building relationships between immigrant parents and school staff
struggles of immigrant parents
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 issues, such as language barriers, cultural differences, ethnic bias, and assumptions of family structure and technology access.
We created a solution that helps immigrant parents and school staff in navigating around these barriers to build partnerships to support their children/students.
We pored over scholarly articles regarding immigrant school experiences and conducted interviews with education professors. A recurring theme was that immigrants have a wide variety of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds; communication had to be sensitive to these nuances to be constructive.
We also examined communication artifacts such as newsletters, online portals, and personal exchanges alongside the teachers or immigrant parents who sent/received them. This allowed us to not only get their personal opinion, but also analyze messages from a third-party perspective. Teachers were frustrated that immigrant parents tended to have zero communication with them. Immigrant parents felt that cultural and language barriers hindered their agency to be involved in their children’s education. Both groups lamented a general lack of time and information overload.
Addressing all these concerns was a daunting task, so we sought inspiration through a competitive assessment of Parent Teacher Home Visits, a program in which teachers visit their students’ homes, listen to the hopes and dreams of their parents for their children, and create actionable plans for both the classroom and home to achieve those goals. The strategy addressed most of the problems we uncovered, but had a glaring weakness of requiring top-down administrative financial support.
Our synthesis resulted in a set of guiding design principles we used to evaluate our solution-in-progress.
We did about a dozen ideation activities, arriving at the concept of a playbook written collaboratively by parents and school staff.
To create a framework for writing the playbook, we tested 7 prototypes that targeted different aspects of communication, such as how much structure we needed to provide and what mediums best facilitated discussions. With each iteration, the solution shifted away from controlling a negotiation and toward generating conversation about crucial topics.
getting the conversation started
Springboard is a webapp that prepares immigrant parents for conversations with school staff through a communication template with three sections:
Goals allow the parent to express their cultural and personal values to the teacher, allowing school staff to understand the parent’s unique needs and provide appropriate resources.
Questions build parents’ confidence to navigate the new school system by giving school staff an opportunity to clear misconceptions and define unfamiliar jargon.
Availability enables all parties to not only reliably contact each other, but also reveals constraints that someone might not have otherwise been aware of.
The webapp has multilingual support and text-to-speech functions so that users with limited written language capabilities have can participate. When filling out the template, users get topical suggestions that encourage them to discuss not just educational support, but also financial or emotional support from the school if needed.
design specification excerpts
This project was very prone to scope creep. Public education is a gigantic machine that always could use massive overhaul. We begrudgingly refrained from redesigning how schools operated knowing from our research that many policies would stand in the way of adoption. If we had 5 years, we might have been able to iterate on a system that would be better for everyone. Since we only had 5 months, we opted to get everyone on an equal playing field instead.
In addition to being a project manager and discussion facilitator, I did research, recruiting, service design, interaction design, visual design, video production, web development, and documentation.