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.

Free Popular Events Idea Booklet from USDA Team Nutrition

team-nutrition-events-booklet-coverWe all want our children to be active and to make healthy food choices, and PTAs are always looking for new program ideas. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service’s Team Nutrition, which supports improving Child Nutrition Programs, has collected 20 themed events from real-life events at Team Nutrition schools in a free booklet you can order in hardcopy or download as a PDF.

These tested events aim to connect the school, home, cafeteria, classroom, and community to improve child nutrition. The events are grouped as appropriate for elementary schools, middle schools, or both. The events include both stand-alone events that PTAs could run as well as classroom projects for teachers and school cafeteria events that PTAs could support and encourage their school to use. The booklet includes handouts for specific events and those for any event. Events include:

If your PTA is looking for a ready-to-use program on healthy habits, be sure to check out this free booklet from Team Nutrition.

10-Minute Film Festival: Back to School Edition

EDUCATION NATION -- Pictured: "Education Nation" Logo -- NBC PhotoIllinois PTA has mentioned the NBC News Education Nation Parent Toolkit before, but the toolkit has continued to grow in the past two years, adding videos and more to the toolkit. Here’s a 10-minute film festival of videos from the toolkit, each a minute or less, to get you and your child ready to go back to school.

 

These videos are also available in Spanish: