in the UK have teachers using ClassDojo, and 10% of UK families use ClassDojo every week. The second part is continuing our efforts to enable the spread of the best possible learning experiences to those communities via the ClassDojo network.
By learning experiences, I mean tools, ideas, content, curricula, activities, whatever it takes, because different schools, classrooms and environments all need different things. I believe we can enable the classrooms within a school to be teaching similar things in slightly different ways that are right for the particular kids in those communities.
We’ve been doing this for a little over six years now, but we’re just at the start. For us, the story isn’t about the tech involved or the app itself; it’s really about forging these communities of teachers, school leaders, kids and families who are actually doing the work that we hope to support.