TalkingPoints: meaningfully connecting teachers, parents and students to build relationships

What if every child was supported in their learning by everyone around them, and parents & teachers are real partners in their education

Photo of Heejae Lim
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

Moving at the age of 8 from Korea to the UK with my family was an eye-opening experience. We lived in the outskirts of the Korean immigrant community in the London suburbs -- I saw the impact of language and communication barriers that immigrant parents had in the school I went to. The difference between my school experience versus other Korean friends was stark, just because my parents could speak English and others could not and that they could communicate with teachers while others could not. There was so much access, information, trust, partnerships being lost in translation between schools and parents, and I saw firsthand how that impacted the school experiences that myself and my friends had. Parent involvement matters so much to a child's education, yet due to circumstances out of their control, many parents are left behind. Moving to the US, I met countless parents and students who had similar experiences to what I had or what my other Korean friends had. Because of language, technological, cultural or just limited understanding of how US schools operated, parents are left out, feel that they cannot make a difference for their students, when they really do. In fact by 2030, 40% of US students will not speak English at home, and English as 2nd language students is the fastest growing student group in the country.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

San Francisco

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • California

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

United States nationally

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Parent engagement in their children’s education is one of the most important drivers in a student’s academic achievement. Effective parent engagement has been shown to improve homework turn in rates, discipline counts, and attendance rates which all lead to better grades, increased graduation and college access. (Loeb/York, Bergman, Rogers) This is not surprising since children spend 70% of their time outside classrooms. Yet, in the very communities that need it the most, parent engagement is most limited. This is the case both in low socio-economic groups and also in many immigrant families which are growing fast. Parent engagement is limited not because of lack of will but due to communication, informational barriers as well as technological and language issues, lack of trust and relationship building between the education institutions and the communities they serve.

Helping all caregivers to build great relationships with each other without technological or language barriers, so that they are empowered to support children in their wellbeing -- often these caregivers are teachers and parents who feel disconnected. 

We provide a multilingual texting platform that teachers can communicate with parents by meeting them where they are even if they do not have access to internet or do not speak English. We do this by delivering text messages in the parents' own languages. We also encourage relationship building through curated content that teachers can send to parents, connecting what was learnt at school with the home, facilitating dialogue between teachers and parents, but also parents with their children through talking points. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

TalkingPoints is a two-­way texting platform for the school/teachers to communicate with parents (primarily) and students with pre-­loaded messages. Teachers can send and receive messages and manage contacts/groups as if it is an email inbox, while parents interact solely through text messages, without the need for an internet-­enabled phone or data cost. Pre-­programmed texts are talking points, information and tips for parents to engage, know and act based on subject/issue areas available for teachers to send. The tool automatically translates so the parents can send/receive texts in their language of choice while the teacher can communicate just through English -­ parents can initiate conversation without language barriers.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We enabled communication over 100,000 messages between 300 teachers with 5000+ parents of which 2/3 were non-English speaking, across 200 schools in the 2015-16 academic year. Many teachers reported that without TalkingPoints, they would not have had any communication whatsoever with parents. At one focus group, 1/3 of parents turned up, all Spanish speaking, who had not met the classroom teacher at all ever before. We're bridging the information gap between teachers and parents, while facilitating relationship building and breaking down cultural barriers. In the long term, we want to change behaviours of teachers and parents to foster positive, nurturing relationships through effective communication, driven by empathy and engaging content. We want to reach 80% of English as Second Language learner communities and ensure that parents are not left out of their children's education.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $250k - $500k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We have operated so far on foundation grants and philanthropic capital -- all of which were unrestricted and to fund R&D of the platform. Our current model for financial sustainability is to charge larger education institutions (schools and school districts) for licensing of the platform, and parent engagement-related professional development. We also will enter into content partnerships to generate revenue. We also rely on much probono support.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

We focus on scalable, low-tech solution to parent engagement. Parent education programs are “high-­touch, high-­ cost, requiring effort and time” by the parents, and are often provided by third parties with mixed results, perhaps due to high drop-­out rates and lack of immediate relevance to their own children, which is best given by the school. Parent-facing websites provide useful information for parents who actively solicit information. Messaging tools that involve teachers such as EdModo, ClassDojo require smartphone access/knowledge and will of the parents to check the messages.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Raising awareness around living in a multi-cultural community, which is continuously changing is both much needed to create harmony in society and to advance children's wellbeing within it. With the influx of immigration population who are by nature younger, and increasingly aggressive rhetoric (often against them), children's wellbeing are vulnerable. In order to address this, establishing great relationships between adults and children, between adults from diverse communities, between children from diverse communities is essential to understanding the shifting world.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Fast Forward

Program Design Clarity

a) all parents and teachers in K-12 education and ultimately the students in low income and diverse communities, especially the immigrant population b) we provide the tool to the schools, education institutions/orgs to effectively communicate with their communities. We also provide best practices on parent-school communication and engagement so that schools can develop their parent engagement strategy, with the tool at hand. c) d) TalkingPoints is nation-wide, and is an ongoing program. Our service model is the provision of the texting platform and coaching on the use of the platform

Community Leadership

TalkingPoints was co-developed by educators in Oakland, California, where 50% of students do not speak English at home. TalkingPoints collaborates very closely with educators and parents by holding frequent feedback sessions from parents who are the main beneficiaries of the program to ensure their needs are met through the program. We even hear from parents that they learn English through the text messages!

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

We will partner with organizations who serve our beneficiary demographic groups to scale our impact, e.g., schools, non-profit organizations, social workers, maternity centers, legal aid organizations, who work with lower income, highly diverse communities. This way we can build a sense of community across ALL adults that a child can be impacted by. We're also looking to partner with organizations who work with immigrant children across the US.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We focus on relationship-building through technology - caregivers are essential to building a strong sense of self to children. TalkingPoints helps with building connections and collaboration among adults who share the responsibilities of giving this identity to children especially in ethnic and racial communities where children can often feel like an outsider and lack the sense of belonging. We build partnerships across barriers for all.

Leadership Story

Education is in my blood – it is how I became who I am. Born into educator parents and having been able to study abroad thanks to scholarships, education is where I feel I can give back to society the generosity I received, especially for students and families with language barriers, as I once was when I first moved to the UK. My studies abroad were transformative experiences and I am passionate about how to make this happen for all students. I've also formally consulted for education ministries, and my commitment to equal opportunity for education is deeply rooted in my personal experience.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Echoing Green Fellowship 2015 Google Impact Challenge Bay Area Top 10 2015 Stanford Social Innovation Fellowship 2015 AT&T Aspire Accelerator Program Forbes 30 under 30 to change Education 2015

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

5 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 20%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 40%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 40%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 20%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 60%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 20%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 20%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 60%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 20%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 40%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 20%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 40%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 50%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 100%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 50%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 50%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 50%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Haley Biehl

I applaud you for identifying this need!  Best of luck!