ClassTag: Engage Parents, Boost Student Success, and Reward Teachers
Co-founder and CEO ClassTag, Vlada Lotkina struggled in 2015 to stay current on her daughter’s activities at preschool. She realized that while technology revolutionized most aspects of American culture, classroom and parent-teacher communications still needed a technical application to increase parent engagement and provide teachers with necessary funding for school supplies. “Coming into education from the outside, I experienced the difficulty firsthand with parent-teacher engagement. Yet, it is one of the single greatest factors in student success,” explains Lotkina. “The other thing that was absolutely mind-blowing is how much money teachers spend out of pocket on classroom supplies.”
Lotkina thought of an application for smartphones that connects parents and teachers while at the same time creates funds for the teacher’s classroom. To develop her idea, she surveyed the parents of her daughter’s school. “I realized I needed a better way to stay up-to-date on my daughter’s classroom events, so I got to work on a solution. After speaking with frustrated parents and teachers alike, I designed ClassTag to work for all three facets of the classroom,” explains Lotkina. “For parents, engagement is streamlined and convenient, and now, with ClassTag’s Marketplace, teachers have an alternative besides dipping into their paychecks to buy classroom supplies that directly impact student success.”
One of the parents, Jason Olim, reached out and offered his help in developing the app. An early pioneer of the e-commerce revolution, founding CDNow in 1994, Olm applied his technical skills and helped Lotkina design the app for the market and launched ClassTag in 2016. Olm became co-founder and CTO of the company. Currently, they have 14 people on their team.
In over 50 different languages, the free, easy-to-use collaborative app is anticipated to function in over 20,000 classrooms nationwide this year. Both parents and teachers share and schedule events and conferences, manage volunteer opportunities and share classroom news, events, and assignments. “Preschool and elementary schools are the primary focus for us. However, we do have about 30% of our user base in middle school and high school,” explains Lotkina.
The ClassTag Coins is a feature that gives “coins” to teachers when parents sign up to volunteer, attend conferences, or read teachers’ messages. Teachers then use their ClassTag Coins to obtain free supplies for their classrooms. They visit the ClassTag Marketplace and exchange their coins for classroom supplies. The marketplace features 40 education, consumer, retail, and technology brands. Teachers can select items such as popular educational technology, Amazon gift cards, cleaning products, literacy apps, science and art kits. Partners include Lands’ End, Rosetta Stone, ABC Mouse, Sesame Street Workshop, Kiwi Co STEAM kits, Kids Academy, and Adventure to Fitness. “Companies can step up to do their part in supporting teachers, teachers can focus on teaching, not paperwork, and parents have a window into the classroom, helping them stay informed and engaged,” explains Lotkina. “ClassTag works on all devices with iOS and Android apps for phones and tablets and supports all major browsers.”
Lotkina shared an example of how a teacher benefited from using the collaborative platform. Jessica Horner is a special education teacher in New Jersey. She teaches at a Title 1 school with 70% ESL population. Access to appropriate classroom supplies is essential to support the development of Horner's special needs students. When the district resources were insufficient or arrive too late, Horner found herself spending over $1,000 of her own money on supplies every year. Horner learned about ClassTag, and she seized the opportunity to boost the parents' involvement in the classroom and received classroom supplies without spending her own money. “While we aren’t able to cover teachers’ expenses in full, hearing stories like Jessica’s reminds us of our end goal of supporting teachers, no matter the financial hardship,” explains Lotkina.
Though Lotkina is new to educational technology, she is a thriving newcomer and understands the importance of helping teachers. “Teaching is the only profession that makes all other professions possible. While nobody questions the importance of the teaching profession, in a lot of ways we learned to ignore the many challenges teachers face and selflessly and quietly overcome on their own.”
She affirms technology in education with its innovation is the way to break the status quo. “I believe we have reached the tipping point. While so many other fields have readily adopted technological enhancements, education, especially Early Ed and Elementary, strongly rely on a whole range of avenues to update their parents - whether paper and pen, printed newsletters, email updates, bulletin boards, or backpack notes. If you take any industry that has adopted technology, it has been completely transformed. Ask any store if they can succeed without e-commerce, website owner if they can function without Google Analytics, or sales executive if they can grow sales without an effective CRM tool,” explains Lotkina. “Yet, in education and specifically parent communication, teachers are managing forty-plus parents without easily reaching the parents and engaging them effectively through technology.”
Lotkina understands it is not easy for parents and teachers to consistently update each other on their students and classroom activities. “To create ClassTag as a platform that not only bridges these communication gaps, but rewards teachers with access to critical classroom supplies is not only rewarding but it’s the future of educational technology. I’m excited about how this will continue to boost student success and parent engagement for years to come.”