Thanking Your Volunteers

The holidays are a time for reflection and gratitude. It’s also the midpoint of the school year, which makes it a good time as a PTA leader to take a bit of time to think about what you’ve accomplished so far and what lies ahead.

A good part of your PTA’s success depends on your volunteers, which makes the holiday season a good time to show them some gratitude. One meaningful way to show your appreciation to your volunteers is a simple thank you note. If you’re not sure what to say, this love to know blog post provides some sample thank you notes and tips on writing them.

If writing is not your style or strength, check out the Appreciate Volunteers website. The site was created by two longtime volunteers who know the passion and dedication volunteering takes and who wanted to help those managing volunteers recognize them and their efforts. The site has a variety of categories, including:

  • New Volunteers
  • Simple Volunteer Recognition
  • Volunteer Anniversaries
  • Volunteer Appreciation Gifts
  • Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
  • Volunteer Parties
  • Volunteer Recognition Events
  • Volunteer Recognition on a Budget

Showing your volunteers your appreciation and gratitude for the time and effort they put forth for your PTA helps to keep them involved going forward and can help bring in new volunteers. There’s a benefit for you as well: studies show that expressing gratitude can make you happier.

Top 10 Tips for Middle School PTA Success

Middle school is different from elementary school for kids—they’re changing classrooms, managing a locker, and meeting new people from other elementary schools. It’s different for parents as well. New activities like band or sports may pull parents who have been involved in PTA at the elementary level away at the middle school level. Here are ten tips on running a successful middle school PTA.

  1. Grab them fast. Parents are at an elementary school for six years; add a second or third kid, and those years can stretch to more than a decade. That’s a lot of time to build a relationship between PTA and a parent, and for that parent to grow into a leadership role. Middle school zips by in three years, and parents may have a year or two off from middle school between kids. That means your PTA has to get parents involved quickly and early in leadership positions. Visit your feeder elementary schools to educate elementary PTA leaders on what the middle school PTA does and how it is different from what they’ve already experienced.
  2. Include them all. Sometimes one elementary PTA will be stronger than the other PTAs feeding into a middle school. Don’t lean on parents from just the dominant PTA for leadership—you’ll alienate those from the other PTAs.
  3. Focus on parent events. Middle school students are beginning to break away from their parents, so student-oriented events like those in elementary school may draw fewer attendees. But that pulling away also means that parents are likely looking to learn more about what is happening at school, since their child is not telling them as much as they used to and the “backpack express” filled with flyers and newsletters is more of a backpack black hole. Shift your meetings to educating parents about what is happening and what is coming up. Be more about communication and less about PTA business.
  4. Embrace the diaspora. As parents become dispersed among various booster groups and other activities in middle school, make sure that they know that the PTA is the one group that addresses the whole school. Have an extracurricular activities fair for incoming students in the spring with the message that middle school provides great opportunities for students to try new things, but that PTA is the way for parents to keep in touch with what’s going on in the school.
  5. Embrace social media. A newsletter or flyer sent home with a middle school student typically ends up on the floor at school, in a trash can, or buried at the bottom of the backpack until the end of the year. You have to reach out to families directly, and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can help with that.
  6. Cut back on fundraising. Your middle school PTA probably isn’t doing as many events as an elementary PTA and can get by with a smaller budget. Consider having just one big fundraiser, or incorporating your fundraising into your annual dues. How many parents at your school would embrace a PTA membership level of $25 or $50 that means the PTA won’t bother them about money for the rest of the year? Less fundraising means fewer overlaps with booster clubs who are also raising money as well.
  7. Find ways to integrate the PTA into the life of the middle school. Look for opportunities for the PTA to support events that bring families into the school. See if the PTA president can speak to all the parents at open house, consider providing snacks for the band, orchestra, and choir concerts (with a provided by PTA sign), and provide tour guides for new student orientation.
  8. Look for ways to work with other PTAs. Find opportunities to collaborate with your feeder school PTAs as well as the high school PTAs that your students will be going to. Working together helps incoming parents feel welcome and strengthens all of the PTAs.
  9. Cut back on meetings. Parents have often spent much of the day in meetings, so attending another PTA business meeting in the evening isn’t terribly appealing. Your PTA really only needs three general membership business meetings each year. One at the start of the school year to approve your audit and budget, one in the winter to elect your nominating committee, and one at the end of the year to elect your new officers. Add in adopting your updated bylaws at one of those meetings, and the only other thing your membership will need to meet about is amending your budget, which can be done with a quick five-minute meeting before an event or program. Let your board handing the day-to-day running of the PTA, and have your PTA “meetings” focus on parent education.
  10. Build your relationship with the principal and teachers. Just like the PTA, principals and teachers struggle to get information to families about what is happening at school. By building a good relationship with them, your PTA can develop programs and events that help the school keep parents informed and educated.

ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.

4 New Year’s Resolutions for PTA Leaders

resolutions-list-600x400The start of a new calendar year is about the midpoint of the PTA year. Your PTA may have been less active during the holiday season when so many other events are going on at school and in life. Now that the new year is beginning, it is a good time to reflect on what your PTA has accomplished so far, think about what you still want to do, and consider how you can improve things as your PTA starts back up. Here are four New Year’s resolutions for PTA leaders to contemplate as their term heads into the home stretch.

  1. Be an advocate. PTA was founded to speak up for those who have no political voice—our children. As the new year starts, resolve to encourage your PTA members to be advocates for children and to be an advocate yourself. A great way to start is to encourage your Illinois representative to support SB550 during the lame duck session on January 9th and 10th. This bill would require testing every unique drinking water source in all Illinois schools for lead and notifying families if levels exceed the federal action level. This bill picked up numerous sponsors after Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in November, and a big push now can pass this bill in the House and send it to the governor. Just go to our pre-written e-mail, add your signature and contact information, and enter your address (to identify your representative) to add your voice to the hundreds of others calling for safe drinking water for our children. Don’t forget to share the link with your members as well.
  1. Share more often. Your PTA has already done some great things for your school’s children, families, teachers, and administrators. Share your successes with your entire school and encourage them to join the PTA to help support what you plan to achieve this spring. People often avoid joining the PTA because they are afraid you’ll ask them to volunteer. Let them know that joining the PTA is to support your efforts and that volunteering is appreciated but not required.
  1. Be more thankful. Volunteers are the life blood of a PTA. Take the time to support your volunteers so that they feel their time and contributions are valued. Find fun ways to publicly show your thankfulness for their hard work.
  1. Prepare for change. Your PTA will be electing new officers this spring. Review your bylaws regarding when and how you should form your nominating committee. Make sure your officers and committee chairs are keeping procedure books to help make finding their replacements easier. Think about what you have learned that you wish you had known when you started your term, and prepare to share that information along with your PTA resources with your successor. Plan to make the transition to new leadership as smooth and seamless as possible.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.