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 engagement platform.
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 have a district-wide platform that 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 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 from 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. (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, rosters, and adoption associated with the number of free teacher communication apps. When schools and teachers resort to using free apps or programs, they are often tasked with having to setup their classroom, upkeeping the roster of students and families, and most of all, pushing 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 having 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 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 have 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.
LivingTree Announces First Round of Drako Grant Recipients
One Million Dollar Grant Helps PK-12 Schools Across the Country Deepen Family & Community Engagement via Tiered Social NetworkR
AUSTIN, TX, May 3, 2017 – LivingTree today announced that it has awarded $250,000 in first 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 first round Drako Grants. The grants provide a private, secure LivingTree Tiered Social NetworkR — including all engagement features, SIS integration, setup, upkeep, training, and support — at no cost for one year.
The first round awards represent 25% of the Drako Grant total set at $1 Million as announced in April 2017. Due to the strength and volume of applications, awards are being made in rounds. Early grant recipients have the opportunity to immediately begin implementation planning towards goals shared on their applications.
“It’s a true honor to help schools create family and community partnerships that will positively impact student achievement,” said Dean Drako, grant benefactor and LivingTree Chairman. “The variety of the schools that have applied demonstrates that family engagement is a universal objective regardless of the location, environment, or grade level.”
LivingTree is excited to share the first round recipients.
First Round Grant Award Recipients
“We’re thrilled to partner with a group of school leaders devoted to building trust and achievement within their communities,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “Many applicants shared their desire to consolidate engagement efforts into a single platform and reach all families using translation and mobile. The LivingTree team is ready and enthusiastic to help these schools realize their vision.”
To learn more and apply for the grant, please visit: Drako Family Engagement Grant.
Initial Award Recipients Share Engagement Goals
St. Lucie Public Schools, Kimberly Roberts, Program Manager:
“Living Tree will help us improve communication between the school and families by sharing options and ideas. Living Tree will provide support and ideas that will engage family and community members. The professional development LivingTree offers will help us improve our relationships between the school and families which in turn will help us build a stronger overall community to support our young in their education. Schools need to build bridges with our families and community that will last. We will engage families – not just involve them for today.”
Waiahole Elementary School, Alexandra Obra, Principal:
“We will communicate with families on a daily basis! Next school year, our focus is on the relationship between the school and home. We want to engage our families in their child’s learning. We would like to have all of our information in one spot so that families don’t have to look all over the place. We also want to make sure that our families have access to the information and can see what their child’s day looks like, as well as highlight what is taking place on our campus.”
Crockett County C.C.S.D, Janina Savala, Federal Programs:
“Living Tree will offer the two-way communication for all students in our district. Currently, most of our communication is one-way through the use of newsletters and notes that are sent home on a weekly basis. Having two-way communication will impact our school community positively by encouraging the parent to ask the teacher questions about concerns. Creating a platform where parents can talk to each other and to school staff and resolve differences early on will be a great benefit.”
Union County Public Schools, Tahira Stalberte, Chief Communications Officer:
“Living Tree has several features that will be extremely beneficial to UCPS and its families. We will use it provide ongoing communication with families, invite feedback and open doors for engaging with families in a non-traditional setting. LivingTree will provide a new and organized platform that can increase parent involvement in UCPS.”
Southwest ISD, Marie Cathryn Phelps, Student & Outreach Services:
“It is our sincere belief that families want to be connected to their children’s school community just as much as we want to be connected to them. We will utilize LivingTree as a district community…I literally picture a tree as a symbol of the district, strong and steadfast, reaching out to provide support, shade, or fruit to its stakeholders, and in this process, we will build and grow relationships where we will be connected and intertwined as we educate and grow our students. I believe that LivingTree will be a very powerful tool as we develop and grow a district wide family and community engagement initiative, that..can be a sustainable part of the community for generations to come.”
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 NetworkR — 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
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
LivingTree Doubles User Base in Q4 as Parents, Teachers and Students Embrace Its Engagement Platform
Skyrockets past the half-million user mark with millions more in the pipeline
AUSTIN, TX—December 13, 2016— LivingTree, which unites educators and families with a private, safe and secure platform, today announced it has seen explosive adoption rates – adding hundreds of thousands of new K-12 customers in Q4 with a projected total exceeding 600,000 users by the end of January.
LivingTree’s platform, designed to strengthen family engagement, deepen parent involvement with teachers and deliver increased student achievement, is now used by U.S. districts and schools in California, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and beyond. Growth in the fourth quarter represents a 100 percent increase in LivingTree users versus Q3 and a 500 percent increase in district-wide implementations.
“Not only is LivingTree currently experiencing a huge spike in growth – but learning institutions representing greater than five million additional users are also closely evaluating the platform. We anticipated this demand from the start and designed LivingTree with scalability and security in mind, so that we can help parents everywhere more deeply connect to their children’s teachers, classrooms and schools,” said Joni Carswell, CEO of LivingTree. “When the community that raises our children can more easily connect and collaborate, together we can improve K-12 academic achievement.”
“Community building is a key component of Baltimore City Public School’s engagement strategy,” said Monique Armstrong, manager of community engagement, Baltimore City Public Schools. “We are excited to partner with LivingTree to authentically engage parents and campus leads in conversations for our students’ success.”
LivingTree recently announced its acquisition by Dean Drako, founder and former CEO of cybersecurity firm Barracuda Networks and current CEO of cloud video surveillance company Eagle Eye Networks. Mr. Drako’s multi-million dollar investment will further accelerate LivingTree’s customer growth and solution development, facilitating and improving ongoing K-12 community engagement and student achievement.
Since 2012, LivingTree has been working with leading school districts, innovative schools and savvy teachers across the country to build stronger 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 to truly unite educators and families by providing a private, safe and secure platform to facilitate easier and more organic conversations.
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. The platform supports more than 100 languages; updates are available via web and mobile and include text messages, alerts, posts, events, document, file and photo sharing. Each customized school network extends to the PTA, booster club, athletic groups, community groups, and student organizations.
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 school, classroom can get access to LivingTree, visit www.livingtree.com or call toll-free (844-548-8733).
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
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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.”