How to help urban schoolteachers communicate with the parents of their hyper diverse pupils?

At primary school Sint-Joost-aan-Zee in Brussels, we wanted to improve communication with parents, to make sure all children had equal opportunity to participate in the school and school activities. I volunteered for one month in December 2016 to better understand the primary school environment, and I went back in October 2017 to design solutions.

Together with staff and pupils, I explored new ways of sharing the school’s story with parents. Our first solution was video stories. The children learned how to make videos to tell the school’s important stories. We created video lessons (pdf download) and assembled a team of pupil editors. The video stories get shared on a new school blog and on Appvalvas, a screen situated on the playground.

After I left, the school continued with the project. The teacher who leads the school newspaper now makes a multimedia newspaper with the pupils. It’s heartwarming to see multimedia stories and videos popping up in the school’s social media channels.

Many other schools have expressed interest in similar parent communication projects. I applied for a grant to be able to continue the work with befriended service designers, and I’m waiting to hear the outcome.

Project background

In schools there’s often a divide between children whose parents are engaged with school, and ones whose parents seem not to be. Think of activities like close follow up of homework, showing up for parent meetings, subscribing kids for extra curricular activities in school and such. And when parents don’t engage in these activities, the children tend to do worse at school.

Because schools are becoming increasingly diverse, it’s hard for schools to communicate with parents. How, as a teacher, do you reach parents with a migration background and make them feel welcome and at ease? How, as a parent, do you approach teachers that speak a different language and have a different culture? There is a lack of knowledge on the perspective and needs of the parents.

Bottom-up design

I interviewed parents and personnel to better understand the problem space.  After that we collaboratively looked for solutions during workshops. We tried different solutions and tested them every time and improved. To structure this learning I used the service design toolkit approach.

This video gives you a good overview of our process.

Key success factors

School commitment

Teachers and personnel are very busy. It’s hard to get them together for interviews and workshops. Buy-in from personnel and staff is essential. And they need to block ample time in their calendar to help co-design the solution.

Ambassadors

It would be a shame that the project stops when the designer leaves. At Sint-Joost-aan-Zee we were lucky enough to have a few ambassadors for the project. The teacher that leads to school newspaper for example was just doing ‘media-month’ in his class. And he was very interested to try new approaches with his pupils and with the school newspaper team. They’re continuing the video storytelling.

Overzicht SchoolTube

Just the beginning

Even though I spent two months in the school, it feels like we are just at the beginning of the project. We only made a first solution and aren’t sure yet about the results. Further research in more schools is necessary to try different solutions and to test and compare them.

Now we’re applying for grants to fund the further development of this project.

Background story.
First internship in december: learning

This was the first internship of my sabbatical in December 2016. I initially arrived at the school to help them with IT, and hoped to find enough time to discover a problem to work on with the team. Unfortunately we quickly ran out of time and didn’t get much done. Below is the background story of what I learned during a month.

A school is a complex ecosystem. There’s a wealth of people with different skills at functions in the school, and the school itself is at the center of a network of many different organizations

 

During the month I spent a lot of time with kids to create videos about the school. They made a scenario, filmed and interviewed people in the school, and they edited the videos. The group learned a lot, and were very proud to be able to present the videos to the rest of the school.

This is one of the videos that the children made to present the school.

These tests lead us to further try storytelling by pupils as a means to reach their parents.

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