In our increasingly digital world 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! And teachers are driving them individually! But when is enough enough? When does one more app become too much for families? Why are we placing more burdens on our teachers, families, 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 family engagement.
Family engagement is the number one driver of student success, leading to increased attendance, better behavior, and improved academic performance. Yet, when it comes to technology, we’re letting the two-way conversations flow on public social media or offering classroom-level private social media that teachers, families, 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 and families on the sheer basis of confusion and time to connect. Families become frustrated and experience “app overload” when there are too many places to check for information about their child. Teachers become frustrated with lack of participation and amount of time required for upkeep.
At Livingtree, we created the technology to solve this. Taking a school or district-wide platform approach resolves the engagement barriers of time and consistency. Livingtree takes care of the set up for staff AND families, while integrating with the school information system to keep classrooms up to date daily. This takes the time burden away and allows our educators, families, and students to focus on positive conversation and partnership. Providing a school or district-wide platform with engagement features (two-way conversation and messaging, translations, media sharing, volunteer and event management, etc.) can truly take family engagement to a whole new level.
Based on what we know from sixty years of research, it’s not uncommon to see family engagement strategies incorporating things like Family Academic Socialization, Home Learning Support, Home Visits, Live Phone Calls, Parent-Family Conferences, Academic “Nights”, School Events, etc. A common missing component that allows families to consistently engage in their child’s learning in meaningful ways at home is a district-wide platform that promotes engagement.
As communication has evolved and changed in our ever-growing technological society, many schools and districts often forget to evaluate how their communication methods move the needle on family engagement and consequently end up using one-way communication methods that don’t provide families the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about their child’s learning.
For districts to further their family engagement efforts, it’s important to recognize that in our increasingly digital society, families are expecting to communicate with their child’s teacher through technology in a way that is familiar and safe. Using a district-wide platform that allows this type of interaction provides a space for families to engage with educators and promote better learning outcomes for their students. This type of technology can help districts: conform to the needs of our younger-generation family populations, eliminate “app overload” and the sporadic usage of different tools, eliminate the burden of educators having to manage the setup of their own technology, and provide everyone with a tool that is unified with the district’s overall family engagement strategies.
One of the growing benefits of using a district-wide technology is that it is becoming one of the easiest and most impactful ways to engage families. We cannot overlook the changing family culture as generations shift away from Baby Boomers and into later Gen Xers and Millennials. Society is now in a time where 95% of people in the United States own a cellphone, nine-in-ten or more adults younger than 50 say they go online or own a smartphone, and young adults report preferring texting to phone calls. By accounting for these changes and adapting family engagement strategies, school districts can establish an impactful way through technology to have more meaningful two-way conversations with families that promote efficacy and engagement.
By accounting for these changes and adapting family engagement strategies, school districts can establish an impactful way through technology to have more meaningful two-way conversations with families that promote efficacy and engagement.
As Dr. Steve Constantino, a national family engagement expert has said: we don’t need to do extra to engage families, we just need to “do what we already do, only differently.” In this case, a family engagement technology can help districts sustain their family engagement efforts, but through a new channel that is familiar to families. (Read our previous blog for more on how technology improves family engagement)
Another benefit of a district-wide family engagement platform is being able to provide a consistent place for families to engage in their child’s learning from classroom to classroom, school to school, and year to year. Regardless of the classroom, grade, or school a child attends in the district, a family will always remain on the same unified platform. Without a district-wide platform, both schools and teachers are typically faced with using one of the many “teacher-parent” communication tools out there such as Remind, ClassDojo, or even social media, thus resulting in a number of sporadic tools and apps throughout the district.
This is important in regard to the concept of “App Overload.” If one teacher is using a free EdTech app, and the next is on Instagram, and the school administration uses Twitter in addition to a website, it can be harder than ever for families to stay engaged. While these apps are typically helpful in providing messaging, behavior reports, or classroom pictures, their sporadic teacher to teacher usage consequently causes an “App Overload” effect on families which leads to disengagement over time. By providing one consistent place for families to see what’s going on in the classroom, have conversations with their child’s educator, and view upcoming events from the classroom, school and district, engagement in their child’s learning increases (click here to learn more about App Overload in our Family Engagement Tech Guide).
