Family Engagement

Medium

In North Dakota, our communities are not foreign to the concept of community and family. North Dakota’s heritage and the values expressed by its people are rooted in togetherness. It’s how the pioneers led the development of our state’s public education. For many years, family engagement has been a challenging priority among the nation’s school districts. The ND Legislature and the Department of Public Instruction are putting a much sharper focus on family engagement as a strategy to improve classroom learning.

You may have heard it before but it’s worth repeating: “Families are the first and most influential teachers of their children.” Partnering with families increases your ability as a leader to influence school reform and improve student achievement.

Families are an invaluable resource to schools. New efforts are being developed across the state to ensure we are doing all we can to partner together for the betterment of our students.

Family Engagement Cabinet

The Department of Public Instruction created it's first-ever Family Engagement Cabinet in the Spring 2019. The Family Engagement Cabinet provides an outlet for family members to share experiences in education and advocate for changes they'd like to see be made. The Cabinet assists NDDPI in facilitating partnerships and collaboration with families and schools.

Breaking down barriers

Families tend to increase their engagement with a school when they have trust and believe that their efforts will have a direct and positive impact on their children’s education and overall well-being.

Shifting from involvement to engagement

For many districts when the topic of family engagement is discussed the thought process goes to efforts that traditionally have been performed in schools including hosting a school website, a back to school family night or emailing updates. While these efforts are good and important they don’t directly meet the objective of engagement.

True engagement takes place when families and school staff work together continually to support and improve student learning.

Partnerships

LivingTree

Schools across the state of North Dakota are working with Livingtree, a K-12 solution provider for family engagement and fundraising management, to enhance family engagement through a program designed to implement effective and consistent family engagement practices.

As part of the partnership and services offered, schools have access to the LivingTree Engage platform, a private, safe, and secure community that allows for teachers and families to work together more collaboratively, simplifying school-to-family and family-to-school communication by providing families access to their child’s day-to-day learning.

In addition, the North Dakota education communities also can partake in the Livingtree Family Engagement Program designed to complement school efforts with learning outcome goals by incorporating effective and measurable family engagement processes. Administrator and educator teams receive capacity-building professional training created by family engagement experts Dr. Steve Constantino and family & student engagement expert Jeromie Heath. Coaching focuses on creating a family-focused culture while providing teachers with the necessary family engagement skills and strategies to benefit students outside of school.

The two-day professional development training is comprised of on-site training modules, web-based coaching sessions, targeted strategies that promote the efficacy of families, and the integration of state-of-the-art technology featuring the Livingtree exclusive Family Efficacy Score™ (FES) that allows all schools to measure the degree of engagement, effectiveness and compares that effectiveness to student learning improvements.

“Every school struggles with family engagement and if you’re like us, we aren’t exactly sure what to target to make improvements because it is overwhelming,” said Anna Sell, Family Engagement PD workshop attendee. “After attending, I feel like we can take on the challenge. We strongly encourage others to attend as I think it is well worth the time.”

Phase II Training - LivingTree Family Engagement That Works

This fall, we hosted Phase I of LivingTree trainings with NDREAs across the state. Districts learned about the “why” behind family engagement, broke down stigma, and learned about a free software platform. 

Recently, the NDDPI and LivingTree sponsored an informational webinar. The focus of these webinars was learning what your needs are for the implementation of Family Engagement/LivingTree program.

Here is a recording of the webinar that took place November 21, 2019: https://youtu.be/xJHPGtxdD2g

 

Medium
LivingTree Q&A
  1. Who are LivingTree and Dr. Constantino?

LivingTree is a company that specializes in Family Engagement to help schools and districts instill today’s best practices that produce better student learning outcomes. LivingTree works in partnership with Dr. Steve Constantino, a proven expert in effective family engagement practices. LivingTree and Dr. Constantino provide a Family Engagement Program for schools and districts that combines capacity-building professional development with the LivingTree Engage family engagement platform in order to help schools enhance their family engagement practices.

 2. How are LivingTree and Dr. Constantino associated with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI)?

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction partnered with LivingTree and Dr. Constantino to provide their Family Engagement Program to schools and districts across the state.

 3. Is there an expectation from DPI to implement this tool and if yes, is there a timeline in which the expectation is to be met?

