A PTA President’s Guide to Being an Ex-

As the school year wraps up, many PTA presidents will soon be ex-PTA presidents. And while the job description for an ex-PTA president sounds simple—stop running the PTA—some PTA presidents struggle to do that, especially if they are still at the school where they were president. Here’s a handy guide to being a successful ex-PTA president.

Handing Things Off

Make sure your successor gets all the material you inherited when you became PTA president as well as the materials you’ve added. Be sure to include your procedure book. Find a time to sit down with the new PTA president to discuss how your term went, what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently if you had the job for another term. Be sure to answer any questions they might have and provide them with your contact information so they can ask questions when they arise during their term.

Transition Your Board

Have your outgoing board meet with the incoming board to do what you did with the new president. Make sure materials get handed over to those new board members. Share how your board worked together, where you all stumbled, and how you’d handle some things differently if they came up again.

Make Introductions

Make sure you introduce the new PTA president to teachers, administrators, staff, and community partners. Talk to your principal to see if you could have a couple of minutes to do this at the beginning of a year-end staff meeting. Have your other officers and committee chairs do the same with their successors.

Don’t forget to introduce the new officers and board members to your membership as well. Be sure to share the abilities of the new team that led to their nominations. Doing so provides members with the knowledge that there will be a smooth transition and their PTA, their school, and their children will be in good hands next year.

Don’t Forget Online

Remember that existing officers will need to put in the information on next year’s officers into MemberHub. Don’t forget to hand over administrative access to the new officers and to pass on any passwords for social media accounts, online banking, and other online PTA accounts along with instructions to change them right away and a reminder to make sure that more than one person has the passwords available.

Make sure the signatories on your PTA checking account get updated as well. Remember that because of new federal legislation, banks are required to get the Social Security number of account owners.

Plan to Step Back

Whether you are moving on to another position on the PTA board, not taking another PTA leadership role, or going to another school, plan on stepping back from the PTA presidency. Give your successor the room to do their job, even if it is not the way you would do it. Make sure that they know that while you are not going to be backseat driving during their term, you are there as a resource for them and will answer any questions they have, serve as a sounding board for their ideas, and give them a shoulder to cry on if they need it.

Photo © 2003 by tableatny under Creative Commons license.

Building Your PTA Leadership Skills

Perhaps you’ve just been nominated or elected president of your PTA. Maybe you’re thinking about running for PTA president next year. Or maybe you’re headed into your second term and want to do things differently this year. However you’ve arrived at the position, being a PTA president will require you to develop your leadership skills.

Contrary to the popular phrase, leaders are not born, but made. Even so-called “born leaders” have honed their skills over the years. Even if this is your first leadership experience, you can still be a successful PTA leader. Here’s how to build your PTA leadership skills.

Get Trained

This seems like a pretty obvious starting place—you’re beginning a new job, so you ought to learn how to do it—but many PTA leaders don’t bother to take any training. Perhaps they’ve been a PTA member or officer for a while, have seen their PTA president work, and think it all looks pretty simple. Maybe they think that the job isn’t that important because it is “just a volunteer position.” But in reality, as a PTA president you are running a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and with that comes legal requirements and all the skills you would need to run a non-profit with a paid position.

Illinois PTA provides several training courses. PTA 101 will give you the basics of what PTA is and how it works, and Money Matters 101 covers the major financial details of running a PTA. The PTA President’s Course, however, is primarily about leadership, so be sure to take it. Other leadership courses beyond the Illinois PTA ones are often available at the Illinois PTA Convention or at district or region events.

Don’t forget to look for other leadership training opportunities as well, whether they be through your job or through other volunteer organizations. The Boy Scouts’ Wood Badge course is one well-known example, and the leadership skills you learn elsewhere translate into your PTA role (and vice versa).

