improving communication between immigrant parents and schools

Parental involvement is a significant factor in the academic success and well-being of a child. Parent-school communication encourages parental involvement and helps establish strong working relationships between teachers and parents.

Immigrant parents and teachers of their children have unique communication issues, such as language barriers, cultural differences, ethnic bias, and assumptions of family structure and technology access.

We’ve spent about 15 hours a week since March 2017 trying to improve communication between immigrant parents and schools.

surveying the landscape

literature review

We first turned to academic literature on the topic to understand systemic forces that contributed to immigrant struggles.

expert interviews

We were fortunate enough to connect with education professors from our scholarly readings and conduct interviews with them to gain holistic view through their respective perspectives.

competitive assessment

In one of those interviews, the topic of home visits sprung up. We further investigated a home visit program, Parent-Teacher Home Visits. We identified pain points revolving around lack of agency for individual parents or teachers to start a program due to the program’s requirement of top-down financial support. Despite this weakness, we admired the program’s focus on relationships, commitment to not target any demographic to avoid stigma, and long-term sustainability mechanisms.

listening to people

Up until this point, all our knowledge was gleaned from a distance. To further our understanding, we got up close and personal.

artifact inquiries

We wanted to talk to both immigrant parents and teachers about how they communicated with one another. However, we knew that opinions of each group wouldn’t easily be compared without proper context; a brief note from a college-educated teacher might feel like a lengthy correspondence for a non-English-speaking parent. To contextualize comments from both sides, we asked them to collect examples of communications to discuss in individual interviews. Seeing messages and online portals in person allowed us to have a third-party perspective in addition to those of our participants. In some cases, we got to inspect artifacts from over a decade ago, effectively distilling an ultra-long-term diary study into a single hour.


In addition to artifact inquiries, we posted surveys on over a dozen Reddit and Facebook communities, asking parents and teachers about how they communicated with one another, and what was rewarding or frustrating about them. A byproduct of using social platforms as a distribution channel was the ability to listen in on conversations between users about the topic. One user even wrote over a thousand words to describe their experiences.

When writing surveys, we mostly limited ourselves to the top thousand words in the English language to accommodate for those with limited English capabilities.

generating insights and design principles

After gathering all this data, we synthesized them into insights via affinity diagramming. Further discussion aligned the insights into groups that mandated the following design principles:

foster camaraderie

Parents aren’t always sure that the teacher truly cares about their child. Teachers aren’t always aware of all the ways a parent might support their child’s education. Mutual understanding forges a powerful alliance that benefits all parties.

promote cultural awareness

An immigrant’s mastery of English doesn’t change their cultural expectations. Teachers are often oblivious to how they cause friction with people of other cultures. Highlighting these potential pitfalls leads to respectful compromise.

mind the language gap

Language isn’t the be-all-end-all for communication, but lack of a common one chokes expression from both ends. Bypassing language barriers whenever possible increases accessibility.

make important information discoverable

Parents lose direct channels to teachers as their child enters higher grades. Teachers have few ways to know if a parent has received their messages. Providing methods to acquire relevant details gives people agency.

accommodate an appropriate pace

Parents often want information on demand. Teachers’ responses to these requests may be haphazard without time for contemplation. Ensuring quick but thoughtful responses generates productive discourse.

be efficient

Immigrants with lower socioeconomic status often hold multiple jobs. Teachers work long hours likewise. Minimizing time sinks lowers cost of entry.

be convenient

Parents have unique methods of keeping their families running. Teachers face platform sprawl from budget-tight administration. Integrating with familiar infrastructure avoids a weak chain communication.

be flexible

Every situation and way a culture handles a situation is different; some circumstances require a different protocol. Offering multiple media options allows for adaptation to various contexts.

to be continued…

We are currently in the ideation process. Stay tuned as we work toward shipping a solution in mid-August.

For this project, I have been leading design discussions, defining timelines, recruiting and interviewing research participants, doing secondary research, and writing documentation.


see also