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.

Create a Welcome Packet to Bring New Families into Your PTA

wordcloud-welcome-heart-1As the school year comes to a close, many PTA leaders look forward to an opportunity to put their feet up and relax until school starts in the fall. However, there is one thing that PTA leaders should be planning now to make their PTA more successful in the coming year—planning on how to welcome new members.

New members are the life blood of every PTA. We have built in turnover as PTA leaders have their youngest child move on to the next level of their education and your PTA loses that experienced leader. Procedure books can help your PTA retain that knowledge and experience, but without a volunteer to use that procedure book, your PTA isn’t moving forward.

Your PTA’s prime new member recruiting time is right at the beginning of the school year, whether it is during school registration days, open house, or your first PTA meeting. Families new to your school will be looking for information on what’s going on at the school and how they can be involved. By creating a welcome packet, your PTA can make a great first impression on these new families and increase your membership. People are more willing to join a group that has its act together and knows what it’s doing and where it’s going. The time to create that welcome packet is now.

Creating Your PTA Welcome Packet

When creating your PTA’s welcome packet, you want to provide information on your PTA and on your school. The contents should provide the information you would have liked to have known back when you first arrived at your school. You may want to organize the information into sections about your PTA and about your school. Things you may want to include are:

  • Welcome Letter: A welcome letter from your PTA president should be short, friendly, and provide a quick overview of what’s in the welcome packet. Be sure to provide your contact information and welcome questions and suggestions.
  • Important Dates: Provide a list of your PTA meeting dates and times, any PTA programs and events that are already scheduled, Take Your Family to School Week, as well as dates such as your PTA’s Reflections You can also include important school dates, such as Parent-Teacher Conferences, school holidays, and exam dates. The more comprehensive your calendar is, the more likely it is to be stuck to the front of a refrigerator.
  • How to Join the PTA: Include your membership form, information about dues, and a list of PTA member benefits. Share how PTA membership helps your PTA and your school even if a member doesn’t volunteer. Remind people that you do not have to have a child in your school to join your PTA—consider asking grandparents, community members, and businesses to join your PTA. You will provide information on volunteering later, but when you are asking someone to join is not that time. No one wants to walk into a party and be asked right away if they can help wash dishes in the kitchen afterwards.
  • PTA Officers and Chairmen: Provide the contact information of your PTA officers and chairmen. This list can also include brief descriptions of what each chairman does.
  • Volunteer Opportunities: When listing ways that people can volunteer, be sure to provide information on how much time is required and whether the work needs to be done at school or can be done at home. If you have or will have committees working on programs or events, invite those interested to join the committee with no commitment beyond attending the committee meetings. This lets new volunteers find out what is involved in an event without worrying about being asked to do a lot of work. Chances are, when they see that they might only need to go get some paper goods, talk to a couple of businesses about donations, or sit at a registration table for an hour-long shift, they will step up without being asked directly.
  • Information on Navigating the School: This might include a school map, how to put money in your child’s account for lunch, and all those other little things you had to figure out when you were new to the school.

Planning Tips

  • Presentation Matters: How you present your welcome packet is just as important as what you include in it. At the beginning of the school year, families are flooded with information—forms to fill out, letters from teachers, information on activities and groups, and more. Make sure that your welcome packet is easy to read, well organized, and easy to skim and search for information. Consider using different colors to identify different areas of information.
  • Put Yourself in a New Family’s Shoes: Think back to when you were first walking in your school’s door. What questions did you have? What information couldn’t you find? Who could answer those questions? Be sure to talk to some of your members that first joined last year to help figure out what information you need to provide.
  • Be Inclusive: If possible, provide information in other languages if there is a significant number of families that speak that language at home. By starting now on your materials, you will have time to arrange translations of at least some items.
  • Go Digital (But Not Just Digital): The younger an adult is, the more likely they are to prefer accessing information digitally. Make sure your welcome packet is available online, whether through your PTA’s website, Facebook page, or e-mail list. Consider making a QR code (those boxes of dots you scan with your phone) to take people to your welcome packet online and having it displayed at your PTA information table, on a PTA bulletin board, or on a sign at your school’s main office. You’ll still want to have a paper version of your welcome packet as well for those families that have limited internet access or prefer a hard copy to stick on the refrigerator.
  • Your Welcome Packet is a Marketing Tool: Your welcome packet should present your PTA as a well-organized and well-run association that is doing great things in your school. Be sure to share what your PTA does, why you do it, and what you have accomplished. Be sure to include outcomes—what changed because of your PTA’s work—and not just activities.
  • Add Your Own Member Benefits: Consider reaching out to businesses in your area to provide additional member benefits specific to your PTA. Costs of creating and producing your welcome packet can be offset by selling advertising space to businesses. Remember that these ads cannot imply PTA endorsement because of your PTA’s 501(c)3 status. These businesses are PTA sponsors or PTA supporters, not the other way around.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Membership Recruitment, Retention, and Engagement

