Speaking to our users
Now that we had a fundamental grounding in the domain we needed to talk to some potential users. We managed to track down teachers, parents and subject matter experts. They shared with us some of their experiences and frustrations. It was imperative to reach as broad a demographic base as possible with these interviews. Our product needed to be as useful to wealthy suburban parents as it was to teachers in poor urban areas. We gathered a heap of data from our interviews. I had noticed some trends as we conducted them but there were still some missing links.
We began to organise our data from the surveys and interviews. This was a challenging but enlightening process. The sheer volume of information was intimidating at first. As we started grouping information into smaller clusters, the task became less daunting. As we synthesised the data we were able to identify some key trends:
Teachers lack support
Teachers find themselves in an awkward position. They feel unsupported by the administration whilst simultaneously attacked by parents. Many teachers gathered and maintained evidence to support their decisions. They feared mistrust from parents and administrators. Parental appreciation of teachers' effort is helpful and reinforcing, but sadly too infrequent.
Sometimes kids would lie and parents would go straight to the principal, who gave me a telling off. I wouldn’t even get a hearing, it would be assumed that what the child had said was the truth.
Parents lack community
Parents expressed a strong desire to connect with each other. Interestingly, teachers are also affected when parents aren’t engaged with one another. Parents with previous experience are a valuable resource to other parents. Old-school contact lists were plentiful but we found no existing digital tool which facilitates this kind of interaction.
In our old (elementary) school we had a directory of every family and you could contact parents by phone or email. That was easy. There’s no directory here.
Impersonal, overwhelming communication
Both parties find communication to be ineffective and excessive. Teacher-to-parent communication is primarily conducted via email blast. Teachers are frustrated by their communication falling on deaf ears. Meanwhile, parents found it impersonal, generic and sterile. Most communication relates to quantitative, academic feedback. Parents are interested in qualitative behavioural, and developmental information. They want to engage in active communication and not only be on the receiving end of messages.
I’m tired of the impersonal computer crap. All I get are a billion grades and no feedback about actual skills, areas that need improvement, etc.
Parents and teachers aren't on the same team
One of the most striking insights was the conflict both parties feel. There is an adversarial relationship between teachers and parents. Trust and empathy are low. Teachers raised more concerns in this regard but it was still a concern for parents. This phenomenon poses something of a vicious cycle. The less involved parents are, the less each party trusts the other. Parents who are more involved trust the teacher and gain their respect as a good parent.
Parents who are involved tend to have a more positive view of teachers. This results in improved teacher morale.
Everyone values emotional development
Both parents and teachers noted emotional and behavioural development as a primary goal. Each side believes the other cares more about quantitative metrics. Parents feel that teachers should be less rigid and should let kids explore more. Teachers feel that parents should care less about grades and more about growth. These two parallel viewpoints illustrate the disconnect between perception and reality.
How can I encourage parents to care less about the grades? That was my mission for the year.