Livingtree Hires Leading Expert in Family Engagement and Former Acting State Superintendent of Virginia: Dr. Steve Constantino

As the leading engagement platform provider for K-12 schools, we are excited to announce the hiring of the nation’s leading expert in family engagement and former Acting Virginia State Superintendent, Dr. Steve Constantino who joins Livingtree after an esteemed career in the K-12 education space.

“Through the Engage Platform, Livingtree is shaping how teachers and parents communicate in school districts across the country,” said Gary Hensley , CEO of Livingtree. “Adding Dr. Constantino’s breadth of expertise to the Livingtree team will give parents and teachers the tools they need to be actively engaged in the academic lives of their children.”

Dr. Constantino has dedicated his career to sharing with audiences around the world the importance of engaging all families. As a result of his experiences and his practical approach to engaging families, Steve has authored four books on the subject. His first book, Making Your School Family Friendly (NASSP, 2002) was published after being selected by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the MetLife Foundation to create the first-ever family friendly schools workshop, held in Washington DC.  His second book Engaging Every Family (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003) soon followed. This book expanded on the conceptual framework of the four domains of family engagement. In 2008, Steve released his third book 101 Ways to Create Real Family Engagement (Engage Press, 2008). Steve’s fourth and newest book, Engage Every Family: Five Simple Principles is published by Corwin (2016) and quickly became a bestseller.

As the SVP of Strategic Accounts, Dr. Constantino will direct the focus of our training, implementation and sales team as we strive to meet the needs of every family and school district.

“I am thrilled to be joining the LivingTree team. I am impressed with LivingTree, their visionary CEO Gary Hensley, their product and their heartfelt commitment to family engagement. They are changing the face of family engagement and I am so very pleased to be part of this fantastic journey. I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work on ensuring every family has the opportunity to be engaged with their children’s learning through advanced, state of the art technology. This truly is Family Engagement 2.0!”

Dr. Constantino began his career as a teacher and moved through the ranks to award-winning principal and school district superintendent. At the State level, Steve served first as Chief Academic Officer and was then appointed to Acting State Superintendent by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Today, Steve continues to accept numerous invitations to speak and consult with schools, districts and educational organizations around the world and is also an adjunct lecturer at the School of Education, College of William and Mary where he teaches doctoral level classes in executive organizational leadership and planning and evaluation.

Photo by Kelly J Mihalcoe

New Year – New Opportunity

Unsharpened pencils, fingerprint free devices, clean notebooks, perfect crayons, unused erasers, clean desks, new class decorations – ahhh, the sights and smells of a new school year. It’s hard to believe a new one is already upon us. As a parent, I have the typical worries about what new teachers and a new school year will bring. Will the class be a good fit for my child? Will he stay on track in all his subjects? Will he continue to love learning? Will he make new friends? What can I do to make sure all of these things are ok? So many questions at the start of a new year….  It’s a time when parents are eager to begin anew and a perfect opportunity for schools and teachers to set a pattern for engagement that will positively impact campus culture and student achievement. Based on our work with educators around the globe, the LivingTree team has put together a quick list of best practices for building on the positive energy of a new school year. Here’s to taking family engagement to the next level in 2017-18!

  1. Be consistent! – Let families know what method you will be using for the year and stick with it. Communicate regularly for best results.
  2. Establish your class rules for communication – Let families know how to reach you and an expected response time. Most families are fine with not reaching out past a certain of day, waiting for an expected period, or using your preferred medium. They just want to know what to expect and how to engage!
  3. Set your calendar in the first week – include important dates and assignments. – Whew! We’re all busy these days – knowing what’s coming and having reminders if you’re using technology that does that can make the difference in a family checking out vs. being your partner.
  4. Share pictures the first week to build trust / openness – A picture is worth more than 1000 words. Pictures show us that the children are learning and happy. Families see the work you put into developing children and respond positively.
  5. Share pictures of important forms/slips that need to be signed/returned – Want a particular paper form returned quickly? Share a picture of it and let families know why! You’ll be amazed at the responsiveness!
  6. Share positive comments and accomplishments at the end of a good day – Nothing helps students and families more than knowing what’s going well. Students are super proud when families congratulate them for something done at school. The conversation goes from “I did nothing” to “YES! I did that!!!”
  7. Utilize your support resources if you’re having trouble – If you’ve chosen a technology or program for engagement, be sure to familiarize yourself with support resources. At LivingTree, we are available at support@livingtree.com or www.support.livingtree.com to make sure all users are connected and engaging.
  8. Teach your families – Using pbl? Let families know that that means with simple terms…define it, share the benefits, let them know what to expect. Families want to engage, but they don’t want to feel stupid! Helping families understand some of the changes to education methods is exciting. They love to know they’re children are getting a first rate education!
  9. Suggest questions for families to use with their students – Having families reinforce your teaching and stimulate additional conversation creates a true network of learning. We hear from families all the time that they want to help but don’t know where to start or what to ask.
  10.   Tips on helping with homework – Want families to help in certain ways? Let them know. Share web links or videos, give simple suggestions. Taking 5-15 minutes to guide families can make a significant difference in the amount and quality of work completed!

