With the number of teachers and school administrators that have increasingly embraced social media as a way to better connect with parents and families, we must address why it’s time to STOP using social media in the classroom.
Problem 1: App Overload
The first problem goes back to the idea of families becoming disengaged through what we refer to as “App Overload.” For schools to continually inform, involve, and engage families, there needs to be open lines of communication among teachers, families and administrators. But if one teacher is on Instagram, and the next is on Facebook, and the school administration uses Twitter, it can be harder than ever for parents to keep up with the latest news.
It’s also easy for important messages to be lost amid all of the photos and status updates (not to mention the different formulas that determine what information a user sees). While private accounts and groups can work, managing who is requesting access and who sees the information year to year can be a hassle.
Disparate apps and social networks make it especially hard for parents to find out what they really want to know: how their child is doing. These different social media channels, combined with different apps, pages, emails and websites can ironically end up fracturing the K-12 community, rather than bringing it together.
Problem 2: Privacy
The second problem revolves around the privacy of social media, and complying with privacy regulations at the local, state, and federal levels. Knowing whether your school or district has policies around social media use and how to comply with them is important. Social media usage in the classroom has the ability to clash with both FERPA and Copyright Compliance. Educators should be aware of FERPA policies, and what they can and cannot share in posts and photos (did you know that student handwriting is personally identifiable information?). A teacher posting public photos of students working on classroom projects has good intentions, but can pose certain liabilities if it’s not carefully reviewed.
Additionally, social media limits the oversight of schools and districts. When teachers are using a number of different social accounts, tools and apps, it makes it difficult for school and district administrators to stay involved in the communication streams. It also doesn’t give schools or districts the ability to see actual data and report on the levels of engagement within each classroom. These analytics would certainly make it easier to find break-downs in communication before a family becomes disengaged.
Solution: One Private K-12 Solution
To be clear, social media should absolutely be used on the school and district levels for the purpose of PR and Community Outreach/Engagement. This is an important tool for engaging the outer community. However, educators should be using a classroom-only tool to safely share information about their students with families.
Parents should have one place to look for everything they need to know about their children’s education, not five places to look for bits and pieces of information. That’s why K-12 school districts need a unified communications solution that gives parents the equivalent of a front row seat or a window into the classroom.
So when evaluating a solution that you can use to engage with families, consider the following:
– It should connect educators, schools, and the district together in a private and secure space (one that is FERPA compliant at minimum).
– It should allow for two-way communication on every post (regardless of whether it’s a message, announcement, media file, or an event) so that families can respond, coordinate, and know what is happening every day with their children.
– It should allow educators to post messages that allow families to truly understand daily events and reinforce learning at home.
– It should have one central, shared calendar so that families can easily find out what’s coming up in the classroom, at the school, and in the district.
– It should be capable of translating posts within the platform or network, as well as the notifications that go out to families.
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 Second Round of Drako Grant Recipients
One Million Dollar Grant Helps PK-12 Schools Across the Country Deepen Family & Community Engagement via Tiered Social Network®
AUSTIN, TX, May 22, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $250,000 in second round Drako Community and Family Engagement Grants for Schools to districts and campuses throughout the United States. A diverse set of PK-12 school communities representing 11 different states and varying socio-economic needs were awarded the second round Drako Grants. The grants provide a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social Network® — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.
The second round awards represent 25% of the Drako Grant total set at $1 Million as announced in April 2017. The first round of awards announced in early May also represented 25% of the Grant total. Schools and districts that wish to apply for the remaining $500,000 have until June 1st, 2017.
“The number and quality of applications demonstrates the need for technology in engaging families,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “It’s an honor to work with the diverse group of schools and districts pursuing family engagement initiatives to improve student achievement.”
LivingTree is excited to share the second round recipients.
Second Round Grant Award Recipients Include:
“The excitement shown by the applicants from across the United States is contagious,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “The LivingTree team is enjoying working with round one winners on their plans for next year and thrilled to begin planning with the round two recipients.”
To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.
Second Round Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals
Leander ISD, Shannon Lombardo, Community Services Director:
“Currently, campuses have a variety of resources they are using to attempt to communicate with their families: campus newsletters, teacher emails and district emails as well as all of the social media outlets. We are interested in seeing the impact if we streamlined all engagement to LivingTree.”