conv logo 2Illinois PTA understands there are challenges to PTAs in recruiting and retaining members. We believe we can best address these challenges by communicating with you, the local unit members, in finding out what works for your PTA and what doesn’t. Through online conference events and convention networking workshops, we have discovered some of the challenges you face and have brainstormed together some suggested ideas for meeting those challenges. Most recently at our 114th Annual Convention, we offered a “Recruitment, Retention, Engagement–Membership Networking Workshop.” Challenges and solution ideas expressed in a past web conference were presented and added to by the participants in the workshop.

Why Join PTA?

Why do people join PTA? What does PTA offer them? PTA offers families the opportunity to get involved in their child’s education, to volunteer to make the educational experience for the kids in their community the best it can be. Studies show that family involvement is one of the most valuable assets to a child’s success in school. Along with family involvement, PTA encourages local units to reach out and partner with their communities (businesses, city councils, service clubs, chambers of commerce, etc.) to be involved in supporting their efforts on behalf of children, families, and schools. Many people take advantage of PTA leadership development opportunities and assistance with resources for advocacy on behalf of children at the local, state, and federal levels.

Why Don’t People Join PTA?

At the workshop, participants were asked to share their experiences on why people don’t join PTA? Here are the challenges that were discussed:

  • Fear of being asked to volunteer for anything or everything
  • Parents volunteer at school but don’t feel the need to join PTA
  • Too many PTA meetings to attend
  • Cultural differences
  • Busy with other volunteer activities (e.g., sports, Scouts, dance, place of worship, etc.)
  • English as second language–can’t understand and participate in meetings or activities
  • Parents working full time can’t volunteer during the school day
  • Lack of awareness of PTA or what we do
  • Unable to pay dues
  • Uncomfortable with interaction with administration of school

The workshop participants then brainstormed ideas to deal with each challenge.

Fear of Being Asked to Volunteer or Parents Volunteer but Don’t Join PTA

  • Be sure to inform parents that while we welcome those who are able to volunteer, membership in PTA helps support your unit financially and more members provides PTA a larger voice in local, state, and national advocacy with governments and other policy makers.
  • Offer a program where you ask for a commitment of only a few hours each year from each member (e.g., PTA’s Three for Me Program). That way members are assured they won’t have to work at every event.
  • Offer a contest and reward parents for volunteering the most hours. Keep track of each volunteer’s hours either monthly or yearly. Hold a volunteer appreciation event and either just acknowledge the hours volunteered by each member or give out little awards. Many businesses are happy to donate items that can be used for this purpose.
  • What about and incentive like “reserved parking!” One school started a program where each year they place the name of every member who joins into a drawing. At a PTA meeting before a special school event, a name is drawn and the lucky winner gets preferred parking reserved at the school for that event. It was very successful in recruiting new and keeping returning members. What about doing this with a few reserved seats at the event? This would promote partnership with the school leadership. What about requiring that the winner be present at the PTA meeting to be awarded the incentive? Would that perhaps increase attendance at meetings?

Too Many PTA Meetings to Attend

  • PTAs do not have to have a meeting every month throughout the year. Your local PTA bylaws dictate how many meetings you have to hold each year. Amend your bylaws to reduce the number of meetings your general membership has to hold each year. General membership meetings are only needed to approve the audit report, to adopt or amend the budget, to elect a nominating committee, or to elect new officers.
  • Pick months for your meetings when you can involve the children in a short program or performance. Everyone enjoys coming out to see the kids perform. Ask for help from your choral or band departments on ideas for programs. Use one meeting to highlight students’ artwork. If your school participates in the PTA Reflections Program, hold a meeting to recognize the students’ achievements.
  • Pick months where you can supply a light meal or snacks. Many participants in the workshop voiced that members really enjoy coming to meetings where there is some sort of treat!