BONUS: Want families to download an app (like LivingTree 🙂), accept an invite, etc? Do a homework pass, free dress day, family recognition wall, or something that pairs students and families in connecting with your classroom. Students will help you connect their families if there’s something fun in it for them! Be sure to follow the consistency and media sharing suggestions to keep them engaged!

LivingTree Announces Second Round of Drako Grant Recipients

LivingTree Announces Second Round of Drako Grant Recipients

One Million Dollar Grant Helps PK-12 Schools Across the Country Deepen Family & Community Engagement via Tiered Social Network®

AUSTIN, TX, May 22, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $250,000 in second round Drako Community and Family Engagement Grants for Schools to districts and campuses throughout the United States. A diverse set of PK-12 school communities representing 11 different states and varying socio-economic needs were awarded the second round Drako Grants. The grants provide a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social Network® — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.

The second round awards represent 25% of the Drako Grant total set at $1 Million as announced in April 2017. The first round of awards announced in early May also represented 25% of the Grant total. Schools and districts that wish to apply for the remaining $500,000 have until June 1st, 2017.

“The number and quality of applications demonstrates the need for technology in engaging families,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “It’s an honor to work with the diverse group of schools and districts pursuing family engagement initiatives to improve student achievement.”

LivingTree is excited to share the second round recipients.

Second Round Grant Award Recipients Include:

  • Leander ISD – Austin, TX
  • New York Public Schools District 13/17 – Brooklyn, NY
  • La Joya ISD – La Joya, TX
  • Cobalt Institute of Math and Science – Victorville, CA
  • McIntosh Elementary School – McIntosh, AL
  • AKTIV Learning Academy – Virginia Gardens, FL
  • Grace Christian Academy – Port St. Lucie, FL
  • Willingboro High School – Making Visions Possible Program – Willingboro, NJ
  • Foster Elementary PTO – Hingham, MA
  • John J. Pershing I.S. 220 – Brooklyn, NY

“The excitement shown by the applicants from across the United States is contagious,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “The LivingTree team is enjoying working with round one winners on their plans for next year and thrilled to begin planning with the round two recipients.”

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.

Second Round Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals

Leander ISD, Shannon Lombardo, Community Services Director:

“Currently, campuses have a variety of resources they are using to attempt to communicate with their families: campus newsletters, teacher emails and district emails as well as all of the social media outlets. We are interested in seeing the impact if we streamlined all engagement to LivingTree.”

NYC Public Schools District 13/17, Pamela Payne, Family Leadership Coordinator:

“I have been working for almost 12 years as a parent advocate. Parents need leadership, guidance and ongoing support to deal with the many issues they face. Our faith-based program will partner with the local school community and assist them in planning specifically toward building parent knowledge in academics for their children with a university as our partner. We will also partner with local officials to address parent school concerns as needed.”

Willingboro High School – Making Visions Possible, Gary Nelson, Director:

“We plan to utilize LivingTree to show families a positive narrative of student success at Willingboro High School. Our goals are to create a school community that is heavily involved in the external community and to consolidate all of our resources into an easily accessible, private platform.”

AKTIV Learning Academy, Maribel Alvarez, School Director:

“We plan to utilize LivingTree for family engagement by integrating it into the school’s day to day duties that will keep our parents consistently informed such as: school events, school calendar, documents and links to learning tools for students. We believe it will make communication more accessible and look forward to communication improving for both the parents and the school.”

Cobalt Institute of Math and Science, Veronica Hill, Family Engagement Liaison:

“Family engagement is a huge priority at our school; LivingTree will be a great benefit to us. We are a Title 1 school and have found that the more engaged and informed parents are, the more likely students will do well in their studies.”

