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.

3 Back-to-School Things Families Need to Know

Illinois students are heading back to school now or in the next few weeks. Here are three key things that parents need to know that your PTA should be educating them about.

  1. Family engagement is critical to student success.Research shows that real family engagement, not just newsletters home or brief parent-teacher conferences twice a year, is a critical to long-term student success. Students with engaged families have better attendance, higher graduation rates, better social skills and behavior, and increased student achievement. Additional research has shown that schools would need to spend an additional $1,000 more per pupilto see the same increases in student achievement that come from a truly engaged family.
  2. Every child deserves a safe and supportive school.When a child feels safe and secure, they can focus on learning both at school and in the home. Every child should have a school and home environment safe from the threat of physical and psychological harm. National PTA recently strengthened our position on this with their position statement on safe and supportive schools.
  3. Learning starts with attendance.Simply put, children need to be in school in order to learn. It seems obvious, but chronic absenteeism is a critical issue for many Illinois schools. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are far less likely than their peers to read proficiently at the end of third grade. Families and schools need to work together as partners to make sure students attend school and to identify and address the barriers to attendance.

Your PTA’s Role

Your PTA is a critical partner in educating families about these issues and working to address them in your school. To increase family engagement, participate in this year’s National PTA School of Excellence program. PTAs in Illinois who have earned this designation have seen dramatic increases in family participation in school events, PTA meetings and volunteers, and school climate. Get your principal on board and sign up before October 1, 2018 (earlier is better, so don’t wait). Illinois PTA has created a School of Excellence Support Group to help PTA’s navigate the program, headed by Southern Region Director (and leader of Kreitner Elementary PTA’s becoming a National School of Excellence) Greg Hobbs. Contact your district or region director for more information about the program.

Address your school’s climate not only through the School of Excellence program, but also through National PTA’s Connect for Respect programto address bullying. Use the program to engage students, families, and educators on a step-by-step process to assess school climate, to discuss and brainstorm ways to overcome weaknesses found in the assessment, and to develop an action plan that educates and empowers your school community to create a safe school environment. Use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkitto ensure you are engaging to all families.

Work with your school principal and use PTA’s many programsto bring families into your school. As part of those programs, include a short kickoff meeting or provide handouts on critical issues to help parents support their child’s education. Use the resources in National PTA’s Local Leader Kitand Illinois PTA’s Leadership Resources(ask your PTA president for this year’s password) to show families why they should be joining your PTA.

 

Is Your PTA Ready with a Budget for This Year?

The budget and finance committee develops a budget to meet the needs of the PTA’s programs and activities. After the PTA has adopted the budget, the budget and finance chairman (usually the treasurer) is responsible for assuring that PTA money is disbursed in accordance with the budget, presenting necessary amendments to the budget at executive board and general meetings, and keeping all expenditures within the line item amounts of the budget. Remember that any changes to the budget must be approved (voted on) by the general membership.

Composition of the Committee

Refer to the bylaws to determine whether the budget and finance committee should be elected or appointed. The committee usually consists of members knowledgeable about the PTA’s needs, proficient in bookkeeping and accounting, and experienced in planning a budget. The treasurer, past treasurer, and standing chairmen should be members of this committee. The president is an ex-officio member.

Budget and Finance Committee Procedures

  1. The budget committee should meet and plan the budget prior to the close of the current fiscal year. If this was not done, do so as soon as possible at the beginning of the school year.
  2. Treasurer’s records and copies of last year’s budget should be available for guidance in planning the new budget. However, do not let past practice limit your planning for the new year’s budget.
  3. The committee should take into consideration the funds needed for approved programs and projects, leadership development, and committee and officers’ expenses.

Adopting the Budget

  1. Present the proposed budget to the executive board meeting for input and approval for presentation to the general membership.
  2. Present the proposed budget at the first general membership meeting (after adoption of audit report) for consideration and adoption by the PTA members. This presentation must be made at a meeting where a quorum is present. A majority vote of the members present and voting is required for adoption. The budget and finance committee chairman says, “I move the adoption of the proposed budget for the _____fiscal year.” [Note: The fiscal year is identified by the calendar year in which it ends, so the budget your PTA adopts this fall is for the 2019 fiscal year.] The chairman then presents the budget line by line for explanation, discussion, and possible amendments. A vote is then taken to adopt the final version of the budget.

Remember, the executive board (officers and chairmen) approve the budget for presentation, but the general membership is the group that adopts and amends the budget. Illinois PTA has created a Local Unit Sample Budget.

 

Photo by Nick Youngsonvia Alpha Stock Imagesunder Creative Commons license.

How Do You Tell Your PTA’s Story?

At this year’s National PTA Convention, Illinois PTA President Brian Minsker was speaking with PTA members from Tennessee about their efforts in raising the age for juvenile courts there. He shared the Illinois PTA report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice Systemwith them. One of them asked him to join their PTA, which he did. [Membership Tip: Many people will happily join your PTA just to support your work and the kids you serve if you just ask.]  

Shortly after convention, he received an e-mail that was sent to all of their new members highlighting what Frayser Community PTSA had done in the previous year in three videos. Whether it is video of an event, a movie made from pictures taken during an event, or a simple PowerPoint with pictures running in a loop, this is a great way to share what your PTA is doing for children to get people to join. Consider having a laptop at your PTA table at school registration or Open House night showing a video or slideshow. Far too often people are afraid to join PTA because they think you will ask them to volunteer. Instead, don’t stress the need for PTA volunteers and show them how your PTA is making a difference for kids—then they’ll want to volunteer. The rest of this post is courtesy of Regenia Dowell, President of Frayser Community PTSA in Memphis.

Frayser Community PTSA STEM + Families Night

Frayser Community PTSA received a grant from National PTA to host a STEM + Families event. As part of the event, community members from local businesses joined in as volunteers, including a chemist from PMC, workers from Charms Candy Company, and engineers from Federal Express. They helped with activity stations where family could have hands-on experiences doing experiments.

Student Storm the Hill

Student Storm the Hill is an annual event hosted by Tennessee PTA. Frayser Community PTSA was able to take middle and high school students from district, charter, and private schools in their community to the statehouse. PTSA members and teachers served as chaperones. The PTSA provided transportation, breakfast, and lunch, all at no cost thanks to a Community Enhancement grant from two of their County Commissioners.

Students were given packets that explained how a bill becomes a law. They gathered in the state House of Representatives and sat in the members’ seats. The students conducted a mock legislative session, voted on the bill they had discussed, and got to watch the votes tabulated on the light up voting board. The students were also able to meet with their representatives to share their concerns about what was important to them.

 

MLK 50 Celebration

The 50thanniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a big event in Memphis. Frayser Community PTSA partnered with WKNO PBS Kids to have a free community event for people in the neighborhood to come together to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. King. The PTSA brought in community service agencies, entrepreneurs, schools, and faith-based groups to ‘Invest in the Dream”—the children of Frayser Community PTSA. Information booths were set up with trivia games that provided a free book to each child correctly answering questions. There was a petting zoo, train rides, inflatables, a rock climbing wall, and a balloon artist to keep kids entertained. The PTSA also had an essay contest for middle and high school students.

 

How does your PTA tell its story? Share it with your district or region director so Illinois PTA can highlight the great things your PTA is doing for kids.