Parents often talk among themselves about issues and events, both positive and negative, occurring in their children’s school. However, that potentially-valuable feedback rarely reaches school administrators and teachers unless they attend a PTA meeting or there’s a one-on-one discussion about their child.
“Most teachers only hear from parents when things are bad,” says Shani Dowell, a former Teach for America and public school teacher. “How do you make it easier for schools to hear from parents and get their feedback?”
Dowell created the education-focused real-time feedback platform Possip, a name derived from a combination of “positive” and “gossip”, to help parents share thoughts, feedback and ideas with the school, before small issues get the chance to escalate.
The platform sends out a weekly automated email or text for parents to answer quick prompts in under one minute, covering topics like their satisfaction with the school that week, praise for teachers or administration, and any feedback that they have.
The platform then organizes the issues and praise into five buckets: academics, staff operations, teachers, classroom culture and school culture, and lets the school know through weekly reports what needs to be prioritized and flagged for follow-up. Beyond the weekly report, school administrators can also gain insight into trends over time, as well as how they stack up against other similar schools in the national Possip community.
“Because I was a former teacher and my husband’s a principal, I knew that schools are really overloaded with lots of products they don’t use,” says Dowell. “Part of of my entrepreneurial journey before quitting my day job was to dive deep into customer discovery with one pilot and follow the feedback over a few months.”
That careful thinking paid off when five schools signed onto paid pilots in mid-2017, and Possip closed out the year with 15 schools on board. Thanks to the success of those pilots, Dowell went full-time on the startup this past July, growing Possip to an 80-plus school network nationwide.
“We’ve never encountered a school that says that they don’t need a solution like this. There’s a clear sense of we need a better way to engage parents and to hear from parents,” she says.
Dowell shares that while they see the parents and schools as all part of their community, their main focus is actually principals, as they are the ones that pay for the SaaS service through the school budget.
Following a stint in the Google for Entrepreneurs Black Founders Exchange program, Dowell shares that lessons about creating content that’s both empathetic and engaging for customers were especially helpful.
“How do we use this technology to help parents who currently don’t engage, perhaps because they don’t know how they should engage? [We’re trying to figure out ways that we can build that in some way in our conversations with parents to help them be informed.” To reach every parent demographic, the emails and messages can be translated into 50 languages to cater to immigrant parents that otherwise might not have a voice in their children’s education.
The Nashville-based startup is currently in fundraising mode with a $750,000 angel round open to further their product development. One desired feature is a way to help schools organize and optimize the feedback to make it more actionable.
“As our K-12 schools demographics change and most students in public schools are non-white, and the teaching staff often does not reflect that, this is a great opportunity to build bridges with the parents,” says Dowell.
“Even if there’s no one in the school who looks like the parent or speaks the language of the parent, they’re getting this weekly process in their language, giving them a sense of agency.”