La Joya ISD, Velma Ochoa, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator:

“I am looking forward to using technology best practices when working with our families and community. Our entire academic community will benefit greatly from LivingTree. Our students and families are eager for progress.”

About the Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant

The Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools awards schools and districts with a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social Network® — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.

School grant recipients are those with a stated plan and need for using technology to engage families and communities. Eligible schools include accredited private and public schools in the United States: pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.

About LivingTree

Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop, and educate our children. LivingTree aims to include every member of the community regardless of preferred language or socio-economic status. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® empowers leaders, organizations, educators and parents to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private network to help improve academic achievement. LivingTree has been recognized for this work by the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business as the 2016 Gold Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Silver Smartphone App of the Year.  For more information, visit http://www.livingtree.com, call 844.LIV.TREE, or email at: info@livingtree.com

LivingTree Announces First Round of Drako Grant Recipients

LivingTree Announces First Round of Drako Grant Recipients

One Million Dollar Grant Helps PK-12 Schools Across the Country Deepen Family & Community Engagement via Tiered Social NetworkR

AUSTIN, TX, May 3, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $250,000 in first round Drako Community and Family Engagement Grants for Schools to districts and campuses throughout the United States. A diverse set of PK-12 school communities representing 11 different states and varying socio-economic needs were awarded the first round Drako Grants. The grants provide a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.

The first round awards represent 25% of the Drako Grant total set at $1 Million as announced in April 2017. Due to the strength and volume of applications, awards are being made in rounds. Early grant recipients have the opportunity to immediately begin implementation planning towards goals shared on their applications.

“It’s a true honor to help schools create family and community partnerships that will positively impact student achievement,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “The variety of the schools that have applied demonstrates that family engagement is a universal objective regardless of the location, environment, or grade level.”

LivingTree is excited to share the first round recipients.

First Round Grant Award Recipients

  • St. Lucie Public Schools – Fort Pierce, FL
  • Union County Public Schools – Monroe, NC
  • Alexander City Schools – Alexander, AL
  • Crockett County C.C.S.D. – Ozona, TX
  • Southwest ISD – San Antonio, TX
  • Jacksonville City Schools – Jacksonville, AL
  • Edward Bleeker JHS 185 – Flushing, NY
  • Firelands Montessori Academy – Huron, OH
  • New Caney ISD – New Caney, TX
  • Holy Name Central Catholic Jr/Sr High School – Worcester, MA
  • Newberry Academy – Newberry, SC
  • South Clearfield Elementary School – Clearfield, UT
  • St Martin High School – St. Martin, MS
  • Sweetwater Elementary – Douglasville, GA
  • Waiahole Elementary School – Kaneohe, HI

“We’re thrilled to partner with a group of school leaders devoted to building trust and achievement within their communities,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “Many applicants shared their desire to consolidate engagement efforts into a single platform and reach all families using translation and mobile. The LivingTree team is ready and enthusiastic to help these schools realize their vision.”

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.

Initial Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals

St. Lucie Public Schools, Kimberly Roberts, Program Manager:

“Living Tree will help us improve communication between the school and families by sharing options and ideas. Living Tree will provide support and ideas that will engage family and community members. The professional development LivingTree offers will help us improve our relationships between the school and families which in turn will help us build a stronger overall community to support our young in their education. Schools need to build bridges with our families and community that will last. We will engage families – not just involve them for today.”

Waiahole Elementary School, Alexandra Obra, Principal:

“We will communicate with families on a daily basis! Next school year, our focus is on the relationship between the school and home. We want to engage our families in their child’s learning. We would like to have all of our information in one spot so that families don’t have to look all over the place. We also want to make sure that our families have access to the information and can see what their child’s day looks like, as well as highlight what is taking place on our campus.”

Crockett County C.C.S.D, Janina Savala, Federal Programs:

“Living Tree will offer the two-way communication for all students in our district. Currently, most of our communication is one-way through the use of newsletters and notes that are sent home on a weekly basis. Having two-way communication will impact our school community positively by encouraging the parent to ask the teacher questions about concerns. Creating a platform where parents can talk to each other and to school staff and resolve differences early on will be a great benefit.”

Union County Public Schools, Tahira Stalberte, Chief Communications Officer:

“Living Tree has several features that will be extremely beneficial to UCPS and its families. We will use it provide ongoing communication with families, invite feedback and open doors for engaging with families in a non-traditional setting. LivingTree will provide a new and organized platform that can increase parent involvement in UCPS.”

