Top 10 Tips for Middle School PTA Success

Middle school is different from elementary school for kids—they’re changing classrooms, managing a locker, and meeting new people from other elementary schools. It’s different for parents as well. New activities like band or sports may pull parents who have been involved in PTA at the elementary level away at the middle school level. Here are ten tips on running a successful middle school PTA.

  1. Grab them fast. Parents are at an elementary school for six years; add a second or third kid, and those years can stretch to more than a decade. That’s a lot of time to build a relationship between PTA and a parent, and for that parent to grow into a leadership role. Middle school zips by in three years, and parents may have a year or two off from middle school between kids. That means your PTA has to get parents involved quickly and early in leadership positions. Visit your feeder elementary schools to educate elementary PTA leaders on what the middle school PTA does and how it is different from what they’ve already experienced.
  2. Include them all. Sometimes one elementary PTA will be stronger than the other PTAs feeding into a middle school. Don’t lean on parents from just the dominant PTA for leadership—you’ll alienate those from the other PTAs.
  3. Focus on parent events. Middle school students are beginning to break away from their parents, so student-oriented events like those in elementary school may draw fewer attendees. But that pulling away also means that parents are likely looking to learn more about what is happening at school, since their child is not telling them as much as they used to and the “backpack express” filled with flyers and newsletters is more of a backpack black hole. Shift your meetings to educating parents about what is happening and what is coming up. Be more about communication and less about PTA business.
  4. Embrace the diaspora. As parents become dispersed among various booster groups and other activities in middle school, make sure that they know that the PTA is the one group that addresses the whole school. Have an extracurricular activities fair for incoming students in the spring with the message that middle school provides great opportunities for students to try new things, but that PTA is the way for parents to keep in touch with what’s going on in the school.
  5. Embrace social media. A newsletter or flyer sent home with a middle school student typically ends up on the floor at school, in a trash can, or buried at the bottom of the backpack until the end of the year. You have to reach out to families directly, and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can help with that.
  6. Cut back on fundraising. Your middle school PTA probably isn’t doing as many events as an elementary PTA and can get by with a smaller budget. Consider having just one big fundraiser, or incorporating your fundraising into your annual dues. How many parents at your school would embrace a PTA membership level of $25 or $50 that means the PTA won’t bother them about money for the rest of the year? Less fundraising means fewer overlaps with booster clubs who are also raising money as well.
  7. Find ways to integrate the PTA into the life of the middle school. Look for opportunities for the PTA to support events that bring families into the school. See if the PTA president can speak to all the parents at open house, consider providing snacks for the band, orchestra, and choir concerts (with a provided by PTA sign), and provide tour guides for new student orientation.
  8. Look for ways to work with other PTAs. Find opportunities to collaborate with your feeder school PTAs as well as the high school PTAs that your students will be going to. Working together helps incoming parents feel welcome and strengthens all of the PTAs.
  9. Cut back on meetings. Parents have often spent much of the day in meetings, so attending another PTA business meeting in the evening isn’t terribly appealing. Your PTA really only needs three general membership business meetings each year. One at the start of the school year to approve your audit and budget, one in the winter to elect your nominating committee, and one at the end of the year to elect your new officers. Add in adopting your updated bylaws at one of those meetings, and the only other thing your membership will need to meet about is amending your budget, which can be done with a quick five-minute meeting before an event or program. Let your board handing the day-to-day running of the PTA, and have your PTA “meetings” focus on parent education.
  10. Build your relationship with the principal and teachers. Just like the PTA, principals and teachers struggle to get information to families about what is happening at school. By building a good relationship with them, your PTA can develop programs and events that help the school keep parents informed and educated.

Plan Now for PTA Success in the Fall

With the school year coming to a close and summer activities to look forward to, many PTA leaders may be looking to put their feet up for the next few months. But summer provides an excellent time for PTA leaders to make their lives easier once school starts back up. By doing some planning for your upcoming PTA year over the summer, you can set the stage for your PTA’s success in the fall.

Have an Officer’s Retreat

The summer months provide PTA leaders with some time to meet and plan without the extra activities and schedule conflicts of the school year. It’s a chance to have a PTA officers’ retreat relaxed in someone’s back yard with a cool drink. Invite the previous year’s officers as well as the incoming officers to discuss how the past year went and what advice those leaving office have for those just starting. Then let the previous year’s officers go, and have a discussion with your current officers about what you’d like to accomplish during the coming year. Consider what events you’d like to host, what past events you’d like to stop doing, and create your calendar for the year.