Cultural Differences

  • Find ways to reach out to parents of different cultures and help them feel welcome. Educate them that parents are able to participate in school activities.
  • Host workshops to help educate these parents and families about participating in PTA and school activities. Consider holding these workshops at different times of the week and day to allow more people to fit them into their schedule.
  • Hold an event highlighting the different cultures in your school. One PTA suggested that having an event where children from each of the cultures represented in their school did a presentation demonstrating aspects of their culture. Some used dance and song, others used language activities, and others used a sampling of their culture’s food. It is a huge success and is done every year now. What a great idea!

Busy with Other Volunteer Activities or Parents Working Full Time Can’t Volunteer During School Day

A great way to include parents and families who cannot volunteer during the school day is to provide opportunities for them to assist with things for which they do not have to be present:

  • Make a treat for a party or special event and let their child bring it in that day
  • Simply ask those parents who cannot be present to send in the paper goods. Again, allow the child to bring the items the day of the party. (Allowing the kiddos to bring the items in allows them a sense that their parents are contributing and supporting them as much as those parents who are able to be physically present.)
  • Send home craft work needed for PTA events and allow parents to cut, fold, staple, color, sort, etc., during any free time they have outside of work or other activities. Be sure to do this well in advance of the event to allow parents time to finish without feeling stressed.

English as a Second Language

  • Consider holding two separate meetings: one for English speaking members and a separate meeting for individuals who may need more time understanding the meeting discussion.
  • Have the agenda translated into their language.
  • If possible, have someone who speaks the language of those in attendance to assist.

Lack of Awareness of PTA or What We Do

  • Toot your own horn! Be sure to have information available about all the good things you do for kids. Don’t just think in terms of fundraising; talk about all the events you hold for families and children as well as the hours your members volunteer to assist at school.
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation or video showing what your PTA does throughout the year. Show the presentation or video at kindergarten or back-to-school orientation.
  • Be sure to host and advertise parent education on topics of interest to your community.
  • Inform members about the advocacy successes of Illinois and National PTA.
  • Take advantage of Illinois PTA and National PTA training. Many interesting webinars are available online. Training courses are for all members, not just PTA officers.
  • If your school has a mail-in registration, ask if your PTA can include information about what your PTA does and membership in your PTA with the mailing.
  • Check out the PTA Back-to-School Kit at www.ptakit.org. The section on Membership contains a wealth of resources for promoting PTA.

Unable to Pay Dues

  • This is a difficult challenge for PTAs. One suggestion is to find community partners who might be able to contribute funds to sponsor families to become members of PTA who may need assistance with dues.
  • Title I funds can be used to pay PTA dues for those families receiving free or reduced lunches.

Uncomfortable with Interaction with Administrators of School

  • Get parents to interact at school by inviting parents to participate in parent-led enrichment activities during the school day. Parents volunteer one hour per week to come in and teach an enrichment course about an area of their interest/expertise. These could also be implemented as an after-school club.
  • Host “breakfasts,” “coffees,” or “sack lunches” for informal times that parents can meet with administrators and express concerns or ask questions.
  • Invite an administrator to attend your PTA meetings to talk informally about things going on at your school. This may help alleviate any discomfort as members get to know the administrators.

General Ideas for Engaging Families–Including Some Programs Ready to Go!

  • “Donuts for Dads” and “Muffins for Moms”: Host quick morning events for parents as they drop off children for school.
  • “Curbside Bagel Hello”: One participant indicated that the process for dropping children off at school was such that parents could not park and come into the building for a quick morning event. The suggestion was a “curbside bagel hello.” Literally stand out by where parents drop off children and hand them a bagel and a “Hello” from PTA. This is true thinking outside the box!
  • A family movie night is a very popular event to engage families. This involves some expense by the PTA to purchase the license to show a movie, but then you can engage the community by finding partners to donate pizza, ice cream, popcorn, drinks, etc.
  • Find successful programs ready to use on the Illinois PTA website under Programs then Programs to Go.
  • National PTA has programs with everything you need to promote and administer a family event for a PTA Back to Sports Night Program or a Family Reading Experience.

If you have ideas on any of the items listed or if you have challenges and solutions you would like to share, please send them to the Illinois PTA Membership Marketing Director, Rhonda Jenkins, at rjenkins@illinoispta.org. We will share these ideas in future One Voice Illinois posts, on Facebook, and on the Illinois PTA Membership Page.