A “whole community on board”

parkrowlogo  LivingTree Pride – Cindy Nelson

Cindy Nelson wears many hats at Park Row Christian Academy: School nurse, receptionist, admissions assistant, social media specialist, and LivingTree expert. Cindy has spent the last three years helping PRCA carry out their mission to share knowledge, skills and spiritual values with students. Like many who work in the K12 field, Cindy finds joy in her career because of the “genuine love [children] extend.” We’re excited to share Cindy’s LivingTree story!

Describe your parent engagement strategy and methodology prior to LivingTree: “Before LivingTree, we used RenWeb, which is less about engagement and more about information. We used Facebook for sharing some items, but our director was wary of using Facebook because it is not private – anyone could be looking at the photos that we shared. We also shared a lot of paper fliers.

Why did you decide to use a new tool for parent engagement? “The fact that LivingTree is a private, secure engagement network sold it for our director. Although she is not a social media guru, when our director heard about LivingTree’s privacy and communication features, she was very, very excited.”

What was your implementation of LivingTree like? “We held a few teacher trainings at the beginning. I was also available for 1 on 1 help if needed. Our staff is not extremely familiar with technology, so the main challenge was making sure everyone felt comfortable with the platform. I did not get many questions from parents – they seemed to have an easy time transitioning. During our implementation, I felt like LivingTree Support was there to hold our hand. We are now finishing up our second year on LivingTree, and our whole community is on board.”

What are some of the results you have seen since using LivingTree at your school? “We have very limited opportunities for face-to-face interaction with parents. LivingTree enables us to engage with parents after hours and off campus. Thanks to features likes picture sharing, the ability to comment on posts, and volunteer management, LivingTree has brought cohesion into our community. And now we only use Facebook for generic, public information, and we can share posts instead of always passing out flyers. We share out our volunteer needs on LivingTree as well.”

What feature do you use the most? “Probably photo posts! It is a great way for us to let parents peek inside the classroom. Parents get excited when they see photos of their child doing activities at school. We’ve also really enjoyed using LivingTree for party sign ups and teacher conferences.”

What would you say to teachers who are hesitant to use technology for engagement? “I would say that LivingTree is very user-friendly; and LivingTree’s support has been more than adequate. I am always able to get in touch with support, and if our parents need help or troubleshooting, I feel comfortable putting a parent directly in touch with the team.”

What would you do if LivingTree were taken away? “Gosh, I don’t know! We would probably have to use Facebook a little more, but there’s a fine line on what we could share because the site is public. Facebook doesn’t have all of the bells & whistles that LivingTree does – it’s not a company that understands what features a school really needs in an engagement platform.”

What one thing would you say about LivingTree to others? “I love the way LivingTree connects our families. It brings parents into the conversation, making them feel like they are a part of the school. Connecting parents, teachers and administrators in one private network is a huge factor for us. Parents can see that what’s going on while they’re are off campus is what’s being told to them – that increases trust in our school and teachers. We love LivingTree. We love it – it’s really awesome.”

There’s a PLATFORM for that

There’s an app for that. In 2016 there’s an app (or a dozen) for every need and / or want we can imagine. Education technology is no different. Every week there’s another app for behavior, communication, attendance, you name it. They’re free! The teachers will drive them! But when is enough enough? When is one more just another rock on an overflowing pile? Why are we placing more burdens on our teachers, parents, and students with too many single purpose applications? Are we trying to use an app when a platform is needed? A resounding “YES” is the answer when it comes to parent engagement.

Parent engagement is the number one driver of student success. Yet, when it comes to technology we’re letting the two-way conversation flow on public social media or offering classroom level private social media that teachers, parents, and students set up and manage themselves. Maybe we’re even doing single direction notification apps instead of anything that approaches conversation. Methodologies change from year to year. There’s a lack of consistency from classroom to classroom within a school and campus to campus within a district. We lose parents on the sheer basis of confusion and time to connect. Teachers become frustrated with lack of participation and amount of time for upkeep.

We have the technology to solve this. Taking a school or district wide platform approach resolves the engagement barriers of time and consistency. Set it up for the teachers AND parents! Integrate with the school information system and keep it up to date daily. Take the time burden away and let our educators, parents, and students focus on positive conversation and partnership. Providing a school or district wide platform with engagement features on top (media sharing, conversation, volunteer management, etc.) can take parent engagement to a whole new level. Just ask PSJA ISD or Irving ISD.

Yes, there’s an app for that – But, do you really need a platform?

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