Moving Beyond “How Was School Today?”

800px-mother_and_daughter_talkingIt’s a practically a ritual in most households, “How was school today?” While your kindergartner might share a lot in answering that question, as they get older, as teacher communication gets rarer, and as more things happen at school that we need to know about, the answer tends to get shorter—much shorter—“Fine.”

Elena Aguilar, a teacher, coach, and education leader, has shared a list of 15 questions to replace, “How was school today?” on Edutopia. She also notes that it is important how and when you ask these questions. You should only use one or two questions each day, and ask them at a time when you can focus on your child and our child is not distracted as well. For many households, these times may be around the dinner table or while driving in the car.

The key to these questions is that they are open-ended and can’t be answered with a simple yes or no or fine. The present the opportunity to have a real conversation with your child. When you start asking these questions, you might find you need to ask for more information or ask about how they felt when something happened to draw out an answer. Once your child is talking, don’t interrupt and validate any feelings that they share with you. Use these questions to pass on the values you want your child to develop, share stories of similar situations you faced as a child or an adult, and work with them to help them solve their own problems or learn from their mistakes. Thank them for sharing and praise them when they are honest about difficult things. Doing so encourages them to share more in the future.

The questions Ms. Aguilar developed can be used for children of any age, though you might need to tweak them slightly for younger children. Among the questions are:

  • Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.
  • Think about what you learned and did in school today. What is something you would like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?
  • Were there any moments today when you felt proud of yourself?
  • Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.
  • Is there anything you are worried about?
  • What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Questions like these can help your child develop a growth mindset. Be sure to check out the article for the full list of questions and move beyond, “How was school today?”

4 Things Not to Do When Dealing with an Angry Volunteer

woman-975339_640From the National PTA president down to the local unit, PTA is a volunteer association. PTA can’t do what it does without volunteers, and Illinois PTA has shared information on:

Most of the time, PTA volunteers are happy to share their time and skills, but occasionally one must deal with an angry or upset volunteer. When that happens, the Engaging Volunteers blog has a list of four things not to do, as well as what to do instead.

  1. Don’t Smile at an Angry Volunteer
    You might think a smile is welcoming and friendly, but to an angry volunteer you may appear to be condescending or not taking them seriously. Your smile might also be seen as an attempt to move them away from anger that they (perhaps rightly) feel is justified.
  1. Don’t Tell an Angry Volunteer How They Feel
    Saying, “I can see that you’re really angry…” may be an attempt to be empathetic on your part, but doing so can sometimes increase a person’s anger. Their reaction may be to deny the words you are using and push the conversation into an argument.
  1. Don’t Push Your Solutions
    An angry volunteer wants to be heard first, not have a solution thrust upon them. While you may feel like you are sharing your experience, providing a solution that they may not be ready to hear or have bought into is likely to go nowhere and can turn into a new point to argue about.
  1. Don’t Hijack the Conversation
    Sharing your story (“I know exactly what that’s like…”) may feel like you’re being sympathetic, to your angry volunteer it seems you are not letting them finish their story and have made the conversation about you instead of them.

Be sure to read the Engaging Volunteers article to find out what to do instead of each of these things to make sure your volunteers feel that their concerns are being met in a safe, non-judgmental, and empathetic way.

Strikes and PTA

on-strike-signWhile K-12 education has been funded by the state throughout the ongoing budget crisis, uncertainty over future funding levels and potential changes to the school funding formula have made it difficult for school districts to plan their future spending. This uncertainty has made negotiating new contracts more difficult for districts. As a result, unions are using their legal option of voting to authorize a strike to pressure their district to come to agreement on a contract. The most recent example of this is the strike authorization by the teachers’ union for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Strikes or the threat of a strike place PTAs in awkward situations. PTAs usually have good working relationships with both school administrators and teachers, and both sides in the negotiations may want to use the PTA to get information out to families and the public. Here are some tips on how PTAs can navigate the tricky waters of dealing with a strike or strike threat.

Illinois PTA Positions

The Illinois PTA Legislative Platform, which states Illinois PTA positions as adopted by its members at the Illinois PTA Convention, has two sections relevant to strikes:

  • We believe that during work stoppage or strikes by educational personnel, the PTA should act as a source of information, maintain its position as advocates for children, and urge educational personnel to return to their work assignments while continuing negotiations.
  • During any negotiation process we urge teachers to refrain from attempting to influence the thinking of students by discussing pending or resolved issues unless appropriate to the subject area being taught.

Note that during a strike, a PTA should stay true to its mission and purposes of being an advocate for children and a source of information. PTA’s should not take sides in negotiations, nor should they provide information biased towards or against one of the negotiating parties.

Illinois PTA recommends that all members of your PTA—especially the officers and board members—as well as school administrators, teachers, all other school staff, bargaining agents, district superintendents, local school board members, and elected officials are made aware of the official Illinois PTA positions listed above. This can be done through PTA newsletters, e-mail blasts, meetings with appropriate groups, letters to the school board, general media press releases, and letters to the editor.

