Don’t Miss These Sessions at the 2021 National Family Engagement Summit

The 2021 National Family Engagement Summit will take place October 13-15 at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott for those attending in person or on the Whova app for those attending virtually. The conference, which is hosted by Successful Innovations Inc. and NAFSCE, will feature three full days of great presentations and learning opportunities from across the field of family engagement.

With that said, our team here at Livingtree is ecstatic to be a sponsor of this year’s summit! Our team will be exhibiting virtually this year, and we can’t wait to meet all of those attending. We’ve examined the lineup of presentations for the conference, and we have the inside scoop on 3 sessions you won’t want to miss!

Our recommendation on 3 sessions you should attend:

Wednesday, October 13, 1:45 – 2:45 pm (Virtual)
The Post-Pandemic School Year: Building Family-School Connections through Relational Home Visits: Yesenia Ramirez, Gretchen Viglione

Thursday, October 14, 11:00 am – 12:00 pm (Virtual)
Systems Approaches to Family and Community Engagement: Lisa Elliott, Jessica Stein

Thursday, October 14, 2021, 3:00 – 4:00 pm (In-person)
Using Effective Communication to Bring Families into Learning: Patricia Weinzapfel

A quick note that both Gretchen Viglione and Patricia Weinzapfel have been featured guests on our Family Engagement Webinars, so you’ll find even more great information from their sessions at the conference.

In addition, we can’t not mention our own session that we are hosting on Thursday at 1:15pm – especially because you can earn an additional entry into our $250 Amazon gift card raffle just for attending! Here are the details below:

Thu. October 14, 1:15 PM – 01:45 PM
Improving Family Engagement Through Practical Professional Development: Livingtree

Make sure to stop by our virtual booth on the Whova app where you can also enter the raffle for our $250 Amazon gift card. Our team will be there to answer any questions you have about our webinars, our family engagement professional development, or the Livingtree Engage school communications platform. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Livingtree Launches Children’s Cancer Awareness Month Fundraising Challenge in Partnership with the Livestrong Foundation

AUSTIN, TEXAS — SEPTEMBER 1, 2021

Wednesday, September 1st marked the start of Livingtree’s month-long fundraising challenge for Children’s Cancer Awareness Month. The Austin-based education technology company partnered with the Livestrong Foundation to bring awareness and raise money for children affected by cancer. Livingtree is using their fundraising platform and posing an “Ed-Tech Challenge” to other education technology companies, as well as a fundraising challenge for classroom teachers, to directly benefit the foundation.

The Livestrong Foundation works with schools through their award-winning Livestrong at School program to help teach students about cancer with age-appropriate curriculum, and works with other organizations to support students with cancer that can’t attend school. Livingtree and Livestrong partnered to challenge both companies and classrooms to “Band Together” this month to raise awareness and fundraise in support of students with cancer.

Aeries Software, a Livingtree partner based in Orange, California, is one of the companies that has accepted the Ed-Tech challenge and is participating in raising funds over the course of the month. Leaders from both companies kicked off the challenge on Wednesday morning by making the first, inaugural donations to the campaign that can be seen in a video they recorded.

“I think over the last 18 months students have experienced a lot of disruption – the learning experience has certainly been a challenge for them, and I think in a lot of ways they’re experiencing a small taste of some of the challenges that children around the world and in the U.S. are experiencing when they deal with this type of situation with childhood cancer,” said Aeries President Brent Lloyd in the video. Livingtree CEO Gary Hensley added, “there’s so much going on in the world right now just in general that I think you’re right – taking a pause for a moment and putting yourself in these families’ shoes and saying hey, despite everything that’s going on we can support these families as they go through a difficult time.”

For teachers that participate in the fundraising challenge, Livestrong is supplying their classrooms with Livestrong wristbands, their cancer awareness curriculum, an invitation to an exclusive webinar, and featuring classrooms on their social media pages. Teachers that register receive their own unique Livingtree fundraising page to collect donations, track how much they’ve raised, and see how they’re measuring up against other classrooms.

Teachers that are interested in participating can visit https://try.livingtree.com/childrens-cancer-awareness-month/ to register. Companies looking to get involved in the Ed-Tech company challenge should email Livingtree at info@livingtree.com for more information. If you’d like to make a donation to the Ed-Tech company fundraising campaign, please visit: https://give.livingtree.com/c/livestrong-in-support-of-childrens-cancer-awareness-month_7.

For questions and media inquiries, please email info@livingtree.com.

Why Professional Development Training is Critical for Improving Family Engagement in Schools

Family engagement plays a powerful role in the academic lives of students and is often what sets successful schools apart from others. Research shows that when families are engaged in learning, students demonstrate better grades, test scores, attendance, and behavior (Henderson, Mapp, 2002).

