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.
Crowdfunding has exploded in K-12 education. The number of campaign requests, as well as the number of donations towards these campaigns have significantly increased over the years. Data from one popular crowdfunding site for teachers showed that during the 2017-2018 school year, over 254,000 campaigns were funded, resulting in over $152 million in funds raised for K-12 classrooms, projects, and experiences.
This type of online crowdfunding has opened enormous opportunities for K-12 school districts to raise funds for projects, equipment and supplies. Crowdfunding is ultimately helping close the education funding gap and support the needs of schools and students. Its efficiency and effectiveness have been proven not only through the generous donation amounts, but also through the speed and ease compared to traditional methods like burrito or donut sales.
Despite the many benefits of online crowdfunding, school districts need to be aware of the associated risks and liabilities. Every single campaign that is posted poses serious liabilities for a school district, depending on how the campaign is pitched, what names are used, what the campaign is raising funds for, and what type of student information (photos, names, etc.) is displayed. Every donation made to the campaign also comes with financial liabilities for a school district, including where that money is routed, who controls or oversees those funds, who owns the funds, how inventory is accounted for, and how the school district manages to report those funds.
The lack of proper built-in oversight, tracking and reporting on crowdfunding sites – even education-specific sites, present significant legal and reputational risks for school districts across the country. Every school district should have oversight for any online fundraiser conducted in the name of the district, a district school or a district employee.
At Livingtree, it’s our goal to help school districts understand the risks of crowdfunding, and better manage the process within their district to ultimately raise more money. Due to the recent publications from state auditors and school board associations on crowdfunding, Livingtree decided to take a deeper dive and report what is happening right now. To provide a better picture of the current risks school districts are facing this year, we took the latest data from the earlier mentioned crowdfunding website to develop this Mid-Year Education Crowdfunding Report.
According to the crowdfunding website, over 145,000 projects have been fully funded so far in the 2018-2019 school year. At that pace, we expect to see around 290,000 fully funded campaigns by the end of this school year, an increase of 36,000 campaigns from the previous year. In addition, this year’s completed campaigns have raised over $77 million of donations for teachers and school projects. Based on that number, we’d expect to end the school year with around $154 million of donations, an increase of $2 million over last year. Since this data is only taken from one popular crowdfunding site, it’s likely that the overall crowdfunding totals are much greater.
To further understand this issue, Livingtree compiled all of the campaign data from the crowdfunding site for the 2018-2019 school year and composed lists to help identify which states currently have the highest risk when it comes to education crowdfunding. Below, we’ll examine the states with the Highest Average Amount Raised per District, the Highest Average Number of Campaigns Posted per District, and the Highest Average Number of High Risk Campaigns Posted per District.
Note: the data is organized to represent states in amounts per district to give the most accurate representation of every state. Hawaii and the District of Columbia are not represented in the data.
|State||Avg Amount Raised Per District||Total Amount Raised (Statewide)|
Florida made number one on the list for the highest amount of money raised from the crowdfunding site, averaging out at over $57,000 per school district. The next three states all averaged over $40,000 in funding per school district.
Regardless as to whether these donations reach schools in the form of funding or project items, a district must be able to ensure that every dollar is tracked and properly routed, and oversee the process to maintain accurate inventory and donation reporting. State-wide totals are also included in this report for reference.
|State||Avg Number of Campaigns Per District||Total Number of Campaigns (Statewide)|
Florida again tops the list at number one for the highest average number of campaigns posted from the crowdfunding site, at 107.2 campaigns per school district so far this year. The higher the number of campaigns being posted, the higher the risks and liabilities for school districts without fundraising controls in place. And without the ability for school districts to review and approve campaigns before they go live, it’s almost impossible to be sure that the campaign meets all of school district’s requirements.
|State||Avg Number of High Risk Campaigns Per District||Total Number of High Risk Campaigns (Statewide)|
Nevada leads the way for the highest average number of high-risk campaigns posted from the crowdfunding site, at 7.7 high risk campaigns posted per district so far this year. At Livingtree, we identify high risk campaigns as those classified on the crowdfunding website as either “Special Needs” or “ESL.” The classification of high risk is due to the fact that “Special Needs” campaigns have a high possibility of violating a student’s IEP, which a district would be legally required to fund through IDEA. There are also special services that ESL students qualify for that can’t be funded outside of the school district. These are all in addition to the existing risks that go along with crowdfunding, making them much higher risk campaigns. So far this school year, “ESL” and “Special Needs” are ranked as the 7th and 8th most popular project categories.
Again, it’s important to note that these statistics were generated from a single crowdfunding site, and that this is only a piece of the “crowdfunding picture.” We’d expect that total crowdfunding numbers are much larger, however it is difficult to collect data from every single site out there.
Because of these statistics and the associated risks, some districts take the easy route by setting policies that ban crowdfunding. However, this option forgoes the many benefits that crowdfunding has to offer for school districts, and creates a new task of having to police the large number of crowdfunding sites to ensure district members aren’t using them.
The other option is to evaluate online fundraising management options and adopt one that provides an automated district approval process for all campaigns, tracks all donations, routes funds through a district account, gives the district access to their donor information, provides aggregated reporting for every campaign, and has built in tools to make fundraising easy for any PTA/PTO, booster, club, team, or district member.
Once a management platform is selected, procedures and guidelines can be written to accompany the school district’s fundraising policies (no, you don’t actually have to re-write policies!). These should clearly outline rules for only using the district’s chosen fundraising management platform, campaign approval criteria, required campaign content, and ownership of the funds raised.
Once this is all in place, start fundraising! With your district overseeing the entire fundraising process and having official procedures to guide the process, fundraising becomes manageable and easy.
If you are curious about your school district’s risk potential on the crowdfunding site we used, check out the free tool created by Livingtree to evaluate your district’s risk potential, dollars collected, and number of campaigns posted so far this school year: https://learn.livingtree.com/risk-analysis
Is your school district ready to start evaluating fundraising management solutions? Then download our free Crowdfunding Considerations Guide for K-12 School Districts and know the 7 important areas to evaluate when looking at fundraising sites: https://try.livingtree.com/crowdfunding-considerations-blog/
Data Sourced from:
When you hear the word “homeless” the first image that comes to mind probably isn’t a child, is it? And yet there are more than 2,300 students in the Austin Independent School District that experience homelessness each year. The effects of that are something that no child should experience, especially during the holiday season.
That’s why the Austin Ed Fund launched a campaign to raise funds for Project HELP, a program of the Austin ISD that supports students experiencing homelessness by providing material support like gift cards for food and clothing, bus passes and connections to other community resources.
After launching the campaign, the Austin Ed Fund sent out emails that resulted in over $10,000 in donations, but how?
The Austin ISD is in its third year of using Livingtree Give, a platform that allows members of every school in the district to launch online fundraising campaigns, while allowing the district to oversee the process, ensure that all campaigns are in compliance with district, state and federal policies, and report on all of their fundraising activities.
Unlike other mainstream education crowdfunding sites who maintain and own the donor’s information for future advertising purposes, Livingtree Give enables the Austin ISD to store and build their own database of donors. With this database, the Austin ISD can easily provide information to previous donors about other campaigns within their district, and that’s exactly what they did for the Project HELP campaign.
Using Livingtree Give’s built-in email communication functionality, the Austin Ed Fund sent emails about the Project HELP campaign to their database of donors. In just a week’s time, their community came together to support the campaign and raise over $10,000.00. With such a generous response to the campaign, they’ve now doubled the goal from $10,000 to $20,000 in hopes of truly meeting the needs of every family and student experiencing homelessness this holiday season.
To see the progress or make a contribution, you can visit the Project HELP campaign page here.
For more information on how Livingtree Give can help your school district, visit http://wordpress-153222-715006.cloudwaysapps.com/give
Who own’s your donor’s information isn’t the only thing you should worry about. Download our Crowdfunding Considerations guide to learn about the 7 areas that administrators should consider when evaluating crowdfunding sites & policies for the district.
We’ve put together a feature recap from the Fall of 2018 for all of our Livingtree Engage users. Here are the updates that went live this fall:
New “Share A Message” Design
Sharing a post has a new look! At the start of the school year, we updated the design and feel for users sharing messages, photos, videos, files, text messages, or phone alerts. This is just one of several new designs we are rolling out to give Livingtree Engage a cleaner look and feel.
You no longer have to login to share a post. Now you can schedule posts ahead of time! You can plan out the upcoming week, month, or even year if you’d like… This was a popular request that is now in place to help create a more convenient experience for our educators!
Livingtree Engage Fundraising
We’ve removed the need to enter any bank account information. That’s right, principals and admin can now skip ahead to simply creating fast and easy campaigns by going to your ‘Give’ feature inside of Livingtree Engage and we will send you a check at the end of your campaign.
Want to learn more about our fundraising feature? Go to our Fundraising FAQ
Text-To-Join User Onboarding
We’ve added in the Text-To-Join feature for our school and district customers with SIS Integration, allowing us to send a text message to staff and families prompting them to join Livingtree during the onboarding process. Now users can receive welcome emails and text-messages, helping districts and schools increase their adoption rates across the board!
Want to know more about what’s new with Livingtree as a company? Click here to read our last blog: Livingtree: Always Growing
Livingtree was created by a family in 2013 as a solution to keep families connected to the academic lives of their children through technology. As a company, we are on a mission to bring the best tech platforms and practices to schools and families, and believe that together we can bring out the best outcomes for students and families.
One of the first steps in that direction was to acquire Class Messenger in 2016 to keep the tens of thousands of educators and families connected. The acquisition kept the app operational and also provided Class Messenger teachers with access to free Livingtree Engage accounts. Since then, we’ve continued to provide support for Class Messenger users, while assisting many of them in transitioning to Livingtree Engage.
At the beginning of 2018, we grew even more by announcing the acquisition of district fundraising tool, Edbacker, and appointing Edbacker’s founder, Gary Hensley, as our new CEO. The addition of Edbacker helped us continue to fulfill our mission of connecting schools with their broader communities, while also providing districts with a much-needed solution to crowdfunding that fills the education funding gap.
We grew again in the month of June when we hired Dr. Steve Constantino, the nation’s leading expert in family engagement and former Virginia State Superintendent. As a member of the team, Dr. Constantino is helping to shape the Livingtree Engage platform through his research and best practices, and ensure that educators, schools, and districts have the appropriate tools they need to actively engage families.
In the month of August, we launched a new website with the rebranding of our products under Livingtree. The original Livingtree product became Livingtree Engage, while Edbacker became Livingtree Give. And with that, we made enhancements and launched new features in each product for the new school year (which we will take a deeper dive into in our next blog posts).
We’ve had extraordinary growth, and we continue to develop new partnerships with districts across the country to provide family engagement and fundraising solutions. We are continuing to develop Engage and Give, so that school districts have the best tools to help every student succeed.
In our next blogs, we’ll cover the most recent enhancements to the Engage and Give platforms. To learn more about the individual products visit Livingtree Engage or Livingtree Give, or follow us for new and updates on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Over the years, there has been a growing spotlight on the education funding gap. The gap has become more of a problem for many K-12 school districts with recent statistics showing an increase in teacher spending on school supplies.
Many schools and districts are finding that traditional fundraising can no longer cover some of the greater costs that are needed, and as a result of the mass growth in technology, an increasing number of K-12 members are now requesting funds through crowdfunding sites. These sites are providing valuable opportunities for K-12 staff, organizations, and teams to raise funds for additional resources and experiences, while addressing the needs of our schools and students.
However, these Crowdfunding sites were not built specifically for school districts and lack the necessary oversight and control. Every single online fundraising campaign that is posted poses serious liabilities for a school district, and can result in a number of legal and financial violations.
As a result of the liabilities, some districts take the easy route by setting policies that ban crowdfunding. However, this option forgoes the many benefits that crowdfunding has to offer for school districts, and creates a new task of having to police the large number of crowdfunding sites to ensure district members aren’t using them. It can also imply a lack of trust in their educators. Until the educational funding gap is solved, schools should absolutely fundraise online, however it should be done in an appropriate way. That’s why it’s important that district leaders be aware of the liabilities associated with crowdfunding, and use the information to evaluate crowdfunding platforms for their district.
Below, we’ve put together the 5 Liabilities of Crowdfunding that every K-12 District should know:
1. Fundraising on the School or District’s Behalf: Most Crowdfunding sites will allow anyone within the district to launch fundraising campaigns. This means they can use the name, logo, or images of the school or district without any form of consent. Based on how the campaign is pitched, the campaign can reflect poorly on the district, and the results of the campaign can cause PR nightmares.
2. Sharing Student Information: Everyone loves to see pictures and know the students that are being directly impacted by their contribution, however this can be a largely overlooked FERPA violation. Sharing student images or names without consent can create huge liabilities for a district.
3. Routing Funds through Personal Accounts: Many Crowdfunding sites transfer the lump sums directly to the person who posted the campaign, which raises legal and financial accountability issues. In most cases, this is also a violation of district and state policies that affirm that the District Treasurer is supposed to be in charge of the funds.
4. Ownership: Once completed, who actually owns those funds or products that are produced through that campaign? Was the campaign personal or on behalf of the district? Is that the property of a teacher, a school, or the district? Some teachers will tell you that everything they raise is for the school, while others will tell you differently if policies are not in place to outline this problem.
5. Existing/Incompliant Resources: It’s actually a common occurrence for staff to raise money for items that either already exist elsewhere, or already have funding. It’s also not uncommon for staff to raise money for technology that isn’t approved or that the curriculum isn’t available for.
Livingtree Give takes the same concept of online fundraising, but uses features built specifically for school districts to do so in a coordinated fashion in order to eliminate these liabilities. Give provides district oversight to every fundraiser, while also assuring donors that every single campaign has been vetted and approved through the district’s built in and customizable approval process. District admin can now track every single dollar, route funds through a single district account, easily disperse funds to the appropriate accounts, and generate reports – all in real time.