ASK ANY TEACHER to name the most challenging aspect of their job, and chances are it’s neither the low pay nor the paperwork. The more candid among them might cite the kids themselves-not the good kids, but the disruptive ones, of which there is always a significant (and, some argue, increasing) percentage in any classroom.
Enter ClassDojo, a motivational feedback tool currently being used by teachers in nearly 20,000 classrooms across the U.S. Some of those instructors are writing letters of tearful gratitude to its British-born, Silicon Valley-based founders, Sam Chaudhary and Liam Don, both 25. “I just wanted to let the creators of Class Dojo know that this is an amazing tool and an answer to my prayers,» reads one thank- you from a “Mrs. Smith,» who identifies herself as a middle- school teacher in Atlanta. “[It] really motivates [the kids] to stay on task!!!!»
On a cold winter’s day, the recipients of those four exclamation points sit in Chaudhary’s apartment in London’s Chinatown, looking both fresh- faced and rightfully proud.
“There is a whole body of academic research,» says Chaudhary, “that suggests that when you build good character traits in children, particularly early on in life, then almost everything else improves thereafter-better grades, better future income, better health, stable family life. That’s what we are aiming to begin to tackle with ClassDojo.»
Here’s how: Using ClassDojo’s “Smart Board,» a teacher can prepare a seating plan, with students represented by avatars of their choice. Whenever a pupil shows initiative, or responds well to instruction, the teacher awards a point, which is accompanied by a visual or audio notification. The better students fare, the more points they receive. Teachers then send these reports to parents every week.
So far, so Super Nanny-by this is much more than mere toddler-style charts with rows of gold stars, says Don.
“Sticker charts reward individual work, but what we’re trying to do is encourage teamwork,» he says. “It’s not just a word of praise from your teacher-it’s a point that remains on your profile, like a record of achievement for all to see. And if the pupils are split into teams, then these points become beneficial for everyone.»
In essence, then, ClassDojo is changing the way teachers instruct children today.
“Well,» says Don bashfully, “that’s the idea.»
Chaudhary, a graduate of the University of Cambridge and former teacher, and Don, a music phenomenon as a teenager who turned down a contract with Island Records to pursue his education, got together out of a shared “desire to want to help solve problems that teachers invariably struggle with,» says Chaudhary. Don also worked as a game developer: “Making games is cool, but it didn’t strike me as a particularly deep purpose or reason for being,» he says. “Everything-from meeting Sam to getting funded to launching ClassDojo just seemed to fall into place. And it brings with it the promise of perhaps having a transformative impact on the world.»
The pair moved their base of operations to Palo Alto last summer. Six months later, ClassDojo is used in 20 countries. In October, the pair won a $75,000 prize at the NBC-sponsored Education Nation Summit in New York, an event that included an appearance on Today and a meeting with Bill Clinton.
“We are constantly beating our expectations,» says Chaudhary. “We can hardly keep up.»
In that case: They must be expanding their workforce exponentially?