Importance of Family Engagement in Student Learning

In one example, after training their teachers on relationship-building strategies and focusing on building school-home partnerships, Stanton Elementary (the lowest-performing school in Washington D.C.) saw reading scores increase by 10 percentage points and math scores increase by 19 percent points – all within in a single year (Anne T Henderson). There are many similar examples from schools across the country, making the research clear: family engagement has the power to increase school performance and drive student success.

However, to yield these positive, impactful results, family engagement must be a core component of the school and a shared mindset among all staff. As stated in a report by Anne Henderson, “engaging families is not an add-on to what schools do. For parent engagement to be truly effective, it must be central to their core mission, influencing the way schools are physically designed, the style and tone of reporting on student progress, and the culture within which all parent-teacher-student communications take place” (Anne T Henderson).

Too often, family engagement is regarded as an initiative, or supplemental. But it can’t be if schools want to see truly effective results. So the answer seems simple: just make family engagement core to the mission of the school. However, there are a couple of factors that make this a complex challenge for schools and districts.

Teacher Pre-Service Often Lacks Family Engagement Training

When educators begin their careers, their preparation program has strongly prepared them for many aspects of teaching, but family engagement is not one of them. According to a report by the Parent Organization Network (PON), the lack of family engagement training in teacher pre-service is the root cause of the disconnect between research and practice, resulting in many of today’s ineffective family-school partnerships (Parent Organization Network, 2020).

This lack of training consequentially affects teachers when they enter the classroom. In 2005, a national survey by MetLife identified that engaging families was the number one area where teachers felt least prepared and also represented their greatest challenge (qtd. in Anne T Henderson). In 2011, Nevada’s Colleges of Education conducted a survey with post-student teachers who also identified being unprepared to work with families to engage them in their children’s learning (Parent Organization Network, 2020).

Teachers working with families and parents

The lack of preparedness that teachers feel results directly from the absence of family engagement curriculum in teacher preparation programs. In 2000, Broussard’s survey of colleges of education (COE’s) across the United States found that less than 6% of elementary and middle school teacher preparation programs required students to learn about families through their coursework (qtd. in Brown et al., 2014).

In recent years, attempts to standardize family engagement within pre-service programs have been made across the country. But even while laws and requirements are now more closely aligned and largely based on research, the PON report found that “performance and content expectations on family engagement are not uniform across educator credential programs. The performance expectations for elementary and secondary teachers are often at odds with the standards, promoting outdated, “talk at” practices instead of critically important two-way communication, interactions, and relationships, which research shows are key to effective family engagement” (Parent Organization Network, 2020).

Unfortunately, schools and districts must deal with the fact that many of their teachers are entering service without uniform, or in some cases any, family engagement training – thus creating a clear gap in understanding of effective family engagement practices. As previously mentioned, to achieve truly effective family engagement in schools, it must be a core strategy and common mindset among all staff. Therefore, school districts must fill this void through in-service professional development if they wish to see positive changes in their schools.

Disconnect Between Principles and Practice

Regardless of whether staff members received some sort of family engagement training during pre-service, or have since attended a family engagement workshop, presentation, or keynote, there is often still a disconnect between understanding research concepts and applying them in practice.

As it turns out, most family engagement programs are good at building a participant’s understanding of what good family engagement is and motivating them to incorporate it as a practice. The problem is, these opportunities either aren’t in-depth enough for staff to learn specific strategies, or they don’t address the specific practices of individual staff roles (i.e. teachers, principles, etc).

For instance, as mentioned in the article Parent Teacher Education Connection: Preparing Preservice Teachers for Family Engagement, “training that is provided does not address all issues salient to effective parent involvement in sufficient depth” (Brown et al., 2014). The article goes on to provide this example: “Epstein and Sanders found that parent involvement courses stressed some topics significant to facilitating parent involvement, such as how to conduct a parent-teacher conference, how to organize and involve volunteers, and how to work with parents on school decision making teams, but not on such important areas as how to design interactive parent-student homework, how to create newsletters, or how to conduct parent workshops” (Brown et al., 2014).

It’s critical that family engagement programs connect practical and applicable strategies to the surface-level concepts and principles. It’s also important that both school leaders and teachers receive individualized training that can be applied to their own schools and classrooms. Day-to-day family engagement responsibilities and practices in a teacher’s role are much different than they are in a leadership role.

Professional development that offers in-depth material regarding actionable practices and strategies for staff members, rather than surface-level topics, will help schools transform learning into practice and ultimately unify schools with common thinking and strategy.

Family Engagement Professional Development for Schools and Districts

For schools and districts that are looking to make family engagement a core practice and further the knowledge of their staff, Livingtree’s professional development provides actionable learning that helps staff learn, practice, and apply family engagement strategies. The training, which is now offered as an online program for schools and districts, offers teacher and leadership-specific courses that increase their capacity of effective practices, help them create better parent interactions and communications, and guide them in creating school improvement plans, to ultimately enhance family engagement in their schools.

Learn more about Livingtree’s professional development here.