The ND Legislature provided $300,000 to the NDDPI to help train schools on authentic family engagement. It is expected that NDDPI will provide evidence and results of impact to the legislature in the 2021 session. The LivingTree platform is the tool selected by the state to measure the results of family efficacy and increased student achievement. It is not mandatory for every school to use this training and tool, but we hope many do so we can provide positive and reliable results during the 2021 legislative session in order to secure funding for the next biennium.

Schools that have been identified as Targeted Support and Improvement, and Comprehensive Support and Improvement are required to implement this solution. Schools who intend to apply for/receive a Comprehensive Literacy grant must utilize the training and tool unless they can prove they have a comparable and viable alternative and will share their evidence of family efficacy with the state.

Schools that have received Striving Reader grants and our Personalized Learning School District partners are strongly encouraged to utilize the training and tool.

4. What services were included in the partnership with NDDPI?

As part of the partnership between LivingTree, Dr. Constantino and NDDPI, schools and districts were provided a complete Family Engagement program, which includes Professional Development workshops and the LivingTree Engage family engagement platform.

The program officially launched in September 2019, and included 8 regional two-day professional development trainings. The workshops were administered by Dr. Steve Constantino & Jeromie Heath. The LivingTree Engage family engagement platform is also included for schools and districts across the state. The platform unifies families and educators for better ways to engage in student learning. Once the provided data sharing agreement is signed and returned to CREA, LivingTree will create and automatically roster the system for your staff, families, and students.

5. We received training in September / October of 2019, now what?

Once Dr. Constantino’s and Jeromie Heath’s professional development training has been received by administrators and leaders, additional training should be conducted to ensure staff members understand the strategies and best practices that should be used.

This can be done several ways:

  • If you’d like additional professional development at your district or school sites, please contact LivingTree’s Sales team or Dr. Constantino.
  • Technical training on how to use the LivingTree Engage platform is not covered in the professional development workshops, but in-depth technical training can be scheduled for free at any time with LivingTree.
  • You can also use LivingTree and Dr. Constantino’s training videos and support articles.

Once staff members are familiar with best practices and the LivingTree Engage platform, you should plan a date to “go-live” with all your staff and families. This is the date that notifications will be sent to families to register and log in. Unifying your staff and families on one platform is critical to enhance family engagement, so setting a date for this to occur is important.

6. How can we train our staff, and how can we receive additional training?

If you’d like to conduct training based on the professional development workshops you attended, materials are available from LivingTree’s Customer Support department.

If you’d like additional family engagement professional development to be conducted at your district or school sites, the training can be purchased and scheduled through LivingTree. The professional development can be purchased per-day and is conducted by Student and Family Engagement Specialist, Jeromie Heath. Professional Development done by Dr. Constantino can be purchased per day directly from him.

 7. Is there technical training available for the platform?

Yes, LivingTree is providing free technical training on the platform for administrators and teachers across your district and schools. To schedule technical training please contact:

Michael Cash, Director of Implementation and Training at michael@livingtree.com

8. How can we access the LivingTree training material?

For webinar style training you may contact Michael Cash (see #7). LivingTree also has pre-recorded training available online at the following site:  https://try.livingtree.com/livingtree-engage-a-walkthrough/ There are also a host of tools and resources within the platform itself.

9. How do we “turn on” the LivingTree Engage platform in our schools?

Once a data-sharing agreement has been signed and returned to CREA, a Powerschool template will be uploaded to your instance of Powerschool. LivingTree is then informed and will reach out to your Tech admin, or someone knowledgeable in the running of reports from Powerschool. Once the data has been extracted and sent to LivingTree, your school’s accounts (including parents) will be created based on your current roster data. You will then move on to the training and rollout phase of implementation. If you have already provided your data sharing agreement and would like to begin this process immediately, please contact:

Michael Cash, Director of Implementation and Training at michael@livingtree.com

10. How long do we have access to the LivingTree Engage platform?

Schools in North Dakota currently have access to the LivingTree Engage platform through June 30, 2021.

11. What data from my school is being shared with LivingTree?

For the purpose of creating the school, teacher and parent accounts, and ensuring the proper associations to classes, LivingTree is receiving class roster data, teacher names and emails, and basic parent contact information. This information is securely shared with LivingTree through Powerschool. LivingTree is FERPA compliant and a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge, so LivingTree keeps the information safe and does not share it with anyone else.

