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

LivingTree Education Sessions!

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!

Pennsylvania Family Involvement Conference – Harrisburg, PA

Engaging the WHOLE Community with Technology – Monday, 10/16 –  2:45-4:00 – Ballroom D

Texas Statewide Parent Involvement Conference – Houston, TX

Using Technology to Develop a Culture of Positivity – Saturday,12/2 – 8:30–9:45 – Alamo 2

National Title I Conference – Philadelphia, PA

Using Technology to Develop a Culture of Positivity – Thursday, 2/8 – 11:30-12:00 – Room A

National School Board Association Conference – San Antonio, TX

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




Hurricane Relief

When Hurricane Harvey came ashore August 25, 2017, an estimated $180 Billion in damage across 300 miles resulted. The damage included 200,000 homes and over 300 schools. As the school year progresses and the initial and incredible rush of support depletes, there are still many educators and families in need. Many students have lost everything and are trying to start a new school year with no supplies and limited clothing. This is near and dear to our hearts as many of these school communities have been part of our LivingTree family for years. At this point in time, these communities are asking for gift cards and/or funds to help students in need return to a sense of normalcy. Allowing these students to purchase uniforms, choose their own backpack, and select school supplies will help them return to the classroom ready for the year. A few communities have shared their needs with us. Please see below for requests and more details.

Crosby ISD  – Crosby ISD has a few unwanted distinctions from Hurricane Harvey including the highest rainfall ever recorded for a storm – 55”. They also had the ARKEMA plant where evacuations occurred due to chemical explosions. 51 student families and 9 staff members were severely impacted by Hurricane Harvey – many have lost everything they own. The district has been able to help with food and is beginning to address clothing needs. However, they still have students existing without roofs or beds (tents). They’re working to pair each family with a sponsor – the need is that great. Contact: Karen Walthall, Principal –

Calallen ISD – Calallen ISD is in Corpus Christi, TX close to where Hurricane Harvey first came ashore. Calallen has had an influx of new students who lost everything in the storm. These students are in need of uniforms and supplies. Calallen ISD has requested Wal-Mart gift cards in $25 increments to provide to families as children come back to school. The local Wal-Mart carries uniforms and supplies needed by these students. Please send the gift cards to the address below:

Attn: Annie Swetish-Rivera
Administration Building
4205 Wildcat Drive
Corpus Christi, TX 78410

Port Aransas ISD – Port Aransas had damage to the majority of homes and structures. They’re looking for gift cards and funds to help students return to school. Donations can be made directly to the district:

Meghan Zigmond
100 S. Station Street
Port Aransas, TX 78373

Houston ISD – Houston ISD had 200 school facilities sustain damage from Hurricane Harvey. As some students were welcomed back to school September 11, 2017, many facilities were still inoperable. HISD has asked for funds to be donated centrally at:

Mandarin Immersion School – The Mandarin Immersion School is part of Houston ISD and has many families who lost everything in the Houston flooding. They have set up a fund to provide these families support for clothing and supplies as families wait for up to two months to work with insurance adjusters to chart a path forward. Donate here:

Horn Elementary – Horn Elementary is located in Houston ISD with many families impacted by Hurricane Harvey flooding. Their Parent Teacher Organization is distributing funds to families in need to purchase clothing and supplies:

Msgr. Kelly Catholic HS – Msgr. Kelly Catholic HS in Beaumont, TX is a co-ed school of 440 students.  The school sustained water damage in nearly every classroom resulting in all the carpeting and floor tile being removed. The school has 6-8 staff and about 25 students/families who sustained significant flood damage to their homes. They’re seeking financial assistance in the form of money or gift cards to help families rebuild. Contact: Roger Bemis, Principal –

Katy ISD – 75% of Katy, TX flooded during Hurricane Harvey. 15,007 students and 2,600 employees of Katy ISD are recovering from direct impact of the storm. Funds are needed to rebuild schools (16 flooded campuses) and immediately to help families with clothing and supplies. Donate here:

Diocese of Beaumont – Diocese of Beaumont is a mission Diocese with five schools. The high school and two schools PK3 – grade 8 had floodwater. About 50 staff members lost everything to flooding along with 130+ families. They have removed floors and wet walls, abated asbestos, sanitized and cleaned everything. It’s not pretty, but they’ve worked hard for students to return to school the week of 9/12. Many of their families still need significant financial help. Contact: Marcia Stevens, Superintendent of Catholic Schools –

As we work together to support communities in need, please let us know if Hurricanes Harvey or Irma impacted your school community and you have specific needs by emailing We share specific needs on our public social media channels – Facebook and Twitter. Thank you!