Translating School-Home Communication for Parents & Families

At Livingtree, we strive to connect schools and families so that schools can communicate effectively and engage parents in their student’s learning. That’s why we’ve built extensive translation features within the Livingtree Engage communication platform.

Why is it important to translate school communication?

Effective and open lines of communication are key to building strong family-school relationships that boost family engagement and ultimately drive student success. However, language can easily become a barrier if teachers are not equipped with resources to overcome it. Schools must be able to overcome this barrier and establish effective lines of communication with limited English proficient parents, not only because it’s important to student success, but because it’s the law.

And with today’s school populations growing more ethnically and culturally diverse, it’s never been more important to have translations available for school communications. When you have a multilingual parent population, it’s important to consider these aspects of school translations to improve communication with families and avoid misunderstandings:

What to consider about translating school communications:

Number of Languages Available

If you’re using a parent communication app or system, consider how many languages are available for families to choose from for translation into their primary language. A communication platform with 20-30 languages will cover widely spoken languages and might be enough if you have a smaller multilingual parent population.

Livingtree Engage Langauge Translations
Langauge Translation Options on Livingtree’s Engage platform

But what if you have students whose families speak languages beyond those that are considered “widely spoken?” A communication platform like Livingtree Engage that has over 100 languages available is a better option and will make it easier for teachers and schools to communicate with parents, regardless of language.

Automatic Translation

When communications are automatically translated into every parent’s primary language, teachers save time and parents feel valued. Teachers don’t have to find the time and resources to provide individual translations, and parents with limited English proficiency don’t have to figure out how to translate and understand their messages. Automatic translations make it easy to create an open line of communication between school and home.

Viewing the Original Message

Of course, while technology is making great strides to accurately translate human languages, it’s not always 100% correct. In those instances, you should make sure that parents have the ability to view the original message. Viewing the original message can help parents further understand a message and avoid any confusion from hiccups within a translation.

Two-Way Translation

Livingtree Engage Two-Way Translations for School Communication

Two-way communication is a critical aspect of family engagement, so it’s important to have two-way translations as well. This means that you write your message in English and families receive the message in their preferred language. Parents can then write back in their preferred language and you’ll receive the message back in English. This two-way interaction not only opens the lines of communication but also creates a sense of community and builds stronger relationships between staff and families.

Use Simple Words

When writing in an app or platform that provides translations for families, be mindful of the words you use and attempt to use words that are simple. Patricia Weinzapfel is the author of the book No More Mumbo Jumbo that reveals the complicated language typically used in education and ways that schools can bridge this communication gap. As a guest on one of Livingtree’s Family Engagement webinars, she suggested:

“The simpler the words, the more easily they are translated and understood in other languages.”

Patricia Weinzapfel, author of No More Mumbo Jumbo, discusses how simplifying your communication can improve translations

Communication that uses simple words, and is free from jargon, slang, and idioms is more easily translated. Just remember that English is a complex language, especially to those attempting to learn it for the first time. Look for complicated words and replace them with simpler words to improve your translations.

Use Visuals

Providing a visual with your messages is another strategy to help with understanding and comprehension. Visuals can be in the form of videos, images, gifs, etc., so if you have a parent communication platform like Livingtree Engage that allows you to attach these types of files, don’t be afraid to find visuals to accompany your messages to parents.

14 Ways to Say Thank You to Teachers During the COVID Pandemic

Through the school closures, quarantines, and virtual learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the globe have realized the immense amount of work and dedication that teachers put into their jobs day in and day out on behalf of their students. Many people are even feeling inspired to go out of their way to say thank you.

Whether you’re celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week, Teacher Appreciation Day, the end of the school year, or just want to say thank you to a teacher, we’ve got you covered!

Here are 14 ways to thank your teacher:

1. Create a Photo Collage Message With Other Students and Families

Get together with other students and families to make a photo collage message that thanks a teacher or your school’s entire staff! Simply plan and coordinate a message among your group, take your pictures, and put them together for your teacher or faculty!

Here’s an example from some students at Lake View High School:

2. Record A Personal Thank You Video

Whip out a phone or open up a computer and record a personal thank you message for your teacher! Share memorable moments, ways they’ve impacted you, something specific you’ve learned, or just your favorite thing about being in their class.

3. Record a Collaborative Thank You Video

Work together with your fellow classmates to put together a collaborative thank you video. Have each person record a small segment saying thank you, and put them all together to produce a heart-warming video your teacher will love.

4. Record a Group Singing Video

Is there a song your teacher is obsessed with? Maybe one that became a theme in your class? Collaborate with your classmates to sing (or lipsync) the song in honor of your teacher!

5. Record a Group Dance Video

Ok, so singing isn’t your thing? Collaborate with your classmates and choreograph a dance instead! Have each person record a segment and put them all together for a group dance video!