By establishing a district-wide family engagement platform, the entire district benefits by saving teachers from the upkeep of classroom setup, rostering, and the adoption associated with the number of free teacher communication apps. However, when schools and teachers resort to using free apps or programs, they are often tasked with having to set up their classroom, upkeep the roster of students and families, and most of all push for families to onboard and adopt the platform. This is a lot of time and energy that educators don’t have, nor is it something they should have to do.
By partnering with a family engagement platform like Livingtree Engage, classroom networks are built for every school, rosters are created and updated with SIS integration, and families are automatically onboarded through emails and text messages at the beginning of every year – thus eliminating the burden and saving time for educators throughout the district.
The final benefit of using a district-wide family engagement technology is being able to provide everyone with a platform aligned with the district’s family engagement strategy. Years of research, planning, and development typically go into a school district’s family engagement process, and being able to sustain those efforts over time is crucial. With so much time and money going into providing professional development and family engagement training for district members, it’s important to be able to use a single platform that they can then effectively use. So much of that can be wasted if families are becoming frustrated and disengaged due to the overwhelming number of apps. But when educators understand how to engage every family AND have a unified platform to do so, then meaningful conversations that lead to the trusting relationships crucial to family engagement can occur.
Livingtree Engage is a district-wide platform designed to provide a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage in a child’s learning – because engaged families ultimately produce better learning outcomes for every child. So, if families have one consistent place to see what’s going on in the classroom, have conversations with their child’s educator, and view upcoming events from the classroom, school, and district, school districts will see increased family engagement, and ultimately student success.
With the number of teachers and school administrators that have increasingly embraced social media as a way to better connect with parents and families, we must address why it’s time to STOP using social media in the classroom.
Problem 1: App Overload
The first problem goes back to the idea of families becoming disengaged through what we refer to as “App Overload.” For schools to continually inform, involve, and engage families, there needs to be open lines of communication among teachers, families and administrators. But if one teacher is on Instagram, and the next is on Facebook, and the school administration uses Twitter, it can be harder than ever for parents to keep up with the latest news.
It’s also easy for important messages to be lost amid all of the photos and status updates (not to mention the different formulas that determine what information a user sees). While private accounts and groups can work, managing who is requesting access and who sees the information year to year can be a hassle.
Disparate apps and social networks make it especially hard for parents to find out what they really want to know: how their child is doing. These different social media channels, combined with different apps, pages, emails and websites can ironically end up fracturing the K-12 community, rather than bringing it together.
Problem 2: Privacy
The second problem revolves around the privacy of social media, and complying with privacy regulations at the local, state, and federal levels. Knowing whether your school or district has policies around social media use and how to comply with them is important. Social media usage in the classroom has the ability to clash with both FERPA and Copyright Compliance. Educators should be aware of FERPA policies, and what they can and cannot share in posts and photos (did you know that student handwriting is personally identifiable information?). A teacher posting public photos of students working on classroom projects has good intentions, but can pose certain liabilities if it’s not carefully reviewed.
Additionally, social media limits the oversight of schools and districts. When teachers are using a number of different social accounts, tools and apps, it makes it difficult for school and district administrators to stay involved in the communication streams. It also doesn’t give schools or districts the ability to see actual data and report on the levels of engagement within each classroom. These analytics would certainly make it easier to find break-downs in communication before a family becomes disengaged.
Solution: One Private K-12 Solution
To be clear, social media should absolutely be used on the school and district levels for the purpose of PR and Community Outreach/Engagement. This is an important tool for engaging the outer community. However, educators should be using a classroom-only tool to safely share information about their students with families.
Parents should have one place to look for everything they need to know about their children’s education, not five places to look for bits and pieces of information. That’s why K-12 school districts need a unified communications solution that gives parents the equivalent of a front row seat or a window into the classroom.
So when evaluating a solution that you can use to engage with families, consider the following:
– It should connect educators, schools, and the district together in a private and secure space (one that is FERPA compliant at minimum).
– It should allow for two-way communication on every post (regardless of whether it’s a message, announcement, media file, or an event) so that families can respond, coordinate, and know what is happening every day with their children.
– It should allow educators to post messages that allow families to truly understand daily events and reinforce learning at home.
– It should have one central, shared calendar so that families can easily find out what’s coming up in the classroom, at the school, and in the district.
– It should be capable of translating posts within the platform or network, as well as the notifications that go out to families.