Building an Effective PTA Board

As the school year begins, it’s important to get your PTA working effectively. A key part of that effectiveness is having a good PTA board made up of your officers and chairpersons. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you build your PTA board and start working together.

Get the Right People in the Right Seats on the Bus

In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins stresses the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. In other words, making sure that the people on your PTA board are the right people to help lead your PTA and they are doing the right jobs for their skills. Your PTA board should reflect your school community, and you can use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkitto help you reach out to groups at your school that are underrepresented in your PTA.

Realize that Team Building Takes Time

No group comes together right from the beginning. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman noted this in his 1965 article Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, in which he identified four stages that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Those stages are:

  1. Forming:In the forming stage, your board has low skills and high enthusiasm. The leader plays a larger role in this stage, since most team members are still sorting out what their roles and responsibilities are.
  2. Storming:In this stage, your board still has low skills, but low enthusiasm as well. People have begun to get comfortable with their role on the team and have started to push back against others. These conflicts can arise from differences in working styles, jockeying for position, or challenging your leadership. It’s important to remember that this conflict is an expected part of the process, and as a leader you should work to keep your board members focused on the goals of your PTA—helping the children of your school.
  3. Norming:In the norming stage, your board has higher skills, but still has low enthusiasm. Board members have begun to resolve differences, recognize each other’s strengths, and understand how you work as their leader. They’ve begun to know one another better, have begun to build trust, and are beginning to ask each other for help and provide constructive feedback. As a leader, you can begin to step back a bit from managing your board at this stage, but realize that storming and norming overlap to some degree, and as new challenges arrive or new board members come on, the team may lapse back into storming again.
  4. Performing:In the final stage, your board has both high skills and high enthusiasm. There is a high level of trust between your board members, and they are all focused on accomplishing their tasks to meet the PTA’s goals. As a leader, you can delegate much of your work and focus on developing team members and preparing for the transition to next year’s officers.

Make Use of the Seven Habits

Author Stephen R. Covey identified a framework for personal effectiveness in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While the book is aimed at individuals, those seven habits can also be used in creating an effective PTA board.

 

  1. Be Proactive: Decide what your PTA will focus on this year at the beginning. Realize that there will be conflict on the board and that some conflict is essential to moving forward. Make sure that conflict is productive conflict that focuses on determining the best course of action for your PTA and not damaging personal relationships on your board. Develop ground rules for handling conflict with your board, including keeping board conflicts confidential so your board members can trust each other and share honest opinions. Nothing tears a PTA board apart faster than a board member sharing disagreements on your board or with your PTA’s chosen course of action with those outside the board discussion or on social media.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: Set goals now for what your PTA will accomplish this year. Make sure that those goals are supported by your board and that they are SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, and Time-based.
  3. Put First Things First: Work with your entire PTA community to create an action plan to achieve your PTA’s goals. Share your goals with your principal and teachers as well as your families. Ask for their input. Put together committees to accomplish specific goals or tasks, and empower them to accomplish that goal or task.
  4. Think Win-Win: If your PTA is considering two different ways to meet your PTA’s goals, and both of them will get you there, there is no wrong answer. Keep your board and your PTA focused on the destination, not the path.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: It seems counterintuitive, but an effective leader is first an effective follower. While a leader may be able to harangue their team into following their personal vision for a short while, the effective leader collects and considers the team’s visions and identifies where the group wants to go as a whole. That means that you should ask more questions, listen attentively, and make fewer statements. Make sure that everyone, whether at your PTA board meetings or general membership meetings, feels safe and comfortable enough to share their opinions and ask difficult questions.
  6. Synergize: Synergy is combining the ideas of several people to create something that is better than what any one of them could have come up with alone. Doing this successfully requires that your board members trust each other and focus on the goal more than the path to get there. Identify which groups in your PTA community are not at the table and invite them in to make sure that all voices are heard.
  7. Sharpen the Saw: Sharpening the saw is about taking care of yourself, your board, and your PTA. Take the time to rest and rejuvenate, not just as a PTA leader, but your board as well, so that you don’t burn out. Celebrate your accomplishments. Publicly thank those who helped make things happen. You can be more effective cutting down trees if you are always using a sharp saw.

Build Trust

Patrick Lencioni is best known for his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Teamthat identifies the ways that teams fail to work effectively. Somewhat less familiar are his five behaviors of a cohesive team. Of these five behaviors, the fundamental one is trust. Trust is the essential foundation of any team, and without it, conflict becomes destructive and your PTA will struggle to meet its goals.