6. Create a Voice Recording

If you want to put together something pre-recorded without any video, try just using the voice recording app on a phone to record a message for your teacher. Letting teachers hear their student’s voice is a very personal way to thank them for all of their hard work. After recording it, simply attach it to an email or upload it online to share it with them.

7. Give Them a Call

The simplest thing to do might just be to give them a call and say thank you. Try waiting until shortly after the school day is over while they are still “in office” to call.

8. Send Them a Digital or E-Card

Canva thank-you to teachers

If teachers aren’t in their classrooms, a physical card likely won’t work. However, it’s still possible to send them a digital card or e-card while in quarantine! There are a variety of websites that you can use to send a digital card or video to your child’s teacher.

One option is to use Canva. Their easy-to-use site allows you to design your own thank you cards or choose from a variety of templates. You can check out Canva’s Thank You Card Hub to explore all of their options.

Another option you can explore is Hallmark’s Teacher Appreciation Day cards. If you’re looking for a premade option that you can just purchase and send, they have a number of e-card options to choose from.

9. Create a Hand-Made Work of Art

Hand Painted Thank You Note for Teacher Appreciation Week

Draw, write, color, or paint a thank you and send it to your teacher! Depending on where your school is at with in-person learning, there are a variety of ways to deliver it. If you can’t physically deliver or mail it, try scanning or taking a picture of it! If your teacher is on Livingtree Engage, use the inbox feature and send it as a direct message.

10. Write a Heartfelt Card or Letter

Physically write a heartfelt card or letter to your teacher (just watch that grammar!). Need ideas of what to write? Share memorable moments, ways they’ve impacted you, something specific you’ve learned, or just your favorite thing about being in their class.

11. Do an Act of Gratitude on Their Behalf

Act of Gratitude for Teacher

You can do something for your community on behalf of your teacher. Take some time to volunteer, or make a donation in their name. If you choose to volunteer, make sure you can do so safely.

12. Send Them a Gift Card

Gift cards are certainty still an option, especially since most are available to send via email. Here are a few great options to consider:

Amazon
Teachers can always use Amazon gift cards, whether it be for school supplies, home goods, groceries, or a movie night on Amazon Video.

Netflix or Hulu
Speaking of movie nights, a gift card to Netflix or Hulu could mean a month of movie nights at home or binge-watching an addicting show.

Your local grocery store
Purchase them a gift card to the local grocery store in your community. Taking care of the essentials is always appreciated, especially during difficult times.

Food or grocery delivery
Gifting them a gift card for a food or grocery delivery service is the perfect quarantine gift. A gift card to a grocery delivery service like Instacart enables your teacher to receive groceries while staying safe and healthy at home. Gift cards for food delivery services like Uber Eats, Doordash, Favor, and Postmates also make great meal gifts, and support your local delivery workers and restaurants.

Local shops or restaurants
Gift cards to local places help support your community during these difficult times, and make a great gift that teachers will appreciate.

13. Send Them Flowers (If They Are In The Classroom)

Thank You Flowers for Teacher

Flowers are always a great and meaningful gift to say thank you. Consider taking a bouquet or ordering one to be delivered to your teacher!

14. Support Their Fundraising Campaigns

Support a Teacher's Online Fundraising Campaign for Teacher Appreciation Week

Many teachers fundraise online for classroom supplies and projects. Sometimes funding requests for their projects are also made available online as grants through their education foundation. Either way, if your child’s teacher has a fundraising project on an online school fundraising site like Livingtree Give, consider supporting it. A small donation, or even just sharing it out on social media can be a big help.


Looking for better school communication or school fundraising?

Livingtree is where school communities get connected! Whether you’re looking for a school communication system to centralize classroom, school, and district communication in one place for families, or an online fundraising platform to help you reach more donors and raise more money, Livingtree can help! Learn more about Livingtree’s solutions below:

How to improve school communication for all families in your district

The way our society communicates has changed, drastically! Data, that’s now over two years old, shows that 96% of Americans own a cellphone, and 81% of Americans own a smartphone. The technology available today is faster and easier to use than ever before. And now the millennials that grew up using today’s technology are the parents of children that are already entering your schools – which means their expectations of your school district’s communication are at an all-time high.

However, school districts across the country are finding themselves with similar problems: (1) Today’s classrooms contain more languages than ever before, creating a barrier when things aren’t translated into a parent’s preferred language. (2) Countless communication tools and systems have been introduced over time to meet the needs of different stakeholders, without significant consideration for how many places that families have to keep up with. (3) And with all the different communication tools, administrators have little oversight into the communication and limited data for reporting.

Many K-12 families struggle to see into the school much beyond a school event or newsletter, and have struggled for decades to get an answer to the simple question “what did you do at school today?” Considering this, let’s dive into 6 things that will improve parent communication across your entire school district.

1. Establish one source for all communication

More and more school districts’ parent-surveys are revealing that school-home communication is consistently a problem area. Parents are reporting that they no longer want to go here for this and there for that. Instead, they want one easy platform for all of their communication.