Figure Out How You Lead

There are a lot of different approaches to being a leader, and if you search on leadership styles, you’ll see them spelled out in lists of three to a dozen or more. Rather than trying to tailor yourself to a specific leadership style, it is far better to look at the qualities that make an effective leader, to effectively use those that you are good at, and to work to improve those that you are weaker in. You’ll find that as the team you lead changes over time, whether from changes in the people on the team to growing experience on how to work together, your leadership style will need to change to meet the current needs of your team.

Note that being a leader is different from being a manager. You can be a PTA president who is simply a manager, making sure that things get done on time, events get planned and executed, and taking care of the other PTA equivalents of “making the buses run on time.” But being a PTA leader means moving your PTA ahead to do things it isn’t already doing.

When looking at the qualities that good leaders possess, the ones listed here are a good start. You may identify other qualities based on examples of good leadership you have experienced as well. Good leaders are:

  • Appreciative:Remember that success is only achieved with the help of others, and that true appreciation for those you are leading and their hard work provides encouragement, develops confidence, and builds teamwork.
  • Confident:Good leaders are confident that they are leading their team in the right direction, but not overconfident. Don’t be afraid of having your ideas challenged or having to admit you made a mistake.
  • Flexible:As situations change and new information becomes available, the path you are leading your team on may no longer be the correct one. Be open to new ideas. “We’ve always done it that way” is not a good reason to keep doing something unless you fully understand why it has been done that way, and that still doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way.
  • Honest:Having honest conversations with the people you are leading can be the most difficult job of a leader, but also one of the most essential. Honesty inspires trust, and trust is the foundation of a successful team. Trust means that your team can have the productive conflict necessary to move forward without devolving into personal attacks or other destructive behaviors.
  • Compassionate:Remember that those you are leading are human, and as a result, they sometimes make mistakes. Approach mistakes with compassion, including those you make yourself.
  • Fair:Every member of your team has a role to play and any member may be the one with the critical idea that ensures success. Don’t play favorites; focus on results.
  • Impartial:Being impartial means recognizing your biases, prejudices, and tendencies and ensuring that they don’t affect your actions.
  • Courageous:A courageous leader is prepared to take a risk, raises difficult issues, gives and receives difficult feedback, and trusts in the members of their team.
  • Diligent:Leading a team is not easy. It requires you to put in the hard work necessary to get things done. When you as a leader are willing to put in the hard work, it inspires others to do the same.
  • Responsive:A responsive leader adapts their behavior to the situation at hand, listens to their team, and adjusts to meet the needs of their team.

Be a Servant Leader

There are those elected to office who think that now that I’m PTA president, everyone has to do what I say. But leading based on your position alone will not get you very far, especially when you are new to the position, because you have not built up a track record of trust, accountability, or success with those you are leading.

Servant leadership is the idea that you lead by serving others. This approach works especially well in organizations like PTA, where your team is made up of volunteers. Being a servant leader means that your focus should be on doing what needs to be done to make those below you successful. That means that an important part of your job as a servant leader is building and maintaining the relationships among those on your team. To help you do that, focus on these skills:

  • Listening:By listening to others actively and intently, you can better understand where your team wants to go and help to clarify that direction.
  • Empathy:A good servant leader empathizes and understands those they lead and recognizes their unique abilities and perspectives. That means that you do not reject them as people even when you are forced to reject certain behaviors.
  • Healing:Every one of us has our own triggers and sore spots built up over a lifetime of experience. Occasionally, a team member or we ourselves may bump one of those sore spots inadvertently. Use such occasions to promote healing on your team. Remember Ian Maclaren’s adage, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
  • Awareness:When you are a servant leader focused on the needs of your team, you need to be aware of what they need and where they are coming from. But awareness also extends to you as a leader. Be aware of your beliefs, values, goals, and biases.
  • Persuasion:Servant leaders, by definition, focus on persuading others rather than coercing them, but don’t fixate on persuading others to your path to success. Focus on persuading others to achieve the goals and results you want, which means being open to the path that they suggest to those results being superior to yours.
  • Foresight:It is easy as a PTA president to get caught up in the day-to-day issues. Take the time to lift your head up from the immediate tasks at hand to focus on where you want your PTA to be at the end of your term. Think about the steps that need to be taken to get your PTA there.
  • Stewardship:When you were elected PTA president, you were not put in charge of the PTA, you were given the job of caring and growing your PTA for your successor.
  • Commitment to the Growth of People:Central to servant leadership is growing the skills and abilities of those on your team both as people and as leaders. That commitment includes taking a personal interest in everyone’s ideas and suggestions, empowering your team members to take action and be involved in the decision-making, and actively supporting each team member in the manner they need it. Doing so will provide your PTA with better leaders in the future.
  • Building Community:Parallel to supporting the growth of your team members is building community in your PTA and your school. This means extending those same servant leadership skills that you have used with your board to everyone at your school, from the principal to the teachers, staff, students, and families.

