Turn Your PTA into a Social Media Powerhouse

aa9076cd-banner2-300dpi_0qo0ae0qo0ae000000Social media is the place for PTAs and other organizations to engage their members. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or some other platform, social media lets PTAs keep their members informed about events, share information, and connect in ways that printed newsletters in backpacks never could. Now, Skills Platform and several nonprofit social media experts have collaborated to create The Charity Social Media Toolkit.

The toolkit is a free online resource to provide not just the fundamentals and tactics for social media use but also inspirational case studies from across the nonprofit sector. The toolkit will help your PTA develop a social media strategy, determine what platforms to use, and leverage those tools to benefit your PTA. Chapters include:

Each section or chapter concludes with three top tips and three links to further reading on the subject. Check out the full toolkit and turn your PTA into a social media powerhouse.

New PTA Election Guides Help PTA’s One Voice Be Heard—Add Yours

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2Election Day is November 8th, and given the state’s budget crisis, your school district may have a referendum on the ballot. Your PTA may also want to ask candidates about their positions on education or other issues affecting children. Illinois PTA has covered the do’s and don’ts of elections for PTAs, and now National PTA has teamed with Nonprofit VOTE to create election guides and other materials to help PTAs navigate the legal ins and outs of nonprofit election laws.

These new resources include a timeline to help your PTA organize itself for its election-related community engagement activities, as well as:

Nonprofit VOTE has also created a series of webinars and a wealth of election-related resources to help explain the details of nonprofit election activities.

For over a century, PTA advocates have changed the world for children, from child labor laws, to the juvenile justice system, the school lunch program, and more. Add your voice to those who have raised theirs before. Advocate for local issues with your PTA, join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues, and plan to attend Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Master the Art of the PTA Meeting

no-boring-2We’ve all attended them—PTA meetings that seem to drag on forever, don’t get anything done, and leave you dreading the next meeting. Poorly-run meetings can drive away potential PTA volunteers and leaders. If you’re a new PTA president, or even an experienced one, here are some tips to help you master the art of the PTA meeting.

Put the Business in the Right Meeting

Your PTA’s bylaws state what business items the general membership must vote on, and the list is a lot shorter than you think. Your membership votes:

  1. To approve the audit
  2. To adopt or amend the budget
  3. To amend the bylaws
  4. To elect the nominating committee
  5. To elect the officers

Approval of the audit and adopting the budget are done at your first general membership meeting of your fiscal year. Electing officers is usually done at your last meeting of the year, and the nominating committee should be elected a couple of months in advance of your election. Your PTA bylaws should be updated every two years, but that can be done at any general membership meeting.

This means that your PTA can manage with a minimum of three general membership business meetings each year. If the budget needs to be amended, a short general membership meeting can be held just before a PTA program or event to handle just that piece of business. All of the other business of the PTA can be handled in PTA board meetings.

If your PTA meetings are usually only attended by your board anyway, consider how changing your PTA meetings from a business focus to a program focus would affect how families engage with your PTA. If families knew that the PTA meeting that night was not a long series of committee reports and other business, but a celebration of student Reflections entries, a presentation from the school administration on how student discipline is handled, or a Family Reading Experience program, would more people show up? Would families that experience the PTA through programs rather than meetings be more likely to volunteer in the future?

Make Your Meeting a Welcoming One

PTAs and schools have turnover built in, as students and their families move on to higher grades and new families come into the school. Make sure that those new families feel welcome by your PTA by:

  • Creating a welcome packet for new families.
  • Greeting people at the door.
  • Providing name tags at your first few meetings.
  • Encouraging your board members to sit throughout your meeting area rather than in one clump.
  • Having a pre- or post-meeting social time with refreshments to connect with new members.
  • Use ice breaker introductions (name plus what grades your kids are in, your favorite part of school as a kid, what your kids like about your school, etc.).
  • Define your terms, including acronyms and jargon.
  • Avoid inside jokes, referencing people by first name only (e.g., “The previous chair always…” rather than “Jane always…”—especially if “Jane” isn’t at the school anymore), and other socializing during the meeting.
  • Consider sitting in a circle or around one big table rather than a table of officers at the front.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is the road your PTA meeting will travel. Without one, your meeting’s path may end up looking more like the path of a bumper car at the fair. As president, an agenda is a tool to help keep discussions focused on the topic at hand, as a gentle, “Let’s focus on our current agenda item” can help curb a tangential discussion. Providing your meeting agenda ahead of time can also help to set expectations for what will be accomplished at the meeting. An agenda should have:

  • A call to order
  • Welcome and introductions
  • Reports (from the principal, teacher’s representative, student representative, secretary (minutes), treasurer, or committees—but keep them short)
  • Unfinished business from previous meetings
  • New business
  • Adjourn

Make sure your unfinished and new business items focus on reaching decisions. If the discussion on an item doesn’t seem to be coming to consensus, entertain a motion to create a committee to make recommendations at your next meeting.

Use Parliamentary Procedure to Your Advantage

As a PTA president, you don’t need to know all 800+ pages of Robert’s Rules of Order, but you should be familiar with the basics. Use parliamentary procedure by:

  • Making sure you have a quorum (see your bylaws) when voting on business items.
  • Always having speakers wait to be recognized by the president before speaking.
  • Always having speakers address the president rather than each other.
  • Ensuring that motions (other than from a committee) have a second before being discussed.
  • A second motion amends the motion currently being discussed.
  • “Calling the question” or “moving the previous question” by a member of the audience requires a 2/3 vote to end debate, followed (if successful) by an immediate (majority) vote on the motion on the floor.
  • Knowing that the president does not vote other than by ballot.