Why is this happening? Over time, district offices, school offices, classrooms, and school groups have all introduced different ways to communicate with families. For example, district and school offices implemented tools for sending mass notifications like auto-dialing, emailing, texting, and sending urgent alerts; mass communications like newsletters and emails; and student-specific alerts like attendance and lunch balance notifications. Meanwhile, classrooms and school groups needed their own tools so they found free third-party apps, used mass emails and texts, or created social media pages. Plus, everyone is using a different calendar, event, and group coordination tools.

Families Frustrated by School Communication App Overload

While these all serve great purposes, it’s difficult to step back and look at what’s happening to families. With all these different communication channels, families – especially those with multiple kids in different grades and schools, are trying to keep up with 8 or 9 different forms of communication. When families need to check for school announcements, where should they go? Social media? The school website? Their email? A communication app? Even the best get overwhelmed and start checking out because they are also trying to stay on top of life at home.

Families just want one source for all communication. Implementing a communication platform that’s built to unify communication this way is the best and easiest solution. District-wide communication platforms like Livingtree Engage allow you to get away from all the different tools you use to communicate. This allows your families to directly connect with their child’s teacher, and receive school-level and district-level communication in one place, without all of the overwhelming apps, cluttered inboxes, and lost emails.

Livingtree-Engage School Communication in One Platform
Livingtree’s Engage platform streamlines all communication in one place

2. Translate into a parent’s preferred language

Your district may contain families with dozens of different primary languages, and failing to translate messages can create a barrier between them and their child’s learning. Parents in diverse communities may be afraid to even follow up on any official notices that they don’t fully understand.

The tools that your district office, schools, and classrooms use should automatically translate messages into each parent’s preferred language to avoid confusion and keep families engaged. Optimally, you should have a communication platform that provides automatic two-way translation between families and staff. That way, a staff member can write a message in English and have it delivered in the preferred language of a parent, and vice-versa when that parent replies.

Livingtree Engage Two-Way Translations for School Communication

This will not only improve the effectiveness of your schools’ communication, but also the engagement among families that speak different primary languages.

3. Maintain oversight and data of all communication

When it comes to communication, school and district administrators should have two things: oversight and data. But when everyone is using something different to communicate with families, this can be hard to come by.

School and district administrators often report wanting oversight of the communication that their schools are sending. This insight can help schools continuously optimize and streamline their communication.

Administrators also know how important data is. Not only can communication data be used for reporting, but it can also help identify areas that need improvement. Platforms that offer data and reports for district, school, and classroom-level communication can help streamline this process while offering insight into platform usage, who has read what, and how parents are engaging with different communications.

This is yet another benefit to having one platform.

4. Eliminate registrations and signups – make it easy for families

When classrooms and school groups are using their own communication tools, in addition to all the school and district-level systems, families end up with a lot of sign-ups, group codes, and registrations – which becomes overwhelming year over year.

When district SIS systems already have parent contact information, school communication should be an effortless experience on the part of families. You can eliminate a lot of frustration by ensuring that your communication tools accept data from your district’s SIS system.

You can dramatically improve your families’ communication experience if you make sure that they are automatically connected to their child’s teacher, school, and district without having to deal with the sign-ups and registrations.

5. Provide easy and customizable communication

Want to improve communication for families? Make sure your communication tools are both easy to use and customizable for families. Instead of choosing how to send information to families, let families choose how they want to receive it!

With a communication platform like Livingtree Engage, you can let parents set their preferences as to how they receive notifications. This ensures that they are able to receive communication in whatever form is best for them, and streamlines communication between school and home.

6. Make it mobile – everything right in a parent’s pocket

In general, cell phones have become a lifeline for families who are constantly busy and on the go. It’s also a pretty safe bet today that while not all families will have devices like computers and tablets, most if not all will have a cell phone.

To reach all families, you should ensure that all your communication is accessible via mobile devices. With communication platforms like Livingtree Engage, you can provide families a single source of communication that is quite literally in their pocket. That way families get access to class updates, school notifications, and other communications right on their phones.

Key Takeaway:

The expectations for modern communications that meet the needs of families is only intensifying. And while school districts want to check every box and reach families in as many ways as possible, this can actually cause problems if families are inundated with communication.

Sure, communication channels like social media have their place in public relations for serving and addressing the broader community. But at some point, more communication is not always better. Better communication is better. That’s why it’s important to consider how families are receiving communication from all of the different stakeholders in your district – at the district, school, and classroom levels.

Use a platform to improve every aspect of communication

As we’ve covered, the right communication platform can unify all communication in one place for families, and provide beneficial features like automatic translations, data and reporting, customizable preferences, and mobile access.

Schools and districts across the country are using Livingtree’s Engage platform, and have made significant improvements to the communication experience of their staff and families. Interested in learning more about Livingtree Engage and whether it’s the right platform for your school or district community?