Southwest ISD, Marie Cathryn Phelps, Student & Outreach Services:

“It is our sincere belief that families want to be connected to their children’s school community just as much as we want to be connected to them. We will utilize LivingTree as a district community…I literally picture a tree as a symbol of the district, strong and steadfast, reaching out to provide support, shade, or fruit to its stakeholders, and in this process, we will build and grow relationships where we will be connected and intertwined as we educate and grow our students. I believe that LivingTree will be a very powerful tool as we develop and grow a district wide family and community engagement initiative, that..can be a sustainable part of the community for generations to come.”

About the Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant

The Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools awards schools and districts with a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.

School grant recipients are those with a stated plan and need for using technology to engage families and communities. Eligible schools include accredited private and public schools in the United States: pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.

About LivingTree

Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop, and educate our children. LivingTree aims to include every member of the community regardless of preferred language or socio-economic status. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® empowers leaders, organizations, educators and parents to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private network to help improve academic achievement. LivingTree has been recognized for this work by the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business as the 2016 Gold Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Silver Smartphone App of the Year.  For more information, visit http://www.livingtree.com, call 844.LIV.TREE, or email at: info@livingtree.com

Drako $1,000,000 Family Engagement Grant for Schools

LivingTree Executive Chairman Dean Drako Announces $1,000,000 Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools

AUSTIN, Texas. April 4, 2017 – Dean Drako, LivingTree owner and executive chairman, announced today that he has funded the Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools for up to $1M; individual schools and districts who are awarded the grant will receive their own private and secure, Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for 1 year. Eligible schools include accredited private and public schools in the United States: elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

Schools Report Improved Family Engagement with Private Social Networks

A recent survey showed that that only one in five schools reported having greater than 50% of families engaged. Districts cite using more than 12 methodologies to engage families and frustration with results. One hundred percent of districts using private social networks report improvement in family engagement. The top reasons for increased family engagement are based on student achievement and include: higher literacy rates, better attendance, higher test scores, and increased graduation rates in addition to a culture of partnership for educators and families alike.

“We are funding this community and family engagement grant to make it easier for more schools to use the latest technology to build trust and partnership within their communities,” said Dean Drako, Executive Chairman, LivingTree. “LivingTree’s private and secure Tiered Social NetworkR offers many benefits to improve engagement and awareness, including two-way translation to 100+ languages, native mobile apps, media sharing, volunteer management, emergency alerts, and simple implementation.”

$1,000,000 Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools – Details

Grant winners will receive a grant for one full year of funding for their custom LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR and associated planning, implementation, and training. The solution includes SIS integration, emergency alerts, SMS texting, two-way translation, mobile apps, media sharing, all other LivingTree engagement features, and community partner networks. LivingTree also provides marketing and awareness materials as well as best practices for using technology to engage families and community. LivingTree social networks are private and secure and offer weekly analytics at the class, campus, and district level.

The Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools is appealing to help schools use the best technology to consolidate and simplify engagement efforts. Research shows that engaged families can offset as much as $1000 in needed funding per year for each student. Further, some states require objective measures of family engagement while the national Every Student Succeeds Act mandates two way conversation in native language.

LivingTree is a hosted service and requires no additional technology at the school sites. LivingTree is COPPA compliant, FERPA compliant, and a Student Data Privacy Signatory. At the end of the 12 months, if the school chooses to continue using the LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR, they would purchase the annual license and continue with uninterrupted service. The school / district also has the option to shut down their network, at no charge.

Grant applications will be accepted starting April 4, 2017.  Application deadline is June 1, 2017. Grant winners will be selected based on the merits and timeliness of their application.

To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant

Case Studies on Family Engagement and LivingTree

Briargrove Elementary School: Houston, TX  

Briargrove Elementary serves ~900 students in the Houston School District. Nearly half the school’s population is Latino and Asian-Pacific, and 23% of students are in ESL programs. Prior to LivingTree, the school relied heavily on room parents and the PTO to relay information and volunteer opportunities to parents. Despite the combined use of flyers, email blasts, and newsletters, parents felt uninformed. Results from a 2011-2012 survey showed parents felt excluded and disconnected from the school. As of Fall 2016, 100% of classrooms were engaged on LivingTree and fully 60% of network members were contributing content, commentary, or appreciation! Briargrove has successfully resolved the disconnect parents originally felt with the school.

