Time to Plan for Take Your Family to School Week

PTA celebrates Founder’s Day on February 17theach year, and the week that includes that date is Take Your Family to School Week. National PTA has created a toolkit to help you plan your celebration for February 10-17, 2019.

The toolkit walks you through the planning process and provides you with ready-to-use promotional materials. There are four types of events you can plan:

  • Health & Safety Event
  • Literacy Event
  • Digital Learning Event
  • STEM Event

Once you’ve decided on which type of event to host, you can use the customizable flyers and templates (in both English and Spanish) to invite families, make announcements, include in newsletters, invite the news media, and share on social media. There is also a photo release form that you can have all your participants complete so you can share photos of your event.

After your event is over, there is a template thank you letter for your volunteers and event supporters in both English and Spanish. There is also a feedback form to share with National PTA on how your event went to help them improve the programs for future years. And don’t forget to share your photos on social media with the hashtag #PTAProud.Check out the toolkitand start planning today.

New Report Digs Into the Causes of the Disconnect Between How Families Think Their Child is Achieving and How the Child is Actually Achieving

Last year, Learning Heroes released the results of their parent survey that showed that nearly 90% of parents regardless of race, income, geography, and income levels believe that their child is working at or above their grade level. Yet national data shows that only about one-third of students are actually performing that well. This year, Learning Heroes surveyed parents to dig into the reasons behind that disconnect.

Their research indicated that there are three key drivers of this disconnect:

  1. Parenting styles drive how parents engage in their child’s education.
  2. Report cards sit at the center of the disconnect.
  3. The disconnect is solvable.

Effect of Parenting Styles

Learning Heroes’ research discovered that there are four different parenting styles regarding how they engage with their child’s education. These four styles can be used by teachers and administrators to inform their communication and engagement with families. The four styles are:

  1. A-OKs:About 25% of parents are confident that their child is performing in the classroom and on their annual assessment and use both to track achievement. The survey indicates that these families are open to more information, but feel like they have what they need.
  2. Problem Solvers:About 22% of parents believe their child is struggling academically, socially, or emotionally. These parents already spend a lot of time communicating with teachers and trying to address challenges at school. For these parents, the disconnect is a secondary concern because they already know their child is struggling. The survey indicates that they would welcome more engagement and know that there is more they could be doing.
  3. Protectors:23% of parents have high expectations for their child, but it is a false sense of security since they are more likely to rely on report card grades than other parents do. These families report the highest level of involvement, with 40% saying they attended a PTA or other school parent organization meeting in the last year.[emphasis added] Information about the performance gaps gets their attention and makes them question their assumptions. These families are very interested in more information and in engaging with the school to close the disconnect for their child.
  4. Accepters:The remaining 30% of parents are more hands-off. They are less college-oriented and believe their child is “fine.” This group of families is the least engaged of the four groups, and they are skeptical about the disconnect. These families will be the hardest to engage on this topic and on getting them to be more involved in their child’s education, and as a result, will need targeted strategies to reach them.

The Role of Report Cards

A second key finding of the Learning Heroes survey is the role that report cards play in creating the disconnect. While teachers have many different data points about how a student is actually learning and performing, families tend to rely mainly on report cards. The survey shows that parents see report cards as the most important tool for understanding how their child is achieving, and that’s not surprising given that report cards are the one piece of information that they reliably receive.

In contrast, teachers consider report cards only the third most important source of information on how a student is doing, behind regular communication between families and the teacher and graded work on assignments, tests, and quizzes. The reason for this is that teachers indicate that report card grades also reflect progress, effort, and participation in class as well as mastery of the material.

While 90% of teachers report that it’s important to communicate with families about how their child is doing academically and to tell those families when their child is struggling, they also report a number of barriers to providing that information. Among them are:

  • 71% say that “parents blame the teacher when their child isn’t performing at the appropriate level.”
  • 51% say “parents might not believe the teacher, especially if that information contrasts with what the parent sees at home.”
  • More than 20% say “parents could elevate the matter to the school principal, which could create problems for the teacher.”
  • Nearly 25% say “teachers are not given the proper support from school administrators to relay this type of information.”
  • 53% of teachers say they have no formal training or workshops on how to have difficult conversations with parents, and only 29% are very satisfied with their support in these situations.
  • Teachers are more likely to contact families about behavior problems (82%) than about academic problems such as lack of progress over the grading period (79%), dropping more than one letter grade (73%), receiving low scores on standardized tests throughout the year (71%), or failing to meet grade-level standards on annual state tests (70%). Middle school teachers are less likely to reach out to families for any of these reasons than elementary school teachers.

Solving the Disconnect

The Learning Heroes survey also provides some direction on how schools and PTAs can help solve this disconnect between how families believe their child is performing and their actual performance. A key part of solving that disconnect is sharing information.

The survey indicated that the 88% of parents who think their child is performing at grade level in math declines to 61% when told their child has a B in math and didn’t meet expectations on the state test. That percentage declines even further to 52% when they are also told that their child’s school received an overall performance rating of C.

In addition, when families learn about the disconnect, the percentage that agree or strongly agree that report cards are the best way to know how their child is doing academically declines from 60% to 34%. Even so, the majority of parents when informed of the disconnect are more likely to see how that information could apply to “parents in low-performing schools” or “other parents at my child’s school” than to “me and my child.”