12. How do we communicate LivingTree to our staff and families?

Along with information about registering for the two-day professional development workshops, LivingTree emailed their “Announcement Tool-Kit” packets to help you communicate information about using LivingTree to your staff and families. You can request a tool kit from LivingTree’s Support team, or you can download one from the CREA website.

13. Will there be any more professional development workshops, and when will they be conducted?

A short survey will be disseminated to school/district administrators via email on January 6, 2020, to determine the statewide interest in additional professional development workshops. If you are interested, please communicate that to your school/district administrators so they can accurately respond to the survey.

14. Our teacher tested living tree with one of her classes and the first feedback we received from several families was that they were inundated with too many notifications on every post comment - can a school limit the number of notifications that different families receive?

Within the LivingTree Engage application you have the option to customize the types of communications you receive from the system. For instance, you can toggle on or off email and mobile alerts, customize individual types of communications, and even mute a single post.

LivingTree also provides a daily digest option that rolls together all communication into one email and sends this at the end of the day. These get released at approximately 5pm for whatever local time the school is in.

15. If on the initial upload of data, students have new emails or staff were missing emails in the upload, how can we add new users and staff?

The school can simply follow the same instructions provided when creating the data file and resubmit them to LivingTree. LivingTree will then update the school with the new information from the SIS system. New Auxiliary staff that are unconnected to classrooms can be manually invited into the school at any time.
 

16. We have a very small population and our school is loving the methods of how to get families more engaged but because our class sizes are 2 - 9 students, the confidentiality of who knows who and who is saying what is a large concern for us in protecting our students amongst other parents’ possible negative feedback. Or even parents amongst parents and knowing who says what.

If there are concerns around comments made by parents for posts, commenting can be turned off as an option for posts. Teachers and admins also can remove unwanted comments from the comment stream. If commenting is turned on for a post however, there is no current way to mask or hide who made the comment in the comment stream.

17. Is there a video or webinar to show our staff how this program works?

Yes, when accessing the application online, there is a link to videos covering several key functions within LivingTree. This blue button is in the upper right corner of the screen.
The blue button is tied to the following link: https://try.livingtree.com/gettingstartedwithengage/
We also have a landing page that contains a 40-minute, pre-recorded training designed specifically for teachers accessible at the following link: https://try.livingtree.com/livingtree-engage-a-walkthrough/

18. Cost per student?

There is no cost to schools to implement the LivingTree Engage platform. The ND Legislature provided funding in 2019 to better engage families in their student’s school. The LivingTree Engage platform is one of the services that has been provided through the partnership with NDDPI. Technical training for staff members is also included for free as well. This can be scheduled by contacting LivingTree’s Customer Support department.

If schools or districts would like additional family engagement professional development, like the eight regional two-day workshops that were conducted in September/October of 2019, this can be purchased and scheduled through LivingTree. The professional development can be purchased per-day and the price is dependent on the trainer selected. Schools and districts have the option of conducting the professional development with Jeromie Heath, and in some cases Dr. Steve Constantino.

19. What would be the cost after June to the school if we would want to continue using after June 2021?

Funding will be included in the 2021 biennium proposal.

20. How many State A schools are adopting this platform currently?

LivingTree would not necessarily know if a school is an A school or not. The largest ND school district that has gone live thus far is Grafton.

21. Does everyone have access to the toolkit? How do we get the toolkit?

LivingTree emailed their “Announcement Tool-Kit” packets to help you communicate information about using LivingTree to your staff and families. You can request a tool kit from LivingTree’s Support team, or you can download one from the CREA website.

22. I am concerned about the data sharing agreement.  The data sharing agreement states that:

“Living Tree will be given access to confidential student information for the purpose of auditing and evaluating educational programs, determining professional learning needs, and writing grants.”

Will Living Tree and/or DPI be evaluating our educational programs?  Will they be determining our professional learning needs?  If not, can the data sharing agreement be reworded so it does not state that this is the purpose of the agreement.

The data sharing agreement between NDDPI and LivingTree does not assume the responsibility of determining professional learning for educational programs. The word “programs” is a standard term used in data sharing agreements and in these cases means things such as Title I program, English Learner programs, Child Nutrition programs.

23. Are there additional metrics that we as an organization can provide to support your endeavor outside of this tool and its FES score?

There are no additional metrics identified at this time.

24. Can you share what other tools you’ve analyzed?

Other platforms have been considered including One Green Apple Family Engagement.