As a PTA leader, one of your first tasks should be to work towards building trust on your board. You can do this by providing opportunities for your board members to get to know each other better. Use icebreakers at the beginning of your first few board meetings, especially ones that require each board member to talk with every other board member. Make sure to have some icebreakers that are small group or one-on-one activities, as some people may not be comfortable standing up in front of the whole group and sharing something personal about themselves, especially early on before there is a lot of trust between board members. Provide opportunities to socialize together, either with refreshments after your board meeting or on a specific board outing to a coffee shop or other social setting.

PTA meetings are notorious for the “meeting after the meeting” out in the parking lot. Listening in on that conversation is a good measure of how your board or your PTA are working. If the parking lot discussion is all about what went on in the meeting, you have a problem. If the discussion is about what they’re doing this coming weekend or making plans to meet and do something together (PTA or otherwise), then your board is working well as a team.

The Importance of Teacher Leadership for Student Success

It’s sometimes said that teachers reach the pinnacle of their career the first day they walk into their classroom. Unless they wanted to go into administration, a classroom teacher had no advancement track. But that is changing in many school districts as they begin to embrace teacher leadership.

What is Teacher Leadership?

Teacher leadership can take many forms and will vary from district to district or even school to school. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) helped to create the Teacher Leader Model Standards. These standards spell out seven domains where teachers can be leaders while remaining in the classroom:

  1. Fostering a Collaborative Culture to Support Educator Development and Student Learning
  2. Accessing and Using Research to Improve Practice and Student Learning
  3. Promoting Professional Learning for Continuous Improvement
  4. Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning
  5. Promoting the Use of Assessments and Data for School and District Improvement
  6. Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community
  7. Advocating for Student Learning and the Profession

In Illinois, the Illinois Teacher Leadership Network (ITLN), of which Illinois PTA is a member, is working to help define teacher leadership in Illinois, to help the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recognize teacher leadership, and to help school districts implement teacher leadership.

Many school districts may already be implementing some types of teacher leadership without formally calling it that. In some districts, this is a necessity because there may not be separate staff available to fill some roles. In others, it may be due to the district’s recognizing the importance of teacher mentors, the need to improve professional development or instruction, or the desire to use the additional data schools are collecting to improve student outcomes.

Why is Teacher Leadership Important?

Teacher leadership provides opportunities for teachers to grow in their profession without leaving the classroom that they love. In districts where teacher leadership is being embraced, teachers are happier with their school, which means there is less teacher turnover.

A recent report by the New Teacher Center on the effect of teacher leadership on student achievement provided research-based results identifying how these two are linked. The report, called School Leadership Counts, notes that:

  • Students perform better in schools with the highest levels of instructional and teacher leadership.
  • Involving teachers in the decision-making processes related to school improvement planning and student conduct result in higher student achievement.
  • High-poverty schools often lack teacher leadership elements that improve student achievement, which limits students’ potential at those schools.

What Role Do Parents and PTAs Have with Teacher Leadership?

It’s important to remember that Domain VI of the Teacher Leader Model Standards focuses on improving outreach and collaboration with families and communities. PTAs and their families can encourage their school and district administration to learn about and implement teacher leadership as a way of improving student achievement. They can also work with their administration to help improve family engagement through programs such as the National PTA School of Excellence. Finally, it is important to recognize that schools and districts that embrace teacher leadership and including teachers in the decision-making processes are also schools and districts that are likely to embrace parent leadership and inclusion in decision-making.

Learn More at the Illinois PTA Convention

Steven Elza, the 2015 Illinois State Teacher of the Year and an ITLN member, will be presenting a workshop on teacher leadership at the Illinois PTA Convention on Saturday, May 5th. Don’t miss out on this and other great workshops. Register for convention today!

Photo courtesy US Air Force/Kelly Deichert.

Top 10 Reasons to Attend the Illinois PTA Convention

 

 

The 116thAnnual Illinois PTA Conventionis coming up May 4-5 at the NIU-Naperville Conference Center. If your PTA doesn’t have someone attending convention yet, here are the top ten reasons why you should. The early bird discount ends April 6th, so register today!