Finally, Learning Heroes developed a tool called From Puzzle to Plan: A Family Worksheet that should be available soon. The worksheet puts a grade level indicator based on test scores side-by-side with feedback from the parent, teacher, and child. The tool also provides families with questions to ask in a parent-teacher conference and references to tailored, skills-based resources they can use to help their child at home. The worksheet is designed to help families engage in more productive conversations with teachers about their child.

7 Tips for Effective PTA Social Media

Social media is one of the most powerful tools a PTA can use to spread its message, but only if it is used effectively. Creating an effective social media presence for your PTA can help you gain members, recruit volunteers, and promote your PTA to potential partners and sponsors. Here are 7 tips to help you get started.

  1. What are your goals? Figure out what your PTA wants to accomplish with social media, whether it is raising awareness, communicating with members of your school community, or getting attendance and volunteers for your events. Being mindful of the results you want will shape how you approach your PTA’s social media presence.
  2. Who is your audience? Your choice of social media and message can vary depending on who you are trying to reach. If you are only targeting your school community and looking to recruit members, share news of events, and have volunteers sign up to help, your free PTA MemberHub account can easily handle all of that and more in one phone app. If you’re looking to spread your message beyond your school walls, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or YouTube may be better. Keep in mind that having multiple social media outlets aimed at different audiences works well, but be sure to keep your messaging consistent across them all.
  3. Use the right tool for the right job. Facebook is probably the most common PTA social media choice, but don’t forget the others. Twitter works well for sharing things in real time, as does Instagram for events that have good visual appeal. YouTube and Facebook Live can provide your PTa a way to share PTA meetings, programs, and events with those who can’t attend in person.
  4. Track your success. Most social media platforms provide some tools for monitoring how your posts resonate with your audience. Keep track of followers and subscribers, likes and retweets, and other metrics. Pay attention to which posts generate the most engagement and which ones don’t.
  5. Don’t forget the hashtag. A good hashtag can help you track what others may be saying about your PTA as well. Some popular hashtags that see a lot of use for PTAs include #PTAProud, #DoGoodThings4Kids, #WhyPTA, #PTA4Kids, #PowerOfPTA, and #MembershipMatters. Create a hashtag that identifies your PTA and use it with your posts.
  6. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. There are a lot of different social media platforms, and effectively using them takes time. Assess how much of your PTA resources, including volunteer time, to devote to social media.
  7. Be authentic. In all of your social media posts, be transparent and trustworthy. The news is full of stories of businesses and individuals who handled social media messages poorly or ineffectively, and the backlash can be extremely damaging. Being authentic helps your PTA build a connection with your audience and makes them more likely to trust your PTA, join, and volunteer. Set up procedures to have more than one set of eyes look over posts before they go live to catch typos, review content, and avoid accidentally offending anyone. Consider how someone could misuse or abuse your hashtag or message to convey the opposite of what you intended.

Graphic courtesy of Ibrahim.IDunder Creative Commons license.

Building Real Family Engagement with Your PTA Events

PTAs tend to do a lot of events. From carnivals and fun fairs to class parties to PTA programs like Reflections, PTAs know how to provide fun and engaging activities for families. And while this type of family engagement does a good job of getting families through the school doors, PTAs could do better at creating real family engagement that makes a big difference for children.

Research has shown that truly engaged families are critical to student success, providing the equivalent of an additional $1,000/student of spending. But to get that kind of result, families need to do more than just walk through the school doors and have a good time. They need to be engaged to support student learning outside the school walls.

Edutopia recently published an article on making the most of families’ time at school. While aimed at teachers and school administrators, the article provides some useful guidance for PTAs on creating events that build real family engagement. The family engagement that makes a difference is that which gets families in the classroom, participating in their child’s learning and activities that they do at school, and learning and understanding data about their child’s performance. Here are some key points from the article for PTAs:

  • Work with your school administration to create events that tie into current learning objectives. Improving student achievement won’t come from families taking pictures of kids in costumes at a Halloween parade or Thanksgiving performance. When these events get families in the school, take advantage of that to get them into the classroom as well by including math games around the theme of the event. Focus on those key ideas that your school is trying to get all children to master, like reading fluently on grade level and understanding basic math facts.
  • Make sure your events work with teachers’ schedules as well, especially if you are trying to include academic supports in your events with teachers’ help. Find out what other things are going on in teachers’ lives around the time you want to hold your event. Is it the same time that teachers are busy with end-of-semester assessments or preparing materials for parent-teacher conferences?
  • Time your events to work for all of those involved. School day events won’t work for working parents, and evening events are often hard for teachers to attend. Late afternoon or early evening events may work for both teachers staying after school and families getting off of work. Consider feeding everyone as part of your event.
  • Work with teachers to integrate an event’s theme into what the classes are doing. If you’re doing a circus themed event, having teachers integrate that theme into their lessons and showcasing that work during the event can build excitement among the children to get their families to come and see what they have been learning and doing.

With just a few tweaks and by working with your teachers and principal, PTAs can turn events into a fun time that supports families and student achievement, and that is how PTAs can create transformative family engagement.