NYC Public Schools District 13/17, Pamela Payne, Family Leadership Coordinator:
“I have been working for almost 12 years as a parent advocate. Parents need leadership, guidance and ongoing support to deal with the many issues they face. Our faith-based program will partner with the local school community and assist them in planning specifically toward building parent knowledge in academics for their children with a university as our partner. We will also partner with local officials to address parent school concerns as needed.”
Willingboro High School – Making Visions Possible, Gary Nelson, Director:
“We plan to utilize LivingTree to show families a positive narrative of student success at Willingboro High School. Our goals are to create a school community that is heavily involved in the external community and to consolidate all of our resources into an easily accessible, private platform.”
AKTIV Learning Academy, Maribel Alvarez, School Director:
“We plan to utilize LivingTree for family engagement by integrating it into the school’s day to day duties that will keep our parents consistently informed such as: school events, school calendar, documents and links to learning tools for students. We believe it will make communication more accessible and look forward to communication improving for both the parents and the school.”
Cobalt Institute of Math and Science, Veronica Hill, Family Engagement Liaison:
“Family engagement is a huge priority at our school; LivingTree will be a great benefit to us. We are a Title 1 school and have found that the more engaged and informed parents are, the more likely students will do well in their studies.”
La Joya ISD, Velma Ochoa, Family and Community Engagement Coordinator:
“I am looking forward to using technology best practices when working with our families and community. Our entire academic community will benefit greatly from LivingTree. Our students and families are eager for progress.”
About the Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant
The Drako Community and Family Engagement Grant for Schools awards schools and districts with a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social Network® — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.
School grant recipients are those with a stated plan and need for using technology to engage families and communities. Eligible schools include accredited private and public schools in the United States: pre-schools, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.
To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.
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
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!
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.
Founded in 2012, LivingTree’s mission is to connect the people who raise, develop, and educate our children. LivingTree aims to include every member of the community regardless of preferred language or socio-economic status. LivingTree’s Tiered Social Network® empowers leaders, organizations, educators and parents to connect, share, and coordinate up, down and across all levels of their private network to help improve academic achievement. LivingTree has been recognized for this work by the Stevie® Awards for Women in Business as the 2016 Gold Community Involvement Program of the Year and 2016 Silver Smartphone App of the Year. http://www.livingtree.com, 844.LIV.TREE, email@example.com
Maria Cantu has been educating children for 12 years; 9 of those years at Daniel Ramírez Elementary School in Pharr, Texas. She knew she wanted to become a teacher when she was volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club the summer of her 9th grade year. “I instantly fell in love with teaching.” In addition to teaching at the school, she is the CLF leader, is responsible for school PR and is the school’s sponsor for the Mighty Hawks soccer club! “Go Hawks!”
Ms. Cantu is also the proud mama of 5 kids: 3 girls and 2 boys (14, 13, 9, 8 & 7). WOW! The two youngest attend Ramírez Elementary where Ms. Cantu teaches. “My kids continue to exceed my expectations in all aspects of academics”.
Describe how you communicated and shared information with your students’ parents prior to using LivingTree. Before using LivingTree, communicating with parents was mostly all ‘business’; I put notes on the weekly homework sheet, made phone calls when needed, used memos periodically, and scheduled parent teacher conferences. I wasn’t really sharing the day to day joys of student learning and achievement, nor was I establishing the close rapport with parents that I sought. With LivingTree I can truly SHARE with parents what is happening in the classroom daily.
What feature or aspects of LivingTree do you appreciate most? Our school has implemented LivingTree campus wide so we have a community of teachers who post [in LivingTree]. I love that we can share our classroom achievements with one another. I get to see other teacher’s classrooms; it has brought about a sense of camaraderie throughout our school.
Being so busy, how has LivingTree helped YOU specifically? Every year the district requires us to complete an evaluation for McREL. To complete the evaluation, we are to provide ‘artifacts,’ documentation showing how we are growing as a teacher. I provide lesson plans and pictures from the school year…we all know pictures are worth a 1000 words. LivingTree makes it easy to find all my information for the entire year in one place; “very quick, easy and effective”. I shared my ‘process’ with other teachers. They are now also using LivingTree as the tool for ‘documenting’ what they are doing in the classroom.
LivingTree has an App and can be used from a PC; which do you prefer? Both are valuable and user friendly. The app is convenient – I use it for messaging, but I tend to use it mostly for sharing photos. I sit at the PC when messaging and completing my McREL evaluation.
What do the parents of your students say about LivingTree? Parents and students alike love LivingTree. Parents are “very happy” to see their child’s picture posted showing them hard at work, receiving an award, or celebrating a special day. And my students love it too! It has gotten to the point where they say, “Mrs. Cantu, take a picture for LivingTree.”