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 or 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 Attendance Alert Capability

LivingTree, a private social network for PK-12 family engagement, today announced the availability of attendance alerts, a new feature of its engagement platform. School and district administrators can now use LivingTree to quickly and easily share attendance alerts with families, extending the solution’s ability to build meaningful connections and accelerate student achievement.

With LivingTree’s new attendance alert capability, all home communications can be delivered via the LivingTree platform. Voice messages are delivered to a parent’s phone number of choice with opt in and opt out functionality in place, per FCC regulation. Additionally, the attendance alert is delivered via email and mobile push notification. Attendance alerts add capability to the phone, texting, multimedia, private messaging, and two way conversation features LivingTree has delivered to schools around the globe.

“An estimated 5 million to 7.5 million U.S. students miss nearly a month of school each year. This represents 10-15% of students in K-12 in the U.S. Absenteeism is a leading indicator that students will ultimately drop out of school. With the addition of attendance alerts to the LivingTree platform, we’re working to build deep partnership between schools and families to reduce this rate,” said LivingTree CEO Joni Carswell. “By consolidating all communication and engagement needs in a single place, administrators can easily connect with families through a platform they know and trust, building partnership to positively impact student achievement.”

School administrators can send attendance alerts quickly and easily, utilizing LivingTree’s data system integration. Based on parent preferences, attendance alerts are delivered to recipients as an email notification, mobile notification (for mobile app users), and/or a phone call — becoming a voicemail if there is no answer. With voice translation to 26 languages and text translation to more than 100 languages, recipients receive the call or message in their preferred language.

Working closely with customers on the design of the attendance alert feature, LivingTree has taken attendance alerts beyond a simple phone call or email. Messages will automatically show in the LivingTree inbox with the option to reply with absence excuses or questions. This further addresses the U.S. Every Student Succeeds Act mandate for two way conversation in native language.

The addition of attendance alerts extend the robust capabilities that LivingTree delivers to schools and parents. Features include SMS texting, the ability to connect into broader school, district, and community networks, enhanced media sharing, private messaging, directory, and analytic reporting. Parents within participating LivingTree schools can share media and announcements, send and receive private direct messages, access directory listings, volunteer for school activities and keep in touch with their children’s teachers.

Since 2012, LivingTree has been working with leading school districts, innovative schools and savvy teachers across the country to build Tiered Social Networks that enable conversations to flow up, down and across the education community. Designed by parents for parents, LivingTree’s one mission is unite educators and families by providing a private, safe and secure platform to facilitate easier and more organic conversations.

LivingTree was recently honored by the Stevie Awards for Women in Business, receiving the 2016 Gold Stevie Award for Community Involvement Program of the Year, and the Silver Stevie Award for the Smartphone App of the Year.

To learn more about how your district, school or classroom can get access to LivingTree, visit or call toll-free, 844-548-8733.

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.

Nurture International School – “Go For It!”

Dr. Stella Pandhare, Principal of Nurture International School, says “Go for It”

Nurture International School is in their second year using LivingTree. During this school year alone, Nurture International has shared 5600 posts, 440 files, 160 events, and 4800 photos. They are realizing their vision of building a strong and vibrant community. Dr. Stella Pandhare shares more of her school’s story below.

Describe your parent engagement strategy and methodology prior to LivingTree. Prior to LivingTree we used conventional methods such as sending printed newsletters to parents.

Why did you decide to use a new method or tool for parent engagement? We wanted to build a strong and vibrant community in our school. Schooling does not happen in a vacuum. We deal with parents, children, and teachers day in and day out. We deal with their emotions and apprehensions. Every stake holder of the school needs to be on the same page for the child to benefit the most. Our relationship with the parents is very important for us to help the child in the right manner. We were looking for an elegant and scalable technology platform for our solution. After much careful consideration, we adopted a new innovative social communication platform called LivingTree.

What are some of the positive outcomes your school has identified with LivingTree? LivingTree has united all parents, students, and staff and created a vibrant, engaged community with a true sense of togetherness. It has enabled us to provide transparent, on-time communications to parents and allows feedback on all school related activities and information. Information is easily accessible to parents on the web, iPhone and Android devices. Parents are “always connected” to the school and the staff is easily accessible to the parents. The staff is aware of parent concerns and can take immediate measures. Daily activities in the class are captured by the teacher and shared with the parents. Teachers share lessons plans, special activities, and notes with parents and students.

