Inside an Illinois PTA Board Meeting

Most PTA leaders have met a couple of Illinois PTA State Board of Directors members. Maybe you’ve called your district or region director about a problem in your PTA or have gotten a reminder from them to make sure your tax form is filed on time. Perhaps you’ve gotten a call to action from the Legislative Advocacy director through the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network (sign up here). The PTA 101 course and other trainings were most likely taught by a member of the state board. If you’ve been to the Illinois PTA Convention or Spotlight, you’ve seen board members welcoming people, speaking, and running around making sure everything runs smoothly.

But one important job of the State Board of Directors happens out of the limelight. Four times each year—in the fall, in January, and just before and after Convention—the board meets to conduct the business of the Illinois PTA. Here’s a peek at what goes on behind the curtain at a state board meeting (and an explanation of the rubber chicken picture).

The board met this past weekend (January 20-21) at this year’s convention site: the NIU-Naperville Conference Center. The January board meeting is always held at the convention site to give the board an opportunity to become familiar with the facility, to see where the general sessions and workshops will be held, and to figure out where exhibitors and other parts of convention will fit. The NIU-Naperville site will have state of the art workshop rooms (yes, those are electric outlets at every seat) and an open sun-lit atrium where exhibits will be open to everyone (even those not registered and attending convention).

Training

With the state board gathering all in one place only four times each year, board meetings provide a great opportunity for training. At our September board meeting, we did both our mandatory National PTA state board training as well as an additional training on the five behaviors of a cohesive team (a flip of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team) by past Illinois PTA and National PTA President Anna Weselak.

At January’s board meeting, Matt Harrell, Co-Founder and COO of MemberHub, spent a few hours teaching the board the ins and outs of setting up a MemberHub page; getting PTA officers, PTA members, and school families into the system; sending reminders to last year’s members who haven’t joined yet to sign up; setting up events and sign up forms; and answering everyone’s questions about how to use this powerful platform to drive family engagement, membership, and advocacy. We want to ensure that board members can help our PTAs take full advantage of this free member benefit (that would cost about $3,000 if you were not a PTA).

Board Meeting

The primary reason for a board weekend is the board meeting, where the business of the Illinois PTA is conducted. At the January board meeting, much of the business was focused on getting things ready for convention. That meant approving for adoption by the convention delegates the convention rules, the state budget for 2018-2019, the scholarship program and budget, and bylaws amendments. The board meeting lasted a little over an hour, even with a lively discussion on some topics.

While the board meeting was going on, Cultural Arts director Laura Murphy was busy cataloging all of the hundreds of PTA Reflections entries that advanced to the state level that district and region directors had brought to the board meeting. Creating the master list of state entries is a critical step in making sure no artworks are lost and every family can be contacted to attend Spotlight. The next few weeks, Laura will be busy getting artwork to judges and cleaning up any errors in the contact list to make sure our Illinois advancing entries are submitted to National PTA by March 1st.

Planning for the Future

The rest of the weekend was given over to starting work on a new strategic plan for Illinois PTA. Our last strategic plan was done five years ago, and given the speed at which things change these days, it was time to pause and look ahead at what and where we want Illinois PTA to be in the near future. With National PTA completing their new strategic plan last year, it was also a good time to make sure that Illinois PTA’s efforts align with National PTA’s.

Since so much has changed in the last five years, we wanted to build the new strategic plan from the ground up. To start the process, President Brian Minsker led the board through an exercise called Roses, Buds, and Thorns. This is a good way for any PTA to perform a self-assessment on how they are doing as an association. Each board member shared the things they thought the Illinois PTA did well or were positives (roses), the things that are positive but need improvement or some nurturing and time (buds), and the things that aren’t working or that the Illinois PTA isn’t doing well (thorns).

The process requires honesty and trust as well as a little productive conflict (all parts of the five behaviors we learned in September), as saying that Illinois PTA isn’t doing _______ well could be seen as saying the board member in charge of that area is not doing their job well. However, board members have been building strong relationships through our summer board orientation, September board meeting trainings and activities, and working together for six months, we were able to have a productive session that provided everyone with a shared foundation of where we see the Illinois PTA right now.

Our next exercise was for each board member to list the three biggest issues, challenges, or problems they thought the Illinois PTA currently faced. After everyone had shared their choices, the board worked together to collect them into groups. The six groupings were:

  • Membership
  • Local Unit Support and Training
  • Relevancy
  • Outreach
  • Marketing
  • Advocacy

Our final activity was a World Café on these topics. In the World Café, each topic has a moderator at a table with a small group of participants at each. The moderator leads their group through a discussion on the topic focused on the questions that are trying to be answered and records them on a large sheet of paper on the table. After 10 to 20 minutes, the groups rotate to the next table. The moderator summarizes what’s been said so far and continues the discussion with the next group. The process repeats until everyone has visited each table. The moderators then share out what was discussed at their table. The benefit of this process is that the small groups allow everyone more time to speak on the topic in a less intimidating forum than a large group discussion.

At future board meetings, we will be narrowing down the broad discussions to specific priorities, goals, and actions for each area. We are planning to have the new strategic plan ready for the board to adopt next January.

Rubber Chicken?

While a board meeting weekend is pretty busy, it’s not all work and no play. Board members spend time together over meals, and this weekend had Saturday evening free. That meant board members spent time hanging out together throughout the hotel sharing laughs and stories together, discussing how to handle problems they were running into, or just enjoying some quiet time away from their spouse and kids.

At our board orientation in July, President Brian Minsker had a rubber chicken on the podium throughout the weekend. At the end of orientation, he presented each board member with a small rubber chicken and explained why he was doing it. It was based his receiving one as a Boy Scout leader. It was a recognition of their leadership, and he asked board members to put the rubber chicken someplace where they would see it often, perhaps near their computer where they answer PTA e-mails or on their kitchen windowsill where they’d see it while cooking or doing dishes. It was a reminder that as we strive to be good leaders for the Illinois PTA, it’s also supposed to be fun. So when you see your rubber chicken, remember not only the hard work and good things you are doing for Illinois PTA, but also the fun you have had building friendships on the board.

And if you would like to join in the fun, now’s the time to consider doing so. We will be electing new program directors at convention, and there are vacancies on the state board as well. Contact the Board Development and Nominating Committee chair at bdncchairman@illinoispta.org for more information.