Digital tools help districts overcome language barriers to family engagement – One social network’s automatic translation feature has helped parents better interact with teachers
Ensuring language barriers do not get in the way of parent access to essential school and district information is not just a strategy for increasing engagement, it’s required by federal regulations. And in districts with dozens of different languages spoken by families, meeting these obligations is no easy task.
Schools across the country have added interpreters and translators to their staffs, purchased subscriptions to telephone interpretation services, and coordinated with community agencies to make sure qualified interpreters from a range of backgrounds are available for important meetings and school events.
When it comes to basic family engagement, some schools have begun to take advantage of digital tools with built-in translators to go one step farther. The nation’s most diverse zip code, 75038, is in the Irving neighborhood of the Dallas metro area. It’s largest population group is Asian, and they make up just 25.7% of the neighborhood. The zip code is also 25% black, 23% Latino and 23% white.
The Irving Independent School District serves much of the 75038 zip code, and, like this neighborhood, has a particularly diverse student body. This year, its students speak a total of 52 different languages. Lesley Weaver, division director of communications, says the district has interpreters on staff who can interpret into and out of some of the most common languages while also coordinating services for families who speak other languages.
While the district website has long featured an automatic translation feature, which currently translates into more than 100 different languages, Weaver has been particularly pleased with a private social network the district debuted in 13 schools in the fall of 2014 and later rolled out to the remaining 25.
Living Tree can be downloaded as a free cellphone app or accessed online, just like Facebook. Teachers can post updates about classroom lessons or upcoming events, sharing text, photos and videos in a private network that— most important for Weaver — allows two-way communication. Parents can like and comment on posts and send private messages to teachers. Thanks to the automatic translation, every user can be reading and writing in his or her preferred language.
“We know that regardless of income, regardless of language, parents want to be connected to their child’s education,” Weaver said. “All parents want what’s best for their kids.”
Living Tree gives parents an easy and direct way to communicate about day-to-day classroom activities. But while it features automatic translation, computers will never be perfect at something so complicated as translating nuanced language.
“We remind teachers in trainings that they need to be cognizant of the things they’re posting,” Weaver said.
Among the best practices they are reminded of is staying away from slang or innuendo because it may not be translated accurately. One example Weaver offers teachers is based on a standard turn of phrase — it’s common to say “we’ve got a lot of great things ‘in store’ for the new year” but “store” will almost certainly be translated into business by automatic tools.
So far, Irving ISD has about 8,200 active users on Living Tree. In a district with 35,000 students, that’s far from 100% parent participation, but considering the last app the school marketed garnered just 1,400 users, Weaver considers Living Tree a success and an important addition to its family engagement efforts.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says individuals cannot be discriminated against by national origin, and the courts have made clear that language barriers that prevent meaningful access to public institutions amount to exactly that. In January 2015, the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice released joint guidance to help schools and districts meet their legal obligations to English learner students and their parents and guardians with limited English proficiency. This document was the clearest and most comprehensive outline of school responsibilities on this matter to date.
From the joint guidance, schools and districts must make sure LEP parents get all the same school information provided to English-speaking parents including — but not limited to — information about: “language assistance programs, special education and related services, IEP meetings, grievance procedures, notices of nondiscrimination, student discipline policies and procedures, registration and enrollment, report cards, requests for parent permission for student participation in district or school activities, parent-teacher conferences, parent handbooks, gifted and talented programs, magnet and charter schools, and any other school and program choice options.”
Schools must also have a defined process for identifying parents who need translation and interpretation services and then providing it. And they need to provide language assistance with “appropriate, competent staff” or similarly qualified outside resources. That means asking bilingual staff members to translate in IEP meetings or pulling children in to translate for their parents during parent-teacher conferences is not allowed.
“Some bilingual staff and community volunteers may be able to communicate directly with LEP parents in a different language, but not be competent to interpret in and out of English … or to translate documents,” the guidance reads. School districts can be — and have been — found liable for relying on untrained or unqualified interpreters.
While app-based, automatic translators cannot fulfill a district’s responsibilities under the Civil Rights Act, Irving ISD has found its chosen tool can at least round out engagement efforts across a diverse community.
“We want families to feel like they have good, accurate, current information about what is going on in their child’s school as well as how they can help them,” Weaver said.
Its social network can at least do that.
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.”