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.
Every model of reform in education has as a necessary component: the idea that families need to be connected to the process of learning. Family engagement then, is not a “nice to have,” but a “must have” if we are to once and for all meet the goals we have for all of our children. As leaders in education, we can no longer ignore what sixty years of research has told us, and instead should focus on developing strategies and practices to engage families, because this is what is going to ultimately increase the success and achievement of our students.
Family engagement strategies will typically incorporate a mix of Family Academic Socialization, Home Learning Support, Home Visits, Home Phone Calls, Family-Teacher Conferences, Academic “Nights”, School Events, etc. One of the biggest components we often see lacking in family engagement strategies is the technology. In a time when 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, it seems that technology is making one of the greatest impacts in society, as well as education. While we know that technology can make communication with families easier, can it improve family engagement? To answer that question, let’s first take a look at a key component of family engagement: Meaningful Two-Way Communication.
For school districts to further their family engagement efforts, it’s important to truly understand the role that meaningful two-way communication plays and how it leverages the necessary engagement that promotes better learning outcomes for all students. Research has shown that schools which place an emphasis on effective two-way communication are more likely to create environments that are conducive to engaging families because of the trust that is restored and the relationships that are built. It’s those very relationships that promote family efficacy which are the key ingredients in supporting learning outside of school, resulting in positive impacts on student learning outcomes.
There are an abundance of ways to communicate with families, but we forget to evaluate how these methods move the needle on family engagement. Many schools and districts are adept at one-way communication, resulting in only providing families with information that may or may not be understood. Often, there is little or no mechanism for families to engage in meaningful dialog about the information received. Weekly folders home, website posts, newsletters, blogs, social posts, mass texts and emails are all examples of one-way communication that at best, ask a family to verify that they have received the information. In order to actually register positive change and create meaningful dialogue with families to improve student achievement, we must empower families and provide them the opportunities to have conversations about their child’s learning.
In order to actually register positive change and create meaningful dialogue with families to improve student achievement, we must empower families and provide them the opportunities to have conversations about their child’s learning.
According to Dr. Steve Constantino, a national family engagement expert: “family engagement is a process, not an event or a series of events.” Families do not become engaged or stay engaged through standalone school events, but instead the relationships that are built. With family engagement hinging on the relationships that are built with families, it’s important to realize that our educators are the catalysts of the relationships. Families depend on the educators of their children to keep them informed, answer their questions and involve them in the learning process.
In today’s technical society where we have new generations of families that are consistently connecting online, it’s now possible to “go to” families and reach them anywhere, at their convenience. With the right online platform, educators can move beyond information sharing to meaningful two-way conversations which promote both family efficacy and engagement.
To promote the active engagement of families, Dr. Constantino suggests educators can “supply [families] with information about what is happening in school before it happens; prompt them with questions (and answers) they can ask their children…provide a mechanism so that families can share with teachers how their children responded to questions.” Another idea is to even “integrate families into homework assignments and maybe even projects.” Not only are these proven techniques that promote the efficacy of families, but when facilitated through a secure family engagement platform, they effectively start meaningful conversations that engage families in their child’s learning.
So can technology improve family engagement? The answer is yes – we can definitely improve family engagement by providing families a family engagement platform, such as Livingtree Engage. By accounting for the family cultural shift around technology, 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. At the root, providing a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage is what sustains relationships that create engaged families, and ultimately student success.
At the root, providing a safe, secure space for educators and families to engage is what sustains relationships that create engaged families, and ultimately student success.
Every family, regardless of their station in life, desire that their children exceed them in their quality of life. If we pursue family engagement just for the sake of family engagement, then we’ll never be able to truly change the lives of our students and we will quickly dash the hopes of families everywhere. Engaged families produce better learning outcomes for every child.
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.