  1. Meet keynote speaker Dr. Devorah Heitner.In addition to giving the keynote address, Dr. Heitner will be presenting a workshop and signing copies of her new book, Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. Copies will be for sale at convention.
  2. Get some hands-on learning with MemberHub.Are you a little confused about how to use MemberHub with your PTA or school? Take advantage of the hands-on workshop time in the NIU-Naperville computer lab with MemberHub staff to learn how to make the most of this great platform to run your PTA.
  3. Network, network, network.Tired of having your PTA do the same thing year after year. Share experiences and ideas with PTA members from across Illinois to learn new ways of doing programs or to discover new events your PTA can do. Find out how other PTA leaders have solved the problems you or your PTA are facing.
  4. Spend some PTA funds to improve your PTA.Attending the Illinois PTA Convention is an acceptable use of PTA funds. The leadership skills, program ideas, and other experiences of convention can supercharge your PTA going forward.
  5. Win prizes.Our convention vendors love our members and donate prizes that are given away at the start of both general sessions and the end of the last general session. In addition, Illinois PTA will be having a drawing among first-time convention attendees for a free convention registration to the 2019 Illinois PTA Convention. If you haven’t attended before, here’s your chance for a 2-for-1 deal.
  6. Become a better advocate.As a PTA member, you have a superpower. It is your voice, which is heard far too rarely by school boards and legislators. Learn how to use this superpower to make a difference in the life and education of not just your child, but all the children in your school district, in Illinois, and across the nation.
  7. Enhance your leadership skills.Whether you knew it or not, PTA leaders are running small non-profit organizations. Learn how to run your PTA more effectively through the Illinois PTA University leadership courses and other workshops at convention.
  8. Learn from experts. Want to grow your PTA membership, but don’t know how? Want to reach out to all the communities at your school? Heard about childhood trauma and education, but don’t really know what it means? Want to write grants for your PTA, but don’t know where to start? We’ll have workshops covering all these and more.
  9. Make your voice heard.Convention is where Illinois PTA has its business meeting, and it’s your opportunity to direct where the association is going. Vote on the budget, elect program directors (officers next year), shape our legislative platform, and more.
  10. Meet with vendors.Looking for an alternative to your wrapping paper fundraiser? Want to find an exciting assembly? Vendors at the Illinois PTA Convention are there to help you.

Here’s a secret 11threason to attend: to have fun! Getting together with fellow PTA leaders and members often involves laughter and new friendships. Don’t miss out on the fun. Register today!

 

 

Rekindling the Flame

Feeling overwhelmed by your PTA responsibilities? Winter’s cold and snow got you feeling down? Use these tips to rekindle the flame of PTA Leadership!

Dare to Try New Things

Try something new to develop a stronger and more vital PTA. Have a brainstorming session with your board or your members to discover new ways of doing things. Develop a list of reasons why these ideas will work. Eliminate negative phrases like “we’ve always done it this way.”

Try Again…and Again

Develop the patience to tell your PTA’s story again, and again. Always consider who you are talking to. How much they already know? What is the message you want to get across? Try limiting your message to twenty words or less to find out what is the most critical part of your message.

Delegate Responsibility

Involve as many people as possible in the work of the PTA. Ask yourself, “What am I doing that someone else can do as well or better than I can?” Be specific about the job to be done. Then trust those to whom you have delegated the responsibility to make good decisions, keeping in mind that their way of doing things might not be your way.

Attract and Retain Active Members

People are motivated to give their time and talents to issues that concern them. Find out what issues are important to your PTA membership. Seek the opinions and advice of the community. Match jobs to people who are motivated to use their knowledge and skills on identified concerns. Share what your PTA has already accomplished this year to recruit new members who can bring in new energy and ideas.

Overcome Procrastination

If you realize that you are procrastinating on a tough job, divide it into a series of small and manageable “instant tasks.” Start each day by doing at least one task you have been putting off.

Work with People Effectively

Chairing a meeting requires more than a knowledge of parliamentary procedure; it requires skill in human relations. Be approachable. Make sure your body language communicates respect. Be a team player; work for consensus. Encourage people to focus on what is best for children and the PTA.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

If the PTA is working for worthwhile goals, expect frustration and problems because change is always hard. But remember that working hard for important goals doesn’t have to be gloomy. Keep your sense of humor in all your PTA work.

Recognize When to Bow Out with Class

Your PTA’s future depends on recruiting new leaders and moving them into increasingly responsible positions. Support the nominating committee in their search and avoid criticizing new people. Be willing to move on in the PTA and give your successor room to do their job.