What to Do If Contacted by the Media

Only the PTA president or others authorized by your PTA should speak officially for your PTA. Make sure that your members, officers, and board members are aware of this and have them refer media requests to the PTA president or other designated person.

In general, when being interviewed by the media, a reporter may interview you for 10 or 15 minutes, but only a few seconds of that interview may end up being used on TV or radio or only a sentence or two quoted in a newspaper article. Consequently, it is important to have your most important points—that PTA is neutral in the negotiations and that we are focused on the children being affected—at the front of your mind, and you will want to bring every question back around to these points. By doing that, any small quote or clip of an interview will include PTA’s position.

Avoid speaking “off the cuff” with a reporter. If you are caught unprepared, tell the reporter that this is not a convenient time to talk, ask when their deadline is, and return the call once you have collected your thoughts and are prepared to speak to them. Remember to keep your personal opinions out of the discussion when speaking for the PTA.

Your PTA president or other designated speaker should also be familiar with any activities or events your PTA plans to provide in the case of a strike. Your PTA may want to prepare a fact sheet with this information as well.

Reporters may also ask to identify parents they can interview. Illinois PTA recommends that your PTA either recommend only knowledgeable PTA members who are familiar with the PTA positions or adopt a policy of making no referrals. Reporters are often looking for emotional or inflammatory statements, so it is to the PTA’s benefit to ensure that only those who understand the PTA positions, have a positive attitude, speak without taking sides, and always advocate for the children are the ones speaking with reporters.

Remember that there will eventually be a settlement, and by not having taken a side, PTA will be able to work with both the administration and the union to help bring the two sides back together to work for the best education for all children.

Hosting a Meeting Concerning a Strike

Your PTA may wish to host a meeting on the issue of an upcoming or ongoing strike. If so, keep the following points in mind:

  • The meeting should provide information on all aspects of the strike.
  • The meeting is a PTA meeting and not a venue for any vested group. Provide ample question and answer time and invite presenters who are well-informed on the issues.
  • The school board and bargaining unit, if included in the meeting, should be given equal time to present their positions.
  • Provide the audience with copies of the Illinois PTA positions regarding strikes and what actions your PTA will be taking.

PTA Do’s and Don’ts During a Strike

Clearly establish what your PTA will and will not do during the strike. Share that information with your membership, the parties involved in negotiations, the media, and the public. Here are the basics:

  • The PTA does not staff classrooms during a strike.
  • The PTA does not march in picket lines.
  • The PTA does not serve refreshments to strikers or others involved in the strike.
  • The PTA does not “take sides” during the strike.
  • The PTA will not distribute literature from either side. Any information distributed by the PTA should present information on the positions of both sides.
  • PTA members may act as volunteers at locations set up to accommodate students who might otherwise be unsupervised to assist staff and students at these locations.
  • The PTA may request that teachers prepare an outline of home study for students and ensure that all textbooks are taken home if and when necessary.
  • The PTA may share information on childcare alternatives and other activities available in the community for students.
  • The PTA will continue to advocate for adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for schools as well as the other legislative positions supported by the Illinois PTA in our Legislative Platform.

Resources for PTAs Regarding Strikes

Here are some resources for PTAs to help with strikes in general.

Specific Information on the CPS Strike

On Tuesday, October 4, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced their contingency plans in case a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) begins on October 11th. The plans include having all schools open during their regular bell schedules and providing a free breakfast and lunch to students who need them. All classes and extracurricular activities, however will be cancelled. Below are the resources on these plans that the Illinois PTA has available at this time.

Graphic © 2009 by Agnes Perlapse, modified under Creative Commons license.

Illinois PTA Launches PTA Essentials Video Series

illinoispta-logoIllinois PTA offers free training, both in person and online, but realizes that not everyone’s schedule aligns with training opportunities. Today, Illinois PTA launches its PTA Essentials video series with two financial help videos on its YouTube channel:

PTA Essentials is a series of short videos that provide critical information on running a PTA. They are not intended to replace the Illinois PTA’s PTA University training courses. These videos offer a quick refresher for those who have already taken training and cover the basics for those who may be just starting a position and haven’t had the opportunity to take training yet.

The first two videos focus on key financial issues for PTAs. Failing to complete an audit, mishandling PTA funds, and not using deposit and expense vouchers are three of the most common ways PTAs run into financial problems. Future videos in the series will cover topics such as:

  • Running a PTA Meeting
  • How to Update Your PTA’s Bylaws
  • Maintaining Good Standing
  • Creating and Using Procedure Books

Click the subscribe button on any video to ensure that you don’t miss these future videos from Illinois PTA.

In addition to the PTA Essentials video series, the Illinois PTA YouTube channel has a recording of the first 2016 Illinois PTA Advocacy Day webinar on Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities for those who were unable to attend. Illinois PTA has also fixed an error in the sign-up form for the webinar series, so if you were unable to sign up to attend the Legislative Priorities webinar or want to sign up for these future webinars:

  • How to Meet with Legislators (October 13, 7:30pm)
  • Advocate the PTA Way (October 27, 7:30pm)
  • Hot Topics Briefing (November 10, 7:30pm)

head over to the revised sign-up form now.