Parents and Teachers Working Together

11.14.17

We know that there is a direct connection between family engagement and student success. Families play a significant role in their children’s success, no matter what their socioeconomic, educational or cultural background may be. When families feel welcome and engaged in their student’s learning, it has a lasting effect on students and their academic outcomes. An important component in engaging families is the relationships between families and teachers. A positive relationship where teachers and families work together enhances a student’s experience at school and helps make their potential a reality.

When my first-born child went to off to school nine years ago, I didn’t know much about “family engagement” but I did know that in order for my child to do his best, I needed to get involved with the school in whatever way I could. I knew that the key to helping my child succeed was to work alongside his teacher to make sure we were supporting him in all the right ways. I was determined to get involved and make his experience the best it could possibly be, and truth be told I wasn’t so sure about leaving my “baby” there at school all day. I figured that maybe PTA was a way to get to know the people entrusted with my son, contribute to making our school better and possibly catch a glimpse of my child during the school day. But, with a two-year-old at home, I soon realized that I couldn’t possibly contribute to volunteering in the classroom. I thought I might be able to support our teachers inside the classroom by supporting them outside of the classroom if I was a part of the PTA.

I joined the PTA right away and attended my first meeting, where I volunteered to run a new fundraiser. The following month, I attended the PTA meeting and was elected President-Elect. You might say “wow that was quick!” or “that lady doesn’t know how to say no” and if you are a PTA Leader you probably have a very similar story, but when I joined the PTA I was able to connect, build relationships and support the teachers at our school, providing an essential foundation of support that my child needed.

What started as a need to connect and partner with teachers ended up becoming more for me. It was not just something I was doing for my own kids, or the other kids in our school, but for all children. Fast forward nine years, and three kids in school, and I still very much value the relationship between parents and teachers. My work with PTA has taught me that when parents and teachers partner to bring the best to all students and families, there are no heights our children can’t reach. So, during American Education Week I thank all teachers, not only for their hard work and sacrifice every day, but for being part of the initial motivation for me to get involved in my school and PTA. I appreciate all that you do and I am glad to be alongside you in this journey.

~Lisa Kensel, Portland Council PTA President

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Delegate or do it yourself?

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Have you delegated a task, only to find out that the result wasn’t what you expected? Do you micromanage because you want things done properly?  Many PTA leaders fail to delegate because they think it’s quicker to do it themselves, they can’t trust others to do the work or feel that they will just end up re-doing it themselves so they may as well do it from the start. They are usually afraid that tasks won’t be completed in a timely manner or to a standard that they expect, so they often don’t delegate.

Delegation isn’t just a matter of telling someone else what to do. Truly effective delegation is assigning the right tasks to the right people and then guiding them to be successful in their tasks. When you match tasks to the right person, you also further the PTA as a whole because as people gain confidence and experience, they will also grow as leaders. Delegation is a critical component for an effective PTA.

So how do you effectively delegate? Here are a few tips:

  • Develop an action plan for tasks, giving timelines, deadlines and expectations to your team. Give people plenty of time to ask questions and then complete tasks.
  • Check in frequently, but don’t monitor too closely. Setting progress update meetings from the start will allow you to set your expectations and check in along the way. It also gives you a chance to make sure that the project is moving in the right direction before it is beyond the point of no return. Don’t be afraid to give constructive feedback, but also don’t micro-manage.
  • Break down larger projects into smaller tasks and delegate pieces out to an entire group of people. This can help keep work manageable while developing a team atmosphere. Again, just be sure to assign tasks to the correct person to keep the project moving. There is nothing worse for your volunteers or board members than waiting on someone else in order to complete their own work.
  • If something does fall through, don’t take the work back on yourself. Use caution if you need to re-delegate tasks to another person, as that can cause hard feelings between people. Accept that sometimes things need to fail to succeed.
  • Be sure and give credit where it’s due but don’t place blame when things fail. The end result was a team effort, whether it succeeded or failed.

Delegation takes some practice but will free you up to do the things that only you can do for the PTA. When you delegate effectively, you can save time, balance your own workload, and achieve more for your PTA, while furthering the growth of the organization and future leaders. That’s a win-win for everyone!

 

Planning your PTA year:

Plan for Success

Many of you have already planned a 2016-2017 calendar of events for your PTA, while some of you have not. Calendars have many advantages for PTA’s. First it allows you to space events throughout the year which will promote consistent engagement opportunities for families at the school. When they have advance notice, parents will also be able to plan which events they can commit to attending.

