The Benefits of Taking a District-Wide Technology Approach to Family Engagement

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.

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.

Livingtree Hires Leading Expert in Family Engagement and Former Acting State Superintendent of Virginia: Dr. Steve Constantino

As the leading engagement platform provider for K-12 schools, we are excited to announce the hiring of the nation’s leading expert in family engagement and former Acting Virginia State Superintendent, Dr. Steve Constantino who joins Livingtree after an esteemed career in the K-12 education space.

“Through the Engage Platform, Livingtree is shaping how teachers and parents communicate in school districts across the country,” said Gary Hensley , CEO of Livingtree. “Adding Dr. Constantino’s breadth of expertise to the Livingtree team will give parents and teachers the tools they need to be actively engaged in the academic lives of their children.”

Dr. Constantino has dedicated his career to sharing with audiences around the world the importance of engaging all families. As a result of his experiences and his practical approach to engaging families, Steve has authored four books on the subject. His first book, Making Your School Family Friendly (NASSP, 2002) was published after being selected by the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the MetLife Foundation to create the first-ever family friendly schools workshop, held in Washington DC.  His second book Engaging Every Family (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003) soon followed. This book expanded on the conceptual framework of the four domains of family engagement. In 2008, Steve released his third book 101 Ways to Create Real Family Engagement (Engage Press, 2008). Steve’s fourth and newest book, Engage Every Family: Five Simple Principles is published by Corwin (2016) and quickly became a bestseller.

As the SVP of Strategic Accounts, Dr. Constantino will direct the focus of our training, implementation and sales team as we strive to meet the needs of every family and school district.

“I am thrilled to be joining the LivingTree team. I am impressed with LivingTree, their visionary CEO Gary Hensley, their product and their heartfelt commitment to family engagement. They are changing the face of family engagement and I am so very pleased to be part of this fantastic journey. I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work on ensuring every family has the opportunity to be engaged with their children’s learning through advanced, state of the art technology. This truly is Family Engagement 2.0!”

Dr. Constantino began his career as a teacher and moved through the ranks to award-winning principal and school district superintendent. At the State level, Steve served first as Chief Academic Officer and was then appointed to Acting State Superintendent by former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Today, Steve continues to accept numerous invitations to speak and consult with schools, districts and educational organizations around the world and is also an adjunct lecturer at the School of Education, College of William and Mary where he teaches doctoral level classes in executive organizational leadership and planning and evaluation.

Photo by Kelly J Mihalcoe

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