Early Learning Council’s New Guidelines for Community Engagement

The value of PTA can be measured in a wide variety of ways, but one of the most strategic is representation of the parent community at the state level through participation in meaningful relationships. One such relationship is with the Illinois Early Learning Council. Created by Public Act 93-380, the Council is a public-private partnership designed to strengthen, coordinate, and expand programs and services for children, birth to five, throughout Illinois. The Council builds on current programs to ensure a comprehensive, statewide early learning system (preschool, child care, Head Start, health care, and support programs for parents) to improve the lives of Illinois children and families.

The mission of the Council is to collaborate with child-serving systems and families to meet the needs of young children, prioritizing those with the highest need, through comprehensive early learning services for children and families prenatally to age five. The Illinois PTA continues to be part of the Early Learning Council, and a representative serves on the Principles and Practices subcommittee. Ongoing dialogue about the need for age-appropriate learning experiences has prompted the development of the Guidelines for Community Engagement (included in the ZIP file).

We believe these guidelines can assist parents of young children, as well as PTA leaders, in creating a dialogue with teachers and administrators centered on the Illinois Early Learning Standards, as well as with the community at large with regard to the value of high quality early learning programs. In addition, PTA Councils in districts with an early learning program may wish to meet with their district about forming an early learning PTA to serve as a resource for family communication and education.

Why Don’t Volunteers Stick Around?

It is generally agreed that no one of us can motivate another. The most we can do is to stimulate others to action, but individuals must provide the motivation for themselves. Volunteers are obviously motivated by something other than a paycheck, such as self-esteem, recognition, approval, acceptance, and pride in a job well done.

A good leader knows how to inspire others to move them toward positive behavior that can move those volunteers and the association toward productive actions. Group consensus stimulates members to be motivated because the members feel their input has been valued; they’ve had a voice in how things will be. Members of a group will be motivated if the leader is aware of their values, needs, and interests.

Volunteers often lose interest when:

  • There is no praise or reward for their action
  • They receive no support from their co-worker
  • There is no chance for personal growth
  • Their personal needs are not being met
  • They do not feel they are truly making a difference

By making an effort to reach out and to nurture volunteers, PTA leaders can keep those volunteers involved.

  • Be friendly. Make all parents feel that PTA welcomes and accepts them.
  • Be sensitive to cultural differences among families.
  • Avoid stereotyping people.
  • Invite parents from all cultures to serve on the PTA board. Start by asking them to be involved on committees. Include them in leadership training opportunities.
  • Show appreciation for whatever amount of time a parent gives to PTA.

Graphic © 2013 by Pump Aid Pictures under Creative Commons license.

New Hour of Code Activity from National PTA & ThinkFun

Computer Science Education Week begins December 4th, and with it comes the Hour of Code program that Illinois PTA has covered before. We’ve also covered the importance of computer science education and computational thinking for students.

This year, as part of National PTA’s STEM + Families initiative, program partner ThinkFun has created an Hour of Code activity called Robot Repair. The activity uses fun puzzle solving to teach Boolean logic, a type of algebra that uses only TRUE and FALSE (or 1 and 0 in computers).

The activity has been approved as an official Hour of Code program and is available directly from the link above or through the activities list at Hour of Code. It can be done at home, or as part of a PTA Hour of Code program along with other exercises. If your PTA is considering an Hour of Code event, keep in mind that there are many activities available from the Hour of Code site that do not require an internet connection or even a computer or other device.

ESSA, Family Engagement, and Your PTA

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues to make progress, with the US Department of Education approving Illinois’s ESSA plan. In Congress, the House of Representatives has included funding for the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) in its appropriations bill. With the approval of the Illinois ESSA plan, attention now turns to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), or school districts in non-legalese, who must create their own ESSA implementation plans using the guidance of the state plan.

PTA’s Role in Planning

During the development of the state ESSA plan, Illinois PTA represented families in many of the committees and working groups that were developing various parts of the plan. Now that school districts are developing their plans, PTA councils and local PTA units have a role to play as well. ESSA requires that all stakeholders, including families, be included in the planning process, and PTAs are uniquely able to fill that role.

PTA councils and units should start the process by letting their school superintendent and school board know that they are interested in being involved in developing the district’s ESSA plan. Your school district should be supportive, as family and community engagement is one of the core elements of the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM) that will measure how schools are doing overall. IBAM replaces the test-score-only approach of measuring a school’s success under No Child Left Behind.

For those who serve on school district committees for PTA, it is important to remember that they are representing PTA and families, not their personal opinion. The National PTA Federal Public Policy Agenda, ESSA advocacy tools, and ESSA Local Roadmap can help support your efforts. From Illinois PTA, our legislative platform provides information on our positions, and Education Issues Director Kelli Denard can help with questions you might have. Finally, Partners for Each and Every Child and the Council of Chief State School Officers jointly developed a handbook to help school districts and school leaders cooperate to effectively implement ESSA at the local level.

PTA’s Role in Family Engagement

Illinois has its Family Engagement Framework to help local districts implement effective family engagement practices. The four principles of the framework parallel the six National Standards for Family-School Partnerships developed by National PTA. National PTA has additional resources in its Family Engagement Toolbox.

Even if your PTA is not interested in getting involved with your school district’s ESSA plan development, you can be involved in improving family engagement in your school. The National PTA School of Excellence program has a proven track record of improving family engagement. Illinois PTA has highlighted the success that Kreitner Elementary PTA had in becoming a School of Excellence in 2016.

If you’re interested in making your school a School of Excellence this year, the signup deadline is October 1, 2017. Don’t delay, sign up today.