Remember that Robert’s Rules of Order was written to ensure the voice of the minority is heard, but that the will of the majority prevails. While the smaller details of Robert’s Rules are essential when conducting meetings with a large voting body, those details are less essential in the friendly confines of a small PTA meeting. Knowing the key points above is sufficient for most situations that PTA presidents will find themselves in.

Share It

Publicize when and where your next meeting occurs in as many ways as possible: newsletters, e-mail, flyers, social media, school announcements, bulletin board, posters, school sign, etc. In channels where you have room, share why a family would want to attend (e.g., program or speaker, free babysitting, social event, etc.). After the meeting, be sure to also share what happened, thank those involved, and publicize the next PTA event.

News from National Convention—Partnering with Educators and School Administrators

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOne critical component of running a successful PTA is working well with the teachers and administrators in your school building. A workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando focused on what those teachers and administrators want when working with their PTA. The panel discussion was moderated by Deb Strauss, National PTA Vice President of Membership (and an Illinois PTA Past President) and featured:

  • Dani Carver, an elementary teacher
  • Harold Dixon, Family Engagement Specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) Schools
  • Sherry Griffith, currently Executive Director of the California PTA and a former school administrator
  • Renee Jackson, National PTA Senior Manager of Education Initiatives and a former principal

The panel began with Mr. Dixon sharing what he thought the three components of effective family engagement were for schools:

  1. Shared Responsibility (both schools and families committed to the process)
  2. Continuous Across a Child’s Life (cradle to career)
  3. Across All Contexts (e.g., home, pre-K, school, after-school programs, faith-based organizations, community organizations, etc. all engage with the family and school)

The rest of the workshop was devoted to discussion of questions from the moderator and audience. Here are the highlights.

What do administrators find to be the greatest strengths of working with PTA?

  • PTA’s family engagement programs (e.g., Schools of Excellence, Family Reading Experience, Connect for Respect, PTA Reflections)
  • PTA’s role in providing communication between families, teachers, and administrators and connecting families to what is happening in the classroom.
  • PTA brings to the school things that other parent organizations do not—a legacy of reliability, accountability, and stability—and the knowledge that if there is a problem in the PTA, there is a state and national association there to help.

What are the greatest challenges for administrators in working with PTA?

  • Both PTA leaders and school administrators need to have clear rules, roles, and goals.
  • Many school administrators simply see PTA as the ATM for the school, and it is necessary for PTA leaders to educate those administrators of the role of PTA in engaging and educating families and in advocating for every child.
  • Have a back-to-school meeting with the building principal well before school starts to share goals, calendars, and deadlines as well as to discuss how to collaborate to help the school meet its goals.

What are your tips for PTA leaders to work with school administrators?

  • Meet with administrators over the summer to begin collaborating and planning for the school year ahead.
  • Continue to meet with the school administrators during the school year to keep communication open and ensure that everything is running smoothly.
  • Don’t forget school district administrators as potential collaborators as well, since they can be some of the biggest PTA advocates in the district.
  • Invite the school board, superintendent, and other school district administrators to PTA events.
  • Find out what the school district’s goals are and discuss how the PTA can help meet them.

In terms of fundraising, how can PTAs work with school administrators?

  • Work with your principal over the summer to create a calendar that is not too crowded with school and PTA events.
  • Create a master fundraising calendar so that PTA fundraising doesn’t overlap with band booster, sports booster, and other fundraising at the school.
  • Don’t get too hung up on fundraising; focus on what your PTA can do to support your families to work with their children at home.

What advice do you have for working with principals who are under-involved or overinvolved?

  • Make sure that your principal understands that PTA is an independent 501(c)3 organization.
  • One of principals’ biggest fears is that PTA problems will become their problems. Be sure your principal knows that if there are PTA problems, he can also turn to the council, district, region, or state level of PTA for help.
  • If your principal is antagonistic or apathetic, approach the school district about how the PTA can help them meet their goals for the school.
  • Make sure that your principal knows that they don’t control the PTA. They have, at most, one vote on the PTA board.
  • If a principal or school administrator is retiring soon and “checking out” of engaging with the PTA, contact the person handling family engagement for the school district to discuss the future at the school and how PTA and the district can work together during the transition. Also, enlist teachers, especially teacher leaders, to help integrate PTA’s efforts with those of the school.

Our school district requires all Title I schools to have a PTA, but they seem to exist mainly on paper. What can we do?

  • Work with the families at the school to determine what they want or need to support their child’s education.
  • Focus on PTA programs that would help those families.
  • Every Title I school receives funding targeted for family engagement, and that money is returned to the federal government if it is not spent. Work with the school to have those funds used to support PTA programs and parent education, training, and leadership capacity building.
  • Have your school district stress why they require PTAs at those schools and the importance of those PTAs fulfilling their mission.

What are the first positive signs of good PTA family engagement?

  • Families need to see that someone cares about them and their student, that the PTA has goals and plans, and that the PTA is not just about fundraising. Once they see that, they will readily engage with the PTA and the school.

PTAs at the middle school and high school level are struggling to reach families. How can these PTAs better engage these families, since many of the PTA programs are geared primarily towards the elementary level?

  • How are you inviting parents to engage with PTA? Speak before school events (e.g., Open House, Homecoming, etc.) about the different role that PTA plays at the middle and high school level.
  • Parents have likely engaged with PTA around events at the elementary level, and are still event-driven towards engagement at the upper grades, but those events are now sports or other school activities. Since there is little classroom engagement at the middle and high school level (e.g., reading to students, parties, etc.) and students don’t want parents there in that role either, engage them on the curriculum and education side of PTA. Have parents serving on building committees or school district committees that then share that information with families.