25. Is the platform now open for use, or is there a date by which it will be open?

Once a data-sharing agreement has been signed and returned to CREA, a Powerschool template will be uploaded to your instance of Powerschool. LivingTree is then informed and will reach out to your Tech admin, or someone knowledgeable in the running of reports from Powerschool. Once the data has been extracted and sent to LivingTree, your school’s accounts (including parents) will be created based on your current roster data. You will then move on to the training and rollout phase of implementation. If you have already provided your data sharing agreement and would like to begin this process immediately, please contact:

Michael Cash, Director of Implementation and Training, michael@livingtree.com

26. Would it be possible to train a trainer for each school district?

Based upon the needs of the district, leaders are encouraged to identify and implement their own professional development at any time.

27. How do families get their log-in information?

LivingTree emailed their “Announcement Tool-Kit” packets to help you communicate information about using LivingTree to your staff and families. You can request a tool kit from LivingTree’s Support team, or you can download one from the CREA website.

28. Is it best for us if we wait to see what the department will roll out in the new year?

Statewide comprehensive needs have not yet been determined; however, based upon the needs of the district, leaders are encouraged to identify needs and implement high-quality practices as they see fit.

29. Is Dr. Constantino going to be speaking again to the regional areas?

The details of additional training options have not yet been determined.

30. How many languages are supported?

LivingTree Engage translates in over 100 languages. Users can access the currently supported languages and set their preferred language by logging into LivingTree Engage, clicking on ‘Edit Profile and Preferences’ and selecting from the ‘Language’ dropdown. For more details regarding the language translation capabilities on LivingTree Engage, please view our Language Translations sheet.

31. Are we able to have a staff webinar regarding engaging posts?

Yes. This is a service provided by LivingTree’s Family Engagement Program Coaches. There is a training fee associated with these specific workshops. For available workshop options, please reach out to info@livingtree.com. For access to the resources and materials provided in NDDPI’s original regional trainings, please reach out to support@livingtree.com.

32. Can you elaborate more on administrative monitoring of teacher accounts to support to quality of communications and use of the platform?

LivingTree Engage was built as a tiered network, meaning that the network is set up and linked at the classroom, grade, school, and district level with each member of the community connected according to role and relevance. As a principal at the school, you can see into your teacher's post and their FES Score. You can use this data and view to support ongoing learning and conversations with your staff.

33. Are there more resources for helping teachers learn how to write more engaging posts including the FAMILY acronym? I’m looking for more examples…

LivingTree will be providing additional training supported by NDDPI in the future. If you would like 1:1 support or resources, you can always reach out to info@livingtree.com to see all available options.

34. What would be the best next step to get this going with our teachers and parents? 

Once LivingTree’s professional development training has been received by administrators and leaders, additional training should be conducted to ensure staff members understand the strategies and best practices that should be used.

If you’d like additional professional development workshops conducted at your district or school sites, please contact LivingTree’s Sales team via sales@livingtree.com. Technical training on how to use the LivingTree Engage platform is not covered in the professional development workshops, but can be scheduled for free at any time with LivingTree. You can also use LivingTree’s training videos and support articles.

Once staff members are familiar with best practices and the LivingTree Engage platform, you should plan a date to “go-live” with all of your staff and families. This is the date that notifications will be sent to families to register and log in. Unifying your staff and families on one platform is critical to enhance family engagement, so setting a date for this to occur is important. This date should be coordinated with the release of materials provided in your LivingTree Announcement Tool-Kit, which has a variety of materials and information that can be distributed to your community. You can request a tool kit from LivingTree’s Support team via support@livingtree.com, or you can download one from the CREA website.

35. Are there other Native American schools across the nation that have witnessed success with the LivingTree platform?

LivingTree's family engagement strategies and platforms have been used in a variety of school environments across the country. When implemented with fidelity, family engagement practices show meaningful results in student success regardless of the setting.

36. Have any other schools on the call communicated their intentions to utilize the Living Tree platform to families and how have you done so? Would anyone have a letter that they would be willing to share?

There are many schools and districts across the state who attended the regional professional development workshops, and will be or are already using the LivingTree Engage platform. As of the start of 2020, a total of 26 full districts or individual schools are in the process of implementing the platform in their communities.

For references, please contact the office of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

Contact/Correspondence