The Pedagogs, started by a parent and teacher team that hit upon this global conundrum, produces motivational products that aim to build the self-esteem of young children while enabling parents and caregivers to learn about and reinforce the specific praise a child receives in school.
It all began when Stacey Niermann, a mother of three living in Hong Kong, welcomed her excited daughter, Sydney, home from school one day. Sydney had received a paper cutout from her teacher, Caroline Allams, with a drawing of a princess (Sydney’s choice) and the praise “I’m Getting Good at Using Full Stops.” Her daughter absolutely loved the simply produced but attractive award. More importantly to Niermann, she knew exactly what her daughter achieved in school that day and could reinforce the learning at home. As an involved parent, Niermann recognized the value of Allams’ approach to positive reinforcement, and soon thereafter, The Pedagogs was born.
“We could not believe what a simple idea it was and that no one was doing it,” says Niermann, referring to the use of characters and first-person language in motivational products for young school-age children.
Pedagogy refers to the art and science of teaching, and the word pedagog, quite ironically, is an archaic term for (according to Britannica) “a teacher, especially a dull, formal or pedantic teacher.” But there isn’t room for dull characters at The Pedagogs. The Pedagogs are about creating an exciting and interesting methodology through their vibrant characters. Allams wanted the name to appeal to teaching professionals.
“The reason our characters, such as an astronaut, ballerina, fairy, footballer, knight, mermaid, pirate, princess, superboy/girl, and even a cute alien, appeal to and engage children is because children came up with the ideas for them,” says Allams.
“These are characters that children play dress up as (e.g. princess) and/or dream about becoming someday (e.g. astronaut),” adds Niermann. “The highly appealing nature of the characters creates greater motivation on the part of the child to earn the reward.” Appropriately, then, The Pedagogs’ tagline is “Characters that Motivate.”
The highly competitive motivational products market sees thousands of companies putting out motivational stickers, but often the stickers use commonplace illustrations such as animals, flowers, or the old standby, stars, and carry generic messages such as “Way to Go!,” “Wow,” or “100%.” “It’s precisely the use of specific praise statements containing language a child would use that differentiates us from our competitors,” says Niermann.
The Pedagogs’ use of first-person language for affirmations such as “I am a super speller” and “I can add up” makes children feel good about their achievements. As Allams succinctly puts it, “The happier children are, the more they learn.”
The Pedagogs has seen a meteoric rise in customer numbers and sales that most companies can only dream of. Launched in June 2005, the company has 850 customers in 24 countries at last count, with sales projected to grow by 100 percent in the next year.
Direct mail was used in the initial stages to get the products into international schools across the globe. Additionally, good word of mouth has ensured that the name has quickly found its way around staff rooms. As Allams explains, “Teachers share classroom successes and failures amongst their peers. Also, teachers as a group are always looking for better ways to reach their students.”
Child Education, the highest circulating UK-based Key Stage 1 (which refers to students five to seven years old) magazine that is found in every staff room, rated The Pedagogs’ stickers as having the most child appeal in its January 2006 Buyers’ Guide column, based on an in-class test. It beat out established competitors Primary Teaching, SuperStickers, Primary Education, The Sticker Factory, and Teacher Created Resources.
The company’s visibility may soon get a boost through a UK campaign aimed at teaching children the value of healthy eating. The Pedagogs is currently working to create fruit and vegetable characters and other materials in support of this program, which is a by-product of British chef Jamie Oliver’s healthy school meal program.
What next? “We have three pages of future directions right now, many of which take us beyond the scope of the classroom, but which still utilize the characters consistent with the Pedagogs brand,” says Niermann. “Getting children familiar with the characters now will allow us to extend into other product areas such as animation, television programs, and books.”
There is also the move beyond teachers as the end-users to focus on parents. “We believe that a lot of the same concepts we apply to motivating a child in the classroom also apply to positively motivating a child in the home,” explains Niermann. Would the stickers be as enticing in the absence of the element of competition that’s in a classroom setting? Niermann explains, “Believe me, as a parent, you soon find that you need a full bribery chest of items!”
Stickers represent approximately 60 percent of The Pedagogs’ sales, with the remainder coming from wristbands, certificates, notes, birthday crowns, marking stamps, and school notices. Currently, sales are done through traditional methods of mail- or fax-back order forms and orders placed via the company’s website. But there are plans to build an eBay store, which may be necessary for the company’s future product lines.
Niermann and Allams are also looking into producing reward materials specific to the Asian markets, which could potentially net them an exponential increase in sales. “We will create a reward system that is more in line with the expectations of Chinese students and teachers. Both the characters and all cultural references such as word choice will be changed,” says Niermann.
One of The Pedagogs’ big sellers is a sticker that reads “I used my eyes to show that I was listening,” to praise a child who makes eye contact. If anything, The Pedagogs’ success story illustrates that its founders are watching and listening closely to the needs of their ultimate audience, the children. For that, Niermann and Allams each earn a bright gold star.