When creating your calendar, give consideration to when other school obligations occur. Plan your events in collaboration with other school events. It might not be a good choice to schedule your school carnival the same week as school pictures or the annual book fair. Major holidays can also affect turnout and participation in your PTA events. It can be a financial barrier to parents if they have many expenses to pay for in a short time frame. For many families, school expenses will take priority over fundraisers or other events your PTA is planning.

When creating a calendar, we always suggest that PTA leaders meet with their School Principal to collaborate and develop a calendar that suits the needs of the entire community. To get started, it is good practice to have a list of the events your PTA has done in the past as well as a list of new things you’d like to try. Don’t be afraid to try new things! If it doesn’t work out, you can go back to the previous way the following year- you just might find a new community favorite! The next thing you want to keep in mind is to ensure that your events are not bunched together. A good practice is to host one community building/engagement event per month and balance out the calendar with any necessary fundraising events you might have, such as restaurant dine out nights or the annual school auction. Families these days are very busy with life outside of the school building so a balanced calendar with events distributed throughout the year will naturally lend to more involvement and engagement from families. Giving families consistent opportunities to engage with the school will not only help you to grow your PTA community but it is vital to furthering student achievement- the cornerstone of what we do as PTA. Create a variety of fun family events and you will see success as more families begin to engage in your school and with your PTA.

Reflection and Looking Forward

Reflecting on the past year

About this time in July, PTA Leaders begin to think about getting back to work. You’ve had some time off to recharge and renew and now it is time to plan and execute your new PTA year. For anything to be successful, you need a plan. Thinking about the new year might leave you both excited and overwhelmed. Sometimes a little reflection on the past year can help guide you in planning for the next. What kind of year did you have? Take some time to reflect on your past year and all that you accomplished as a PTA Leader. As you reflect on the different events you held, decisions you made and how you worked to engage families in your school, think about how you can improve on these things for the coming year. Do you want to build volunteer capacity, provide more programs, bring more Dads into your building or just do things different than they have been done in the past? Perhaps a growth in membership and engaging more with advocacy issues is your plan? Wherever you plan to take your PTA next year, giving some thought to your previous year will help to ensure success in the future.

Take an hour to sit down and write a one-page personal evaluation of your PTA leadership and the current goals of your PTA. Try to write as objectively as possible. If you are having a hard time, speak to other Board Members and ask for their honest feedback or consider deploying a survey. Once you have your evaluation complete, compare it with your previous strategic plan. Do they align? Did you fail to meet the goals you set or maybe you lead without firm goals even in place? You may not have written a strategic plan last year. If not, here is a good article about how to effectively evaluate and write one for the coming year, in just five easy steps. The article referenced is written with a small business in mind, but it’s really easy to think of PTA as a small business serving its members. If you happened to have a strategic plan in place last year, but there were things you didn’t get to accomplish, place those on the top of your list for the coming year.

Creating a plan for the coming year will not only expand your leadership skills but will aid in accountability for your PTA and bring value to your PTA in the eyes of your members. When you have a plan in place to guide your work, share it with your board for refinement and feedback and then present it to your members. This transparency and accountability will create buy-in and excitement for the work your PTA will be embarking on. When members are supportive of your work, they will all assist in propelling your PTA and school forward. Next year when you sit down to evaluate your accomplishments, you will know just where your PTA has been and where you will be headed.

Elections happened, now what?

PTA Elections

Transitions are a time of growth, excitement and optimism. Transition of PTA Officers can set your PTA up for success and create a positive climate for incoming leaders that will carry them through their terms. Incoming leaders will feel both prepared and confident for their new roles and outgoing leaders can pass along their knowledge and expertise in the roles they are leaving behind.

One critical component of transitioning a PTA office is the pass down of leadership materials. As an outgoing officer, you should update the procedure book/officer’s binders. If no binders exist, the incoming President and Secretary can work together to create binders for all officers. As an incoming officer, plan to look through the binder that you receive and then meet with your predecessor to gain insight on the position. See our post on binders for more information on how to create a binder. Some additional items to include in a transition binder:

  • Full contact list of previous officers in case of questions from new officers.
  • Meeting minutes of the past year, both the board and general minutes.
  • Any partner information detailing relationships between the PTA and the partner/agency.
  • Any information that might aid the new officer to be successful in ongoing projects.