Briargrove’s Principal, Eden Hinds, shares: “Using the LivingTree platform, our school  was able to build a much tighter community and meaningful engagement with our families. It has truly changed our level of transparency with parents and how we converse, share, and coordinate in the context of educating our children.”

For the full case study, please visit 100% Participation = Real Results.

Irving Independent School District: Irving, TX

Irving ISD, a district serving approximately 35,000 students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, began using LivingTree in November 2014. The district has earned a number of accolades, including being named the 2015 national Advanced Placement District of the Year; an “amazing CTE program” in the U.S.; and having its high schools recognized among the top 10% of high schools nationwide by U.S. News and World Report. The district was looking for ways to share those success stories and continue its parent engagement efforts after opening Parent Centers in each of its schools. Like many school districts across the state, Irving ISD serves a diverse student population and wanted a way to reach ALL families, regardless of home language (54 languages are spoken in Irving ISD), the parent’s education level or socioeconomic status.

Irving ISD has strong belief in the benefits of parent and community engagement, and has a stated district goal of enabling and ensuring community engagement and collaboration. Based on the results of district wide surveys of teachers, parents, and students in spring 2014, Irving ISD sought to establish digital two-way dialogue accessible via mobile application. That’s when Irving ISD decided to implement LivingTree to meet their two-way dialogue, translation, mobile, and privacy needs. “In Irving ISD we started out with 13 campuses as early adopters of LivingTree. The feedback we received from parents, principals and teachers has been incredible. It’s helped solidify parents’ trust in our schools,” says Lesley Weaver, Irving ISD’s Director of Communications.

About LivingTree

Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop, and educate our children. LivingTree aims to include every member of the community regardless of preferred language or socio-economic status. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® empowers leaders, organizations, educators and parents to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private network to help improve academic achievement. LivingTree has been recognized for this work by the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business as the 2016 Gold Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Silver Smartphone App of the Year.  http://www.livingtree.com, 844.LIV.TREE, info@livingtree.combanner-980x550_c

 

Proactive Family Engagement Efforts

As shared in District Administration Magazine – Q&A with Joni Carswell of LivingTree

Increasing student success with proactive family engagement efforts – Having a single platform to house all activity and conversation can help districts transform family engagement!

What are the benefits of an effective family engagement program?

Decades of research shows that family engagement is the number one driver of student success. Engaged families result in lower truancy rates, higher test scores, and higher graduation rates. Having positive relationships with families reduces teacher stress and increases their sense of community and belonging.

Many teachers engage with families via email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media apps. What’s wrong with that?
Public social media can be problematic due to privacy, security, general noisiness and account setup. On public channels, school communication is competing with personal, political and a variety of content streams. It’s unruly—a parent with multiple children would end up trying to follow 20+ accounts that are not connected. There’s also limited promise of COPPA and FERPA compliance to protect our children’s images and information.

Why does a district wide or systemic approach matter?
For parents, a classroom by classroom or campus by campus approach is typically extremely chaotic. Each teacher may be using a different method or worse, a parent is going to a different website for every teacher. Teachers are charged with setting up the page or group as well as keeping after parents to pay attention or join. This wastes valuable time. With a district wide or systemic approach, these burdens can be alleviated for both families and teachers. Setting up classrooms for the teachers with all connections in place such that they simply log into their accounts and share as desired saves a tremendous amount of time. For a parent, presetting an account having relevant class, grade level, campus, and district content flow into a single place can be the difference in an engaged vs. a checked out parent.

How can districts ensure equity and participation in their family engagement initiatives?
Technology and Simplicity! Two of the biggest challenges of family engagement are reach and the unintentional chaos created by too many communication channels. Technology such as mobile applications and instant translation solve the reach dilemma by offering the ability to connect every family in a community regardless of preferred language or income. Beyond reaching every family, technology can simplify engagement for everyone. Families and teachers are frustrated and overwhelmed by the time spent trying to determine HOW and WHERE to connect. Consolidating efforts to a single, secure place easily accessible via mobile calms the chaos of managing many students, families, subjects, etc. Simplifying HOW and WHERE allows the school community to focus on actual engagement.