 

Start Planning Your Teacher Appreciation Week Now

Next to their parents, teachers probably have the largest effect on the lives of children. Many of us can still remember a teacher who made a difference in our lives years ago. This year, Teacher Appreciation Week is May 6-10, 2019, and National PTA has created a toolkit to help PTAs celebrate their school’s teacher with the theme Teachers Are Out of This World.

The toolkit comes with everything you need to let your teachers know that you think the world of them, including:

  • Flyers
  • A Fillable Thank You Card
  • Fillable Certificates
  • Social Media Graphics
  • Suggestions on Other Ways to Be Involved
  • Decorating Ideas

Plan your activities and celebrations now using the toolkit and remember to #ThankATeacher during Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6-10, 2019.

Parliamentary Procedure for Beginners

As a PTA leader, you probably know that you are supposed to use parliamentary procedure in your meetings, but looking at the more than 800 pages of Robert’s Rules of Orderin the PTA materials the previous PTA president passed on to you might have you thinking, “Really?” Yes, really, but parliamentary procedure isn’t nearly as scary or intimidating as that copy of Robert’s Rules of Ordermake it appear. Here are the basics you need to know as a PTA leader.

Why Parliamentary Procedure?

Henry Martin Robert was a military engineer in the US Army. In the early 1860s while recovering from a tropical fever he had caught in Panama, he was asked to chair a meeting at his local Baptist Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The meeting did not go well, erupting into open conflict over abolition, and Col. Robert decided he needed to understand parliamentary procedure better before leading another meeting.

In looking at the existing manuals of parliamentary procedure, he found them to be often useless or in conflict with each other. He continued to attend meetings that ran out of control, and the guidelines each group was using were poorly written and often contributed to the chaos and rancor. So Col Robert set out to write his own rules for parliamentary procedure.

Robert’s basic premise behind his set of rules was that the voice of the minority be heard, but that the will of the majority prevail. The rules aim to keep the meeting attendees focused on the matter at hand and help them make decisions. The rules are also more important to follow as the size of the meeting gets bigger in order have business proceed smoothly, which is why you’ll see parliamentary procedure used much more formally at the Illinois PTA Convention than in most PTA meetings. As a PTA leader, if you remember that parliamentary procedure is there to make sure all voices are heard and to help your meeting run smoothly, you can avoid some of the nitty gritty details that might get in the way of those goals.

Basic Principles

When using parliamentary procedure, these are the basic principles to keep in mind:

  • Only one issue is discussed at a time.
  • The chairperson is impartial. (That means that as PTA president, you are running the meeting, not influencing the debate.)
  • All members have equal and basic rights to vote, to be heard, and to oppose.
  • The rights of the minority must be protected.
  • No one can speak until recognized by the chairperson.
  • Every member can speak to an issue, but no one can speak a second time as long as another member wants to speak for the first time.
  • A majority vote decides an issue (in all but a few special situations).

The Agenda

As PTA president, you are responsible for preparing the agenda for your PTA meeting and ensuring that it is followed. It is always a good practice to ask your fellow PTA officers, committee chairpersons, and membership if they have items for the agenda. Once the agenda is prepared, distribute it to your members prior to the meeting.