What LivingTree feature is most useful to your staff? Creating events.

How do you encourage teachers who are hesitant to use LivingTree for engagement? We ensure that all teachers are brought together on the platform. To accomplish this, the school senior staff collaborates with all staff to create awareness about the initiative at all levels. We discuss how LivingTree can eliminate clerical work and create a good rapport between the school and the community.

What would you do if LivingTree went away? It would leave us significantly handicapped.

What one thing would you say about LivingTree to others? LivingTree can help bridge communication gaps and bring your community closer. It is a secure platform for positive communication. It will increase parent involvement in school wide activities. So, go for it!

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., 844.LIV.TREE, info@livingtree.combanner-980x550_c


NSBA Innovation Showcase 2017 – LivingTree Selected!

We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve been selected as a member of the 2017 National School Board Association (NSBA) Innovation Showcase.

National School Boards Association Announces 2017 Education Technology Innovation Showcase

March 21, 2017

Alexandria, Va.  (March 21, 2017) – The National School Boards Association (NSBA) announced today the four companies selected for its annual Technology Innovation Showcase.

“NSBA has a long history of serving as a bridge between the entrepreneurial community and the school leaders charged with making critical decisions,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director & CEO, National School Boards Association. “The Technology Innovation Showcase highlights how new solutions have the potential to address critical challenges in education just as innovations have transformed other industries from entertainment to transportation.”

The 2017 Technology Innovation Showcase includes the following companies:

Allovue, a K-12 education finance technology company, empowers educators to strategically and equitably allocate resources. Their software platform, Balance, integrates seamlessly with existing accounting and data systems to help educators budget, manage, and evaluate spending.

FreshGrade, a portfolio and assessment platform for teachers, students, and parents, brings a new level of transparency to the classroom. The suite of mobile and browser-based applications provide solutions that include modern assessment practices to support personalized learning.

k12itc, founded by a former district director of technology, allows educators to focus on learning while the company manages the unique technology challenges and pressures, identifies cost-saving efficiencies and helps districts remain on the cutting edge of innovation.

LivingTree has revolutionized how educators and families connect, collaborate, and coordinate by leveraging the power of their private and safe social network specifically designed for the K-12 education system.

Submissions were solicited from start-up companies providing new approaches to challenges across the K-12 curriculum, administrative operations, and communication channels. Reviewers included educators from NSBA’s “20 to Watch,” a recognition program that honors emerging education technology leaders.

“The nation’s 90,000 school board members work with their local communities and district administrators to create a shared vision for learning and align resources that involve the intersection of education policy and technology practice,” said Ann Flynn, NSBA’s Director of Education Innovation. The Technology Innovation Showcase offers a forum for school leaders to explore new technologies and think through the tough questions they need to ask before embracing any new entrant to the K-12 marketplace.

The 2017 class will be featured in an exclusive area of the exhibition and participate in a Tech Innovation Showcase panel during the NSBA Annual Conference in Denver, March 25-27, 2017. Later this summer, they will be featured in NSBA’s magazine for school leaders, American School Board Journal, and participate in a webinar hosted by NSBA’s Technology Leadership Network (TLN).

TLN, launched in 1985 by NSBA and its state school boards associations, helps advance the wise use of technology in K-12 education to support learning, operations, and communications.

# # #

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is the leading advocate for public education and supports equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership. NSBA believes public education is a civil right necessary to the dignity and freedom of the American people, and all children should have equal access to an education that maximizes his or her individual potential. The association represents state school boards associations and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. 

Survey Says: The RIGHT Technology Works for Engagement

Download report: FamilyEngagementTech

Technology – The Future of Family Engagement

  • Districts struggle to engage the majority of families, even using 12+ methods.
  • Private, social networks, systemic approaches making an impact in family engagement.

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. Unfortunately, family engagement is hard.

Only 1 in 5 schools report having more than 50% of families engaged.

When asked to describe the level of family engagement in their district overall, 48% of administrators said it was “Poor” or “Average”, with less than one quarter of their families being engaged. Another 32% described it as “Good,” with one quarter to one half of families engaged, while just 20% said “Excellent,” or more than half of families engaged.

Given the difficulty in engaging families, understanding who bears responsibility and how they’re communicating are the most important factors to achieving success. As districts pursue the benefits of family engagement and seek to address state and national mandates such as the Every Student Succeeds Act, defining who and how is critical.