What is LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network®, and why is this model important to school districts?
LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® provides a systemic solution for family engagement. It takes the burden off the teacher and parent and allows for two-way conversation in 100-plus languages on web or mobile. Each group (class, grade level, etc.) has its own private community which nests into the organizational layer above it. Conversation and content flow up, down and across the tiered network based on group membership and relationship to the community. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® uniquely gives administrators at each level the full view and analytics of the smaller community networks feeding into their part of the organization. LivingTree empowers communities to engage and ultimately achieve greater student success.

LivingTree Acquires ClassMessenger

We’re excited to announce that we’ve acquired ClassMessenger. We’ve worked with the impressive ClassMessenger team for the past few weeks to ensure a seamless transition for ClassMessenger users. We couldn’t be more excited to welcome ClassMessenger into the LivingTree family and ClassMessenger CEO Keith McSpurren to our Advisory Board.

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A quick FAQ on this exciting news from the LivingTree perspective:

  1. Why buy ClassMessenger? – To help teachers and parents continue to engage. Our mission is to connect everyone who raises, develops, and educates children. We aim to make that as consistent and simple as possible. We had an opportunity to help 1000s of teachers maintain consistent engagement for the remainder of the school year and beyond and we decided to act.
  2. How does ClassMessenger fit with LivingTree? – ClassMessenger’s philosophy and delivery around two way communication and engagement simplicity perfectly align with what LivingTree delivers at the class, grade, school, and district level. Welcoming ClassMessenger teachers into the LivingTree family is a perfect complement for these engaged teachers and families.
  3. What happens to ClassMessenger now? LivingTree will provide uninterrupted service for ClassMessenger users through the end of this school year. We will reach out to introduce ourselves and welcome feedback in the new year.
  4. What does this mean for LIvingTree users? – It means the LivingTree family has grown! The LivingTree Tiered Social Network and service you know and love is not impacted. We will continue to work with you to deliver the best engagement platform for your community.
For our ClassMessenger friends:

Why LivingTree?: LivingTree reached out with the desire to keep ClassMessenger teachers and parents engaged. Their mission and philosophy closely align with what ClassMessenger has delivered to users for the past few years. Additionally, LivingTree offers additional features and a network solution that allows teacher classrooms to plug into school and district networks which allows all engagement to thrive in a single, secure place. Finally, LivingTree plans to offer uninterrupted ClassMessenger service through the end of the school year.

About LivingTree and why the ClassMessenger team is excited about the future:

Why: LivingTree exists to connect everyone who raises, develops, and educates children. In every offering and decision, LivingTree strives to include every community member and make engagement simpler so that our children can achieve the ultimate possible.

Who / When / Where: LivingTree was founded in 2012 for the purpose of connecting communities. LivingTree was built and is run by parents and former educators out of Austin, TX. The LivingTree leadership team represents 60+ years of technology experience, 50+ years of education experience, and an abundance of passion for education and families! Schools around the world utilize LivingTree to engage their entire communities within a single network.

How / What: LivingTree builds a private, Tiered Social Network for your community with all the engagement features you need! LivingTree was recognized at the  2016 Stevie Gold Award winner for Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Stevie Silver Award winner for Smartphone App of the Year. Notable LivingTree features:

  • SIS Integration for automatic setup and membership updates
  • Free mobile apps (iphone and android)
  • Translation – 100+ languages
  • Two way group and individual conversation
  • Media sharing (Photos, Video, Files, etc.)
  • Shared calendar
  • Volunteer / Sign Up management
  • SMS Texting
  • Private Messaging
  • Directory
  • Analytic Reports
  • FREE for all teachers 🙂

Teaching Tolerance

Families join our teachers from a variety of circumstances and cultures. Moving beyond beginning of school introductions to partnership takes planning and effort. True family engagement is a year long process.

Teaching Tolerance has excellent resources available to guide teachers in partnering with ALL families throughout the year to achieve ultimate student success. From this attitudinal survey to guidance on respect, their resources can simplify planning. Attitude and respect are paramount to developing and maintaining family relationships. Three key respect takeaways:

  1. Value the cultural knowledge children bring to school by acknowledging family diversity through discussion, affirmation and celebration.
  2. Build cultural continuity between home and school to encourage parent involvement in school activities.
  3. Explore your own family background as well as the diversity specific to your classroom community.

Communicating in home language, reaching every parent where they are, and allowing two way conversation between all families are key steps in realizing respect and transparency. Technology in the form of a single, secure platform can provide this and be a cornerstone in achieving your engagement plans, transparency, and mutual respect this year.

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?

Engagement & Fundraising

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