Consider taking part in National PTA’s School of Excellence Program. The sign-up period runs from now until October 1, 2017. Implementing the program at your school provides insight into how your PTA can best involve the families at your school in their children’s education. In Illinois, one PTA who successfully completed the program saw their attendance at PTA meetings jump from a handful of parents to nearly 200 at one meeting. The School of Excellence program provides your PTA with ready-to-use tools to help your PTA be successful, and the results from across the country show that those PTAs that participate see increases in membership and greater support from families for the PTA and their school.

Put Your Financial House in Order

Once your calendar is planned, make sure your PTA’s financial situation is in good shape. Conduct your audit once your fiscal year ends. Plan out next year’s budget based on what you want to accomplish. Remember that Illinois PTA events such as Advocacy Day in Springfield (November 14, 2017) and convention (May 4-5, 2018 at Northern Illinois University—Naperville) can be included in your PTA budget. Get the signatures for your PTA’s banking accounts changed to reflect the new officers, and don’t forget to change any passwords for online banking or social media accounts.

Once your audit shows a clean set of books, file your 990 form with the IRS. For PTAs with less than $50,000 in gross receipts, this is a simple electronic postcard that only takes a few minutes to complete online. Plan on sending in a copy of your approved audit and IRS Form 990 with your first membership dues payment on October 1, 2017.

Membership Matters

Members are the life blood of a PTA, and if your PTA is not actively recruiting new members, you can find your PTA in a constant struggle for volunteers, officers, and resources. Plan your membership campaign over the summer so you’re ready to take off with the start of the new school year. Use the ready-to-go membership materials on the Illinois PTA website, or develop a plan tailored to your PTA. Be sure to think beyond the school walls, as school board members, school district administrators, community members, realtors and other businesses, and even grandparents in another state have an interest in supporting your child’s school.

Get Trained

Take advantage of the free training the PTA offers—it is one of the critical things that sets PTA apart from other parent organizations and helps you avoid problems that can hurt your PTA. Your district or region director can tell you when local training will be happening in your area, and Illinois PTA will also be offering online training this fall. Don’t forget to take a look at National PTA’s online training courses as well. These free training courses are provided to help you and your PTA know what to do to be successful. When Illinois PTA steps in to help a local PTA with an issue, whether it is financial problems, IRS troubles, or conflict among board members, in almost every case the PTA’s leaders did not get trained.

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Take advantage of the slower pace during the summer months to get your PTA ready to go for the fall. By doing so, you’ll save yourself and your fellow PTA officers the trouble of doing it all while school activities, PTA activities, and all the other activities your family is involved in are going on as well.

Photo © 2014 by Cassinam under Creative Commons license.

News from the Illinois PTA Convention—Incoming President’s Speech

At the conclusion of the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, incoming Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker addressed the delegates. Following the speech, many in the audience urged us to share his message with all Illinois PTA members.

I’m willing to bet that almost every person in this room would say that they got involved with PTA because of their child. That’s not terribly surprising. Every parent wants to be a champion for their child.

But PTA has always been about more than that. When Alice McLellan Birney looked around her community and saw children ending their education after fifth grade or eighth grade, saw children working in factories, saw children locked up in adult prisons, she knew that someone needed to speak up for them, because every child deserves a champion.

Our mission as PTA is to make every child’s potential a reality not by holding a fundraiser, but by engaging and empowering our families and our communities to be advocates. That’s not to say that fundraising is not important. A fundraiser can make a big difference in a school, especially with our state continuing to provide inadequate and inequitable funding of our schools year after year, but when we are advocates, when we change policies and laws, we can make a difference for every child in Illinois, and every child deserves a champion.

Now, I sense that there are some of you out there who are a little skeptical about this advocacy thing. Maybe you’re thinking that those big changes that PTA made in the past happened because it’s obvious that children going to work in factories at 11 or being locked up in adult prisons at 13 was clearly wrong and therefore easy to change, but change is never easy. Maybe you think a small handful of PTA folks can’t make a big difference today, that money and lobbyists and special interests push regular people out of the process, so let me tell you about Illinois PTA this past year.

Last fall on November 15th we had Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield, the first day of the fall veto session. We had 12 PTA advocates come to Springfield that day, more than we’ve had there on one day in probably over a decade. We also sent out a call to action for those who couldn’t come to Springfield to contact their legislators. We were advocating for passage of a fully-funded state budget, for a bill banning the sale of energy drinks to minors, and for SB550, a bill to test every unique drinking water source in every school in Illinois, public, private, and parochial, for lead. While we had a handful of face-to-face meetings with legislators, we also spent time stopping by the desks of as many administrative assistants as we could to speak with, told them about our issues, and left our literature with them to pass on to the legislators. The 12 of us managed to visit a little over half of the legislators’ assistants that day.