Who is responsible for family engagement?

Even though 77% of district leaders say they are pursuing a school or district wide approach, the reality is that this responsibility is carried out at the campus or classroom level, with 78% of administrators citing principals and 63% citing teachers as the leader responsible for engaging families. With campus and classroom leaders tasked with this responsibility, what is the impact on families?

The importance of a district wide or systemic approach

For families, a classroom-by-classroom or campus-by-campus approach is typically extremely chaotic and overwhelming. As the primary responsible party, each teacher is often using a different method, or worse, a parent is going to a different website for every teacher. Teachers are charged with setting up the website, group or tool, as well as keeping after parents to pay attention or join, wasting valuable time for both educators and families. Parents are being pursued by multiple teachers to pay attention to various tools, set up various accounts, etc. With a district wide or systemic approach, these burdens can be alleviated for both families and teachers.

“Often, an unengaged family is one who is at either end of a communication spectrum – either completely unreached, or conversely, overwhelmed with the amount of communication. A district wide approach to family engagement consistent at the class, grade, school, and district level can help with both reaching and simplifying conversation for and with all of these families,” says Eden Jones-Hinds, a principal in Houston ISD.

How are we engaging?

Districts report using 12+ methods to communicate and engage families ranging from flyers, to websites, to phone calls. Of the twelve methods used, in-person events and phone calls were ranked first in effectiveness. However, when asked to identify their biggest challenges in fostering family engagement, the top answer was “Parents and families not having time for events,” followed by “Low event attendance” and “Difficulty reaching and maintaining contact with parents.”

Using inconsistent and an overwhelming number of methods to reach families, or using methods that force families to seek information such as public media or websites, can also act as barriers to ongoing conversation. So how do we reach and maintain contact in order to increase attendance and build relationships?

The Future

“Building true relationships is an important part of school-family partnership. In-person events and phone calls are some of the most valuable family engagement opportunities schools provide,” says Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “But given the busy schedules of today’s families and advances in technology, the future is social, mobile and available system wide. With busy communities and FCC regulations on phone calls, the method used to connect with families is the most important decision in driving attendance at events and attention to information shared.”

Public social media and mobile apps are the frontier for family engagement. 75% of administrators say they are using public social media platforms to engage families, but 45% say they have “privacy or security concerns,” while 21% say these platforms “aren’t built for educators and families.”

Social media can provide an opportunity to bridge the gap by keeping families engaged with their districts on mobile and with minimal time commitment. Private social media builds on this by replacing the current hodgepodge of tools and efforts. 100% of schools using private social media specifically designed for family engagement say it has improved family engagement.

District Administration and LivingTree partnered in December 2016 to explore the issue of family engagement in schools by surveying district leaders around the country. Over 300 administrators responded to the survey describing the levels of engagement in their districts, the approach they take, tools they use to engage families, and what role social platforms can play in these efforts.

To download report: FamilyEngagementTech

Educator Views on Family Engagement

97% of principals and teachers agree that families and educators should be equal partners in supporting student learning

Scholastic has released a principal and teacher report resulting from a survey of 4700+ schools. The entire report can be found here. It does an excellent job of covering topics ranging from community and family engagement to professional development to the state of books at home.

The findings of the family engagement topics come as no surprise as we hear similar sentiment from educators daily. The question is, what is being done to address these views and needs?

87% of teacher and principals believe ongoing two-way communication with families is the most important activity in engaging families

Technology can play a key role in providing two-way communication in native language. At LivingTree we believe that technology can provide the perfect foundation to build partnership that can become entrenched through in person events and face to face conversation. Moving away from single direction information flow to platforms that encourage two way conversation should be part of planning conversations this spring. Mobile access and automatic translation should be part of the evaluation metrics to ensure every family is included.

Addressing two way conversation is not the only need that is top of mind for educators. Principals and teachers alike indicate that they need help and would like training and strategies for working with families.

74% of principals and teachers say they need help with family engagement

59% of principals and 47% of teachers are looking for strategies for working with families

Luckily there are many resources available for training and information. We featured some of our favorites on our blog in Fall 2016 (all FREE resources):

NAEYC Engagement Principles

Harvard Teaching Cases

Flamboyan Institute Rubric

We’re also excited to share that LivingTree is a TEA certified provider of CPE credits in Texas for using technology for family engagement. Contact us to learn more about training sessions and availability. We would love to share best practices and help you put together a plan that is perfect for your district’s goals and culture. It promises to be an ‘engaging’ conversation!

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