To develop and strengthen leadership skills, all new officers are encouraged to attend fall leadership trainings. Training allows leaders to network with each other, while learning job specific duties. Oregon PTA requires three leaders to be trained each year but it is really valuable if every officer in a PTA takes some kind of training. We recommend that every board member have some kind of training, whether it is in person or online. National PTA offers online training modules for officers who are not able to attend training in person. Courses are approximately 45-60 minutes each and can be done at your convenience. The personal training offered by Oregon PTA has job specific training as well as an overview on the mission of PTA and current advocacy issues. When creating your PTA budget for the coming year, be sure and include a training budget. This will allow all PTA Officers to attend training.

Outgoing officers you may be exhausted at the end of your term but the knowledge you can share with your successors is some of the most valuable information that they will receive. By taking the time to prepare for a successful transition with those that will continue your good work, you are furthering the mission of PTA and helping all children in your community reach their full potential.

Nominations and Elections

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PTA election season is just around the corner. The nominating process is one of the single most important things that happens in a PTA. The responsibility of the nominating committee is to select the best-qualified available person for each office. Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of running a PTA, nominating is often a rushed process that is often an afterthought. By laying the foundation now, you will ensure that nominations are thoughtful and organized. Here are some steps to ensure your Nominating Committee is up to speed and on task.

First, your PTA will need to elect your Nominating Committee. The election of the Nominating Committee should occur a minimum of 30 days before an election. This Committee will consist of at least 3 current PTA Members. Remember, that a PTA President may not appoint the Nominating Committee and does not serve on the Committee, even as ex-officio. The Nominating Committee will serve to bring forward a slate of officers for the upcoming election. The Committee will ask for recommendations from current board members, other PTA members or PTA Presidents from other schools, such as feeder schools. Once the Committee has a list of potential candidates, the Committee Chair will contact the candidates to discuss the commitment and position, while asking if they give their consent to run should they be selected as a nominee.

The Nominating Committee should meet a few times in person to discuss the candidates and prepare the election slate and nominating report. Some PTA’s even send out a self-nomination form, allowing many nominations to come in and the Nominating Committee to wade through them. This can bring diversity to your PTA, as you may get Nominee’s that you did not initially expect. While this Committee’s work is short in duration, it is high in importance. You will set your PTA up for future success when you elect a strong Nominating Committee, who will work hard to find just the right candidates for your PTA. You can find more information on forming a Nominating Committee here.

Officer Binders: Get Organized!

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Being organized is the key to a successfully run PTA. With a procedure book/binder for all officers, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or struggle whenever there is a leadership change. As many PTA’s begin to think about the transition of officers in the next couple of months, it’s a good time to review your Officer/Leader Binders and make sure they are complete. If you can hand off an organized binder to your successor, it will really make their job easier and keep the PTA running smoothly. If you don’t have a binder yet, taking an hour to put one together now will be an hour well spent. Being organized will save you a lot of time over the remainder of your term.

What should you put in your Officer Binder?

  • Job Description and Duties
  • PTA Board Contact List
  • School Staff Contact List
  • School/PTA Calendar
  • PTA Standing Rules
  • Local Unit Bylaws
  • Meeting Agendas and Minutes
  • PTA Budget and Financials
  • Forms (Cash Counting, Reimbursement, Check Request etc.)
  • Notes Section

 

 

How do you get volunteers to help?

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What is the best way to engage/recruit volunteers? When you need a volunteer for a specific task, do you go to your trusty group of people that you know will always come through for you? It might be easier to just ask someone you are familiar with to complete a task or head a committee, but if you do that you are missing out on an opportunity to build your volunteer base and potential future leaders in your PTA.  Step outside your “usual suspects” to ask someone new to help your PTA. Most people just want to be asked. Tell them you could use their help and ask if they are available.

How you communicate with potential volunteers also can affect the outcome of whether they are willing to help. Email might be the easiest way for you to communicate, especially in our busy lives, but often times the “personal ask” will get results. Stop a parent in the hall and mention your opportunity to them or make a quick phone call and tell them you can really use their help. Be specific with what your needs are and the time commitment involved. You can say something like, “Hi Tim, the PTA can use someone to make popcorn at movie night. Do you have an hour to help this Friday night?”

Once they commit to helping you, make sure that your volunteers feel welcome and a part of the team. Be realistic of their time commitment for tasks and don’t stretch them beyond what they said they would do. When the project or task is complete, thank them personally or send a quick note telling them how much you appreciate their help. When people have a good experience, feel appreciated and have fun, they are more willing to help again.

Baby Steps

Today, we tip-toe into the blog world! Our hope is that this will be one more way we can offer advice and guidance to our PTA Leaders in an easy format, while sharing resources that they might find useful when operating their PTA.  Our newsletter also published today. You can find it HERE.