Visit the Livingtree Engage page to learn more or request more information below:

You can also download our free guide for finding a better way to engage families:

Family Engagement Technology Guide

What is Family Engagement? 8 Things You Should Know

“Family engagement means more than simply informing parents about their child’s progress or challenges” [IRIS Center]

When it comes to one of the most important components related to student success and school improvement, it’s mission critical to understand family engagement.

While much has changed over the years related to how we as a society interact, communicate, and maintain relationships, certain fundamental principles of family engagement remain unchanged.

This article is not as in-depth as many of the research reports you can find about family engagement. Instead, it will help you understand the 8 things you should know right now.

Let’s get started. Here are the 8 things you should know about family engagement:

1. What is Family Engagement?
2. Why is Family Engagement Important?
3. How Do Schools Improve Family Engagement? With Culture and Capacity
4. Effective, Two-Way Communication Is at The Core
5. Disengaged Families? You Can’t Just Do Things At School
6. Family Engagement is Not All About School Events
7. How to Engage Families at Home? Help Families Ask Better Questions
8. Involve Families in the Decision-Making Process

1. What is Family Engagement?

Family Engagement in the context of K-12 education simply refers to the process of schools and families working together around a child’s learning in a collaborative and supportive manner to promote the child’s development and wellbeing.

This definition of family engagement is derived from the U.S. Department of Education, NAFSCE, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The term “family” is inclusive of all adults who interact in school systems in support of their child, including biological, adoptive, and foster parents; grandparents; legal and informal guardians; and adult siblings.

2. Why is Family Engagement Important?

Family engagement is based on decades of research that demonstrates that families play an important role in students’ development and learning. Importantly, it has proven that when families are meaningfully engaged in learning, students demonstrate better grades, test scores, attendance, and behavior.

Here’s a short clip from one of Livingtree’s Family Engagement webinars with Dr. Steve Constantino on the ROI of Family Engagement:

3. How Do Schools Improve Family Engagement? With Culture and Capacity

While family outreach might be a common strategy, oftentimes there is apprehension among school staff. This apprehension usually stems from either a lack of understanding, a lack of culture in the school, a lack of capacity – or some combination.

To engage families, the first step for schools is to establish a culture that embraces family engagement. Staff members must understand the importance and impact of family engagement on student learning. It must be a core value of the school organization.

Additionally, once staff members embrace and recognize family engagement among their school culture, they must then have the capacity to implement effective strategies and practices. Unfortunately, family engagement is seldomly covered in teacher preparation programs, leaving teachers without knowledge about what good family engagement looks like or how to engage families.

Much like you are doing here, it is important to cover the groundwork to build a better understanding of family engagement. Further investing in family engagement training and professional development is another way to fast-track the capacity-building of the staff members in your school or district.

4. Effective, Two-Way Communication Is at The Core

Family engagement research indicates that two-way communication is a fundamental core process. However, there are also many barriers hidden in communication that can hinder family engagement. This can include using primarily one-way communication, failing to translate communications, and/or not communicating effectively.

One-way communication is easy. It involves sending information home. Folders, grades, newsletters, forms, school notifications and alerts – while important, don’t drive authentic family engagement. These therefore cannot be the only types of communication that schools have with families. There must be real, two-way conversations that take place where teachers and staff members invite family feedback and participation in the conversation.

One Way Communication

Additionally, communication should be delivered effectively. Families should have one place that they can view all communication from their child’s classroom, school, and district. They shouldn’t be juggling several places for bits and pieces.

Unfortunately, with time, districts often accumulate several methods for communicating with families. There are websites, emails, alerts, and mass communications from the district and school buildings, plus even more third-party apps and tools used in classrooms.

After sorting through it all, families find that they are receiving communication in 8 or 9 different ways, causing even the best to start checking out. Many districts have revealed through surveys that families want one simple source for all their communication, such as a unified communication platform.

Families Frustrated by School Communication App Overload

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to family communication. Because this section could stand alone as it’s own article, here are some quick tips:

Start the year off with a phone call, and check in throughout the year (direct two-way communication!). Use questions to try and exact valuable information about the student and their family.

Don’t only communicate when something is wrong. A family’s first thought when they see their child’s school calling shouldn’t be “oh no” or “something must be wrong.” What does that say about their relationship and expectations with the school? Communicate often and share positive feedback.

Communicate what will happen, not what already happened. Letting families know about a grade on last week’s test doesn’t promote engagement. Families can’t engage with (or fix) things that happened in the past. Instead, provide families information about things ahead of time that are going to happen.

Ensure that families can receive classroom, school, and district communication in one place. School districts often have different methods of communication at the district-level than they do at the school and classroom-levels. As a result, families are going here for this, and there for that – and eventually it becomes frustrating. Instead, provide a way for families to choose how they are notified and receive everything in one place. You can do this with a district-wide or school-wide communication platform.

