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, it seems like there is a different app for behavior, communication, attendance – you name it. With limited direction from the school or district, teachers are left to sort through and drive these apps to try and find the best tools that work for their students’ families. 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 a conversation. These methodologies change from year to year, and 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. This then results in teachers become frustrated with the lack of participation and amount of time required to upkeep all the information.
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.
We’re thrilled to announce our participation in upcoming conference sessions. We’re sharing best practices and frameworks based on millions of conversations and points of engagement. The focus of these sessions will be using technology to create positive and inclusive environments. We hope you’ll join us in these important discussions!
Engaging the WHOLE Community with Technology – Monday, 10/16 – 2:45-4:00 – Ballroom D
Using Technology to Develop a Culture of Positivity – Saturday,12/2 – 8:30–9:45 – Alamo 2
Using Technology to Develop a Culture of Positivity – Thursday, 2/8 – 11:30-12:00 – Room A
Closing The Engagement Gap – Using Technology to Build Trust and Partnership – Monday, 4/9 – 8:30-9:45
If you’re not attending the conferences but are interested in scheduling a webinar session for your school or district, contact us at email@example.com.
LivingTree Announces Third 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, June 15, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $500,000 in third 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 27 different states and 80 different districts with varying socio-economic needs were awarded the Drako Grants.
The third round awards bring the total amount awarded to just over $1 million and complete the Drako Grant opportunity announced in April 2017. 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.
“We’re excited by the number of applicants seeking to change the way families are engaged in their communities,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “It’s an honor to be part of improving student achievement by working with these committed and passionate educators.”
LivingTree is excited to share the third round recipients.
Third Round Grant Award Recipients Include:
“The Grant program has been a joy to share,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “At LivingTree, we’re inspired by the passion and commitment shown by educators in sharing their desire to partner with families and communities for better student outcomes.”
Third Round Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals
Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, Rachel Mazurek, Director of Communications and Community Relations:
“We believe that if we had a more accessible means of communicating with our parent body, it could improve our school tremendously. Parent contact is of utmost importance and there are so many ways Living Tree would help us expand and engage our parent body. We believe parents would become more active partners in their children’s education if they had more means of communication and had a greater knowledge of what actually happens in school. Also, we would use it to connect parents to one another and help parents get to know the other parents in their children’s classes and more broadly in the school, creating a better sense of community.”
Encinal Elementary, Menlo Park City School District, Jennifer Kollman, Principal:
“We have a huge need to directly increase the level of parent engagement for our English Learner families. We have set an audacious goal to reduce the number of LTELS in our district to zero in four years. We would be able to use Living Tree to completely engage our EL families in understanding and helping them to navigate the complexities of school, opportunities, announcements, etc. in their own language.”
Jefferson Parish Public School System, Christie Gomez, Director of Community Engagement:
“We will use LivingTree as a singular stop for district and school information. Making the effort to involve all parents by reaching out to them in their native languages and letting them know that we want them to participate will be amazing. Many of the families in our district choose not to use Facebook because it is public, so it’s difficult to engage those parents. LivingTree being private can eliminate some of their privacy concerns making them reachable in an informational as well as social context with two way dialogue.”
Sheldon ISD, Dr. Brenda Dearmon, Director of Federal Programs and Grants:
“LivingTree will be used to offer a communication tool that will inform parents and families of programs and events occurring on each campus and within the district. This will produce positive results, especially for campuses at the secondary level. We will also utilize LivingTree to facilitate a two-way dialogue between parent and school that will assist in establishing effective family – school partnerships.”
Wallingford Family YMCA, Cassandra Allen, Youth Support Specialist:
“With LivingTree we would be able to connect all of our families to not just the program and the staff that they see every day, but with the YMCA as a whole. With greater parent involvement, we would be able to make these programs even better and would be able to showcase exactly what the YMCA does each and every day.”
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
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 builds trust and partnership between schools and families by providing private, social networks to enable family engagement. LivingTree builds these communities using the LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR.
What is LivingTree’s Tiered Social NetworkR?
It is a private social network that is built as a hierarchy, or ‘tiered’ – like an organization chart or feeder pattern. 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.
Users are given relevant content based on their relationships or connections to the community. For example, a kindergarten parent receives their class, kindergarten grade level, school, and district level content. They are not disturbed with irrelevant information from other classes, grades, or schools within the broader community.
LivingTree’s Tiered Social NetworkR 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 leaders and organizations to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private Tiered Social NetworkR.
With all engagement efforts (announcements, texts, alerts, photo sharing, volunteer management, two way conversation, private messaging, etc.) in a single network, administrators, teachers, and parents experience less chaos and frustration, save time, and can focus on engagement!
Over the last four years, our team has had the opportunity to work with schools and districts around the United States and world to increase parent engagement. We’ve seen a few simple behaviors that drive successful programs. Some of these are basic framework for any program, however, we thought we’d share as we’ve seen them consistently make the difference in developing a thriving community. Here’s to thriving in the 2016-17 school year!!
Five steps to engagement:
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 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?