The next day, our executive director was at a hearing and overheard one legislator say to another, “Boy, the Illinois PTA really showed up yesterday.” Well, 12 of us did, but we seemed like a whole lot more. And a funny thing happened that day: SB550, a bill that had passed the Senate in May but had been stuck in the House Rules committee since then (and if you don’t know, the Rules Committee is where bills go to slowly die) suddenly picked up three new co-sponsors. By the end of the veto session, the bill had picked up over a dozen new co-sponsors, moved out of Rules, gone through committee, and was headed to the floor with a Do Pass recommendation.

Since we knew there was a lame duck session coming up in January, Illinois PTA sent out another call to action just after the first of the year, and SB550 picked up 18 additional co-sponsors during that session and passed into law. While the amended bill limited the testing to Pre-K through fifth-grade schools, without PTA advocates contacting their legislators we would have had no testing at all for a substance that we know has no safe level of exposure.

So 12 people spending a day in Springfield and a few hundred more spending two minutes to answer Illinois PTA’s call to action made a difference in the lives of every child who will be passing through those schools for years to come. What could we accomplish for the children of Illinois with 100 people spending a day in Springfield or 10,000 spending two minutes to answer a call to action?

So here is my challenge today to all of you. Take out your smart phone and open your browser, go to illinoispta.org, click on the Advocacy menu, and then on the Take Action link on the side. Go to the Quick Sign Up part of the page and enter your e-mail address, zip code, and maybe your street address if your zip code has more than one representative in it, and then click that arrow to join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network. Then go back to your PTA and get all of your members to do the same.

And when you get that PTA e-mail with the big button that says Take Action, click it and discover how quick and easy it is to type in your name and contact information and hit send to let your legislators know that you are PTA and you are a champion for every child in Illinois, because every child deserves a champion.

I am humbled and honored that you have chosen me to lead you, and I am looking forward to leading an army of champions for the next two years, champions for the child in the suburbs and for the child in East St. Louis, for the child on the south side of Chicago and for the child among the cornfields around Strasburg, and for every child in Illinois, because every child deserves a champion. Thank you.

7 Keys to Successful Delegating

6728981105_af8d2210e4_b

Photo © 2012 by Choo Yut Shing under Creative Commons license.

Even if you’re not a PTA president, December is a busy time of year, filled with holiday shopping and decorating, end of semester projects, holiday concerts, and more. If you’ve got a PTA meeting and a PTA event or two, it can be overwhelming. The key to avoiding burnout as a PTA president is to delegate, but doing that is not always easy and may not come naturally. Here are 7 keys to successfully delegating.

  1. Delegate tasks to the right people. In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins compares leaders to bus drivers who need to “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” In other words, don’t delegate your tasks to the first person who volunteers to do it. Make sure they have the skills to do the job. If you have a volunteer in mind, target them and ask them directly, face to face, to take on a task.
  2. Give them the tools to get the job done. PTA provides its leaders with more information and resources than they can probably use in a year, but all of it is information a leader might need. This information needs to be shared, so make sure that the people who need the information you have receive it. Don’t assume that everyone knows what is out there. Look through the Illinois PTA Local Unit Packet, pass around the USB drive to everyone on the board to copy what they need, and point people to the resources on the National PTA and Illinois PTA
  3. Be specific about the task. Make sure that the person you are delegating to understands what they are being asked to do, what the budget is, what paperwork needs to be done, and when it needs to be completed. Ask if they have any questions not only when they first get started but also after they have been working on the task for a while. Sometimes you don’t know what questions to ask until you get into a project.
  4. Set them loose. When you delegate a task, don’t spell out exactly how you want it done. Instead, focus on the results you want. No one likes to be micromanaged, and micromanaging a delegated task doesn’t reduce your workload.
  5. Generally offer advice only when asked. About the only unrequested advice you should give is pitfalls and stumbling blocks that have come up from others doing this project in the past. If your PTA has a procedure book for the program or event, those potential problems should already be noted in it. Do check in periodically to see if they have any needs or problems that you can help with.
  6. Have their back. If a disagreement controversy arises, don’t leave the person you have delegated a task to dangling. Remember that everyone needs to focus on the results and not the path to those results, especially if the disagreement is over a “but we always have done it this way” issue.
  7. Provide thanks and solicit feedback. Be sure to publicly thank your volunteers after a task, program, or event is completed. Ask them to review how things went and to identify what went right, what went wrong, what could be improved, and what they would do differently the next time. Make sure that feedback is included in the procedure book.

At times, it may feel like it would be easier to just do it yourself rather than to teach someone else to do it, but delegating work has long-term payoffs for your PTA. You will have more energy as a leader, those delegated small tasks are more likely to take on bigger ones in the future, and people will be less likely to run away from the PTA president’s role in the future because they will see that the PTA president doesn’t have to do it all.