Eliminate language barriers by ensuring that families can receive all communication in their primary language. You can do this by ensuring that your school’s or district’s communication platform translates everything into a family’s primary language.

Bonus info: Get the Family Engagement Technology guide for the 4 capabilities your engagement platform must have and the best practices for school districts to implement a unified solution.

5. Disengaged Families? You Can’t Just Do Things At School

When families are disengaged and not involved or participating, you must go to them. There are a number of reasons why you might not ever hear from a student’s family, but continuing to reach out from your school site and expecting engagement is ineffective.

Instead, you have to get out into the community in order to reach and build trust with the families who are disengaged. A common saying is that before they come to you, you must go to them.

Here’s Todd Nesloney’s take on this idea from one of Livingtree’s Family Engagement webinars:

Here are a few ways you can “go to” families:
• Conduct home visits
• Host events out in the community (cookouts, family fun nights, car parades)
• Hold school meetings in the community (at places of worship, community centers, public libraries, etc.)

6. Family Engagement is Not All About School Events

A common misconception is that schools must host events and get families to physically attend school functions. While events are a great way to bring families together and provide different resources to those who need it, events and event attendance are not correlated with, nor a measure of family engagement.

Research has shown that the most powerful family engagement that best promotes student learning happens outside of school. The most authentic engagement between a parent and a child happens in the car, on the walk to the bus stop, at the kitchen table – away from school.

The challenge for schools is to focus less on hosting events at school, and more on finding ways to effectively reach families in ways that promote family efficacy and engagement outside of school.

Here’s Dr. Steve Constantino on one of Livingtree’s Family Engagement webinars and his take on this challenge:

7. How to Engage Families at Home? Help Families Ask Better Questions

If the best forms of family engagement happen outside of school, then the key is to empower families to engage in their child’s learning. The easiest way to do that is to help families ask better questions.

Too often, the extent of the conversation about school is (get ready, bet this sounds familiar!):

Family member: “What did you do at school today?”
Child: “Nothing.”
Family member: “Do you have homework?”
Child: “Not much”

The goal is to change that scenario so that families don’t have to ask, and instead already know. One of the best techniques is to provide families with effective questions to ask their children at home. Take this example:

“This week in mathematics we will be learning about the order of operations. This is simply the order in which students should multiply, divide, add, and subtract in their math equations. Ask your child about the following:
What acronym did you learn to remember the order of operations? (Answer: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”
What does the acronym stand for? (Answer: Parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction)

Quizzing your child on these questions will help them memorize the concept and successfully use it on our test next week. Please let me know if there are any questions or struggles.”

Think about how much more well-equipped a family member is with that information and how much easier it is to be engaged in their child’s learning.

8. Involve Families in the Decision-Making Process

Involving families in the decision-making process of a school or district is important. Not only does it build trusting relationships with the school system and staff members, but families also become more supportive of the school or district.

When families feel as though they have a role in the school, the school becomes more communal – where they feel like they can refer to it as “our school.” If families aren’t involved in any decisions, they don’t feel like they have a role at the school and it simply becomes “the school.” So it’s extremely beneficial to give families the ability to provide feedback and engage in decisions that impact their children.

Here are just a few areas that you can involve families in the decision-making process:

• Inviting families to attend and participate in school improvement meetings
• Creating an open and accepting process to invite family concerns and complaints
• Gathering family input on testing dates
• Gathering family input on the types of events that will be held throughout the year
• Gathering family input on event dates and times
• Gathering family input on how conferences will be conducted
• Gathering family input on field trips

Conclusion: Remember, Family Engagement is a Partnership

Family engagement requires teamwork. Family engagement is a strategy that requires families and school staff to work collaboratively in order to benefit the student.

Regardless of whether you’re approaching this for the first time, or a seasoned veteran looking to further enhace family engagement, hold on to this: both sides care. Teachers and school staff members care about their students and want them to succeed. Families also want their children to succeed simply due to a common desire among all parents for their children to exceed them in their quality of life.

If you remember that, and apply those 8 pieces of knowledge about family engagement, you can make a difference.

5 Powerful Ways to Improve Family Engagement with Better School Communications

Family engagement is a key component in both school improvement and student success. Research shows that when families engage in their child’s learning, students demonstrate better grades, test scores, attendance, and behavior.

The problem that many face is that traditional family engagement practices aren’t as effective. Modern-day families seem to be busier and interacting via digital communication more than ever before.

On top of it all, the COVID-19 pandemic is making matters even more complicated. Because of it, traditional events (i.e. home visits, back to school nights, parent-teacher conferences, and other similar events) are not taking place – at least in-person.

Effectively communicating with families and keeping even the busiest connected to their child’s learning is key to engaging today’s families. This is easier than it sounds, especially when schools and districts utilize technology that keeps all communication in one place for families. A communication platform like Livingtree Engage connects families to their child’s teacher, school and district, ensures families receive communications in their preferred language, and helps administrators oversee communication activity and data at every level.