The typical order of business on an agenda is as follows:

  • Call to Order
  • Approval of the Minutes
  • Reports from Officers and Committees
  • Unfinished Business (from previous meetings)
  • New Business
  • Announcements
  • Adjournment

Note that in order to conduct business, you must have a quorum. The quorum for your PTA meetings are listed in your PTA’s bylaws for general membership meetings, executive board meetings, and executive committee meetings. Without a quorum, no official decisions can be made.

Motions

Motions are how business gets done in a meeting, and requires two people—a “mover” and a “seconder.” Motions coming from committees do not require a second, because the body has essentially already seconded the issue by referring it to the committee.

Strictly following Robert’s Rules, a motion must be made and seconded before any discussion of the issue can begin. However, as chair, you can decide to depart from strict parliamentary procedure and allow discussion to occur before the motion is made. This is often done to get opinions from the body so a more precise motion can be made and time isn’t wasted tweaking the wording of a motion. However, if you use this approach, it is important to make sure that the discussion does not wander from the issue being discussed. As chair, it is your job to keep the discussion focused.

After discussion, vote on the motion that has been made and seconded before moving on to the next item of business. A motion must receive a majority of votes to be approved (with some specific exceptions like approving bylaws amendments, which require a two-thirds majority). If there are an even number of votes, which means that the motion must receive 50% of the votes plus one. A motion that is tied is not approved. The secretary should record the exact wording of the motion in the minutes and whether it was approved or not. The secretary does not have to record all of the discussion on the motion.

Debating Motions

When chairing a meeting, it is your responsibility to ensure that the discussion sticks to the issue being debated. Don’t hesitate to bring the group back to the issue if you feel the conversation is wandering off topic. Everyone has been in that meeting where the chair didn’t do so, and the meeting dragged on and on without coming to decisions.

Make sure that everyone is recognized by the chair before speaking. This will help you control the meeting and keep the discussion focused. Make sure that everyone who wants to speak has the opportunity to do so. If as chair you sense that the discussion has come to consensus, don’t hesitate to state what you are hearing as the group’s decision and then ask if they are ready to vote.

You may have a member “call the question,” which is an attempt to end debate and vote on the motion that is on the floor. As part of Robert’s Rules to protect the voice of the minority, a motion to “close debate” or “move the previous question” requires a two-thirds majority to pass. If it does, then you move to vote on the motion on the floor without any further discussion.

Note that discussions can get out of hand and run long. As chair, you can keep the debate moving by making sure everyone has the opportunity to speak once before anyone can speak a second time. If necessary, the group may also vote to limit the amount of time any one person can speak or limit the amount of time for debate on the issue. Since the group imposes those time limits on itself, it can also extend those times by voting to do so.

Amending Motions

Under strict parliamentary procedure, your meeting body will change the motion on the floor by amending it by:

  • Inserting extra wording to the motion
  • Striking existing wording in the motion
  • Striking some wording and inserting additional wording to the motion

In practice, as chair you may allow informal amendments to be made to clarify the wording, provided the maker of the motion accepts the recommendation.

The Role of the Chairperson

When strictly following Robert’s Rules of Order, the chairperson does not participate in debate, and if they want to do so, they must temporarily give up the role of presiding officer until the motion on the floor is voted on. The chairperson also does not vote on a motion. The reason behind these rules is that the chairperson is supposed to be impartial while controlling the meeting. There are some exceptions to these rules.

  • The chairperson can vote if their vote will either make or break a tie. Remember that a tie vote on a motion means that it is not adopted.
  • The chairperson can vote if the vote is by ballot.
  • If the group is small (e.g., a committee) and operates informally, it is okay for the chair to participate in debate and vote.
  • If the members of the group have been chosen to represent specific areas, groups, or interests, the chairperson may participate in debate and vote so their constituency is represented properly.
  • For executive boards, executive committees, and standing or special committees, the chair may have the same privileges as other members to make motions, debate issues, and vote.

Keep in mind that if you as chair decide to participate in debate, you should not abuse the privilege and should avoid dominating the discussion. After having taken a side, it is vitally important that the chair continue to run the meeting impartially.