By implementing the right platform, schools can actually improve multiple areas of family engagement.

Bonus info: Get the Family Engagement Technology guide for the 4 capabilities your engagement platform must have and the best practices for school districts to implement a unified solution.

The Center for Family Engagement and the Global Family Research Project defined five powerful areas for engagement based on research and outlined Five Ways Families, Teachers, Schools and Communities Can Work Together to Support Children’s Learning and School Success. Below, we cover how a school or district-wide communication platform like Livingtree Engage can improve those 5 areas:

1. Ensure Children Attend School Regularly

Student Attendance Family Engagement - Livingtree

“Children can’t make academic progress if they aren’t in school—especially if they miss several days over the course of the school year.”

To ensure children attend school, families have to understand what their child is learning and why it is important. If families don’t value school attendance, it’s often because the importance hasn’t been clearly or consistently demonstrated in school-home communications. Here’s how educators and schools can use Livingtree Engage to improve attendance:

• Educators can share classroom-wide what students will be learning, or including information about upcoming assignments, projects, or tests. They can also attach files, photos, or videos to provide families with additional content.
• Educators can post photos and videos from the classroom to show what students are learning and working on.
• Direct one-to-one messaging allows educators to have personal conversations with families. This opens further opportunities to discuss learning, achievements, challenges, or address a child’s absence from class.
• Livingtree’s Attendance Alerts provide families with a notification about a child’s absence. This not only keeps families up to date but helps build a partnership with families in reducing absenteeism.

2. Share Information About Student Progress

Student Progress Family Engagement - Livingtree

“Use multiple ways to communicate how children are doing—conferences, report cards, standardized tests, and more.”

Sharing student progress can keep families up to date and avoid any surprises. This consistent communication allows action to be taken before it’s too late. Here’s how Livingtree Engage makes it easy to share student progress:

• Educators can post to families classroom-wide about progress with projects and tests, as well as expectations and reminders about where students should be.
• Educators can utilize direct messaging to discuss a specific student’s progress.
• Setting important due-dates and scheduling parent-teacher conferences can be done through the calendar.

3. Reinforce Shared Learning

Reinforce Learning Family Engagement - Livingtree

“Families play a key role in supporting learning in and out of school. For example, showing children how science, math, engineering, and technology are part of our daily lives and talking about careers in these areas can also motivate children to prepare for the future.”

There are a number of ways that families can help reinforce learning outside of school. With clear instructions and effective communication, those opportunities can have a positive impact on student learning. Here’s how Livingtree Engage can be utilized to reinforce shared learning:

• Educators can share activities and projects for families to complete at home.
• Educators can post questions for families to ask at home to reinforce learning for that day or week, effectively replacing “what did you do in school today?”
• Educators can upload videos, or share video links for families to share with their child.

4. Use Digital Media In Positive And Safe Ways

Digital Media Family Engagement - Livingtree

“Apps and other online communication tools can be a way to build relationships with teachers too! Schools can also educate students and their families on the use of social media, how to prevent or report bullying, and how to develop media literacy skills that will help them throughout life.”

An open, safe, two-way line of communication between school and home can lead to trusting relationships between teachers and families. Here are some other ways Livingtree promotes positive and safe use of digital media:

• Livingtree is private and secure. It opens a safe space for families to use technology in a meaningful way.
• Livingtree feels like a private social media network, so it’s extremely easy to use, even for families who have no prior use in technology.
• Keeping in close contact with families on Livingtree can help build trust and relationships.
• Schools can use Livingtree to open up the conversation at the start of the school year about digital citizenship rules.
• Schools that use Livingtree with students in older grades as a collaborative classroom tool can provide a great introduction to digital citizenship

5. Provide Support During Transitions to New Schools and Classrooms

Transition Support Family Engagement - Livingtree

“Children and youth benefit from support from their families, schools and communities when they are adjusting to a new school, meeting a new teacher or learning with new peers. Whether children are beginning kindergarten, entering ninth grade, moving to a new neighborhood, or starting a new after school program, transitions can be a time of stress and uncertainty.”

Making it easier for families to support their child during a time of transition can greatly benefit students. When families can connect to their school and teachers without having to worry about signing up or registering for new apps and communication programs, it enables families to provide the support that their child needs. Here’s how Livingtree Engage can be utilized to support families:

• District-wide implementations of Livingtree provide families a consistent form of communication with their child’s teacher and school that they can rely on. Their information is automatically updated through syncs with the district SIS system.
• Staff members can use Livingtree to provide warm and welcoming messages for new families

Unifying your school-home communication with the right platform can certainty hit all five areas. And by making improvements in those five areas, schools can expect to see improvements in engagement as well.

Interested in learning more about Livingtree Engage and how other districts are using it to improve family engagement? Visit the Livingtree Engage page to learn more.

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