Master the Art of the PTA Meeting

no-boring-2We’ve all attended them—PTA meetings that seem to drag on forever, don’t get anything done, and leave you dreading the next meeting. Poorly-run meetings can drive away potential PTA volunteers and leaders. If you’re a new PTA president, or even an experienced one, here are some tips to help you master the art of the PTA meeting.

Put the Business in the Right Meeting

Your PTA’s bylaws state what business items the general membership must vote on, and the list is a lot shorter than you think. Your membership votes:

  1. To approve the audit
  2. To adopt or amend the budget
  3. To amend the bylaws
  4. To elect the nominating committee
  5. To elect the officers

Approval of the audit and adopting the budget are done at your first general membership meeting of your fiscal year. Electing officers is usually done at your last meeting of the year, and the nominating committee should be elected a couple of months in advance of your election. Your PTA bylaws should be updated every two years, but that can be done at any general membership meeting.

This means that your PTA can manage with a minimum of three general membership business meetings each year. If the budget needs to be amended, a short general membership meeting can be held just before a PTA program or event to handle just that piece of business. All of the other business of the PTA can be handled in PTA board meetings.

If your PTA meetings are usually only attended by your board anyway, consider how changing your PTA meetings from a business focus to a program focus would affect how families engage with your PTA. If families knew that the PTA meeting that night was not a long series of committee reports and other business, but a celebration of student Reflections entries, a presentation from the school administration on how student discipline is handled, or a Family Reading Experience program, would more people show up? Would families that experience the PTA through programs rather than meetings be more likely to volunteer in the future?

Make Your Meeting a Welcoming One

PTAs and schools have turnover built in, as students and their families move on to higher grades and new families come into the school. Make sure that those new families feel welcome by your PTA by:

  • Creating a welcome packet for new families.
  • Greeting people at the door.
  • Providing name tags at your first few meetings.
  • Encouraging your board members to sit throughout your meeting area rather than in one clump.
  • Having a pre- or post-meeting social time with refreshments to connect with new members.
  • Use ice breaker introductions (name plus what grades your kids are in, your favorite part of school as a kid, what your kids like about your school, etc.).
  • Define your terms, including acronyms and jargon.
  • Avoid inside jokes, referencing people by first name only (e.g., “The previous chair always…” rather than “Jane always…”—especially if “Jane” isn’t at the school anymore), and other socializing during the meeting.
  • Consider sitting in a circle or around one big table rather than a table of officers at the front.

Have an Agenda

An agenda is the road your PTA meeting will travel. Without one, your meeting’s path may end up looking more like the path of a bumper car at the fair. As president, an agenda is a tool to help keep discussions focused on the topic at hand, as a gentle, “Let’s focus on our current agenda item” can help curb a tangential discussion. Providing your meeting agenda ahead of time can also help to set expectations for what will be accomplished at the meeting. An agenda should have:

  • A call to order
  • Welcome and introductions
  • Reports (from the principal, teacher’s representative, student representative, secretary (minutes), treasurer, or committees—but keep them short)
  • Unfinished business from previous meetings
  • New business
  • Adjourn

Make sure your unfinished and new business items focus on reaching decisions. If the discussion on an item doesn’t seem to be coming to consensus, entertain a motion to create a committee to make recommendations at your next meeting.

Use Parliamentary Procedure to Your Advantage

As a PTA president, you don’t need to know all 800+ pages of Robert’s Rules of Order, but you should be familiar with the basics. Use parliamentary procedure by:

  • Making sure you have a quorum (see your bylaws) when voting on business items.
  • Always having speakers wait to be recognized by the president before speaking.
  • Always having speakers address the president rather than each other.
  • Ensuring that motions (other than from a committee) have a second before being discussed.
  • A second motion amends the motion currently being discussed.
  • “Calling the question” or “moving the previous question” by a member of the audience requires a 2/3 vote to end debate, followed (if successful) by an immediate (majority) vote on the motion on the floor.
  • Knowing that the president does not vote other than by ballot.

Remember that Robert’s Rules of Order was written to ensure the voice of the minority is heard, but that the will of the majority prevails. While the smaller details of Robert’s Rules are essential when conducting meetings with a large voting body, those details are less essential in the friendly confines of a small PTA meeting. Knowing the key points above is sufficient for most situations that PTA presidents will find themselves in.

Share It

Publicize when and where your next meeting occurs in as many ways as possible: newsletters, e-mail, flyers, social media, school announcements, bulletin board, posters, school sign, etc. In channels where you have room, share why a family would want to attend (e.g., program or speaker, free babysitting, social event, etc.). After the meeting, be sure to also share what happened, thank those involved, and publicize the next PTA event.

Free Popular Events Idea Booklet from USDA Team Nutrition

team-nutrition-events-booklet-coverWe all want our children to be active and to make healthy food choices, and PTAs are always looking for new program ideas. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service’s Team Nutrition, which supports improving Child Nutrition Programs, has collected 20 themed events from real-life events at Team Nutrition schools in a free booklet you can order in hardcopy or download as a PDF.

These tested events aim to connect the school, home, cafeteria, classroom, and community to improve child nutrition. The events are grouped as appropriate for elementary schools, middle schools, or both. The events include both stand-alone events that PTAs could run as well as classroom projects for teachers and school cafeteria events that PTAs could support and encourage their school to use. The booklet includes handouts for specific events and those for any event. Events include:

If your PTA is looking for a ready-to-use program on healthy habits, be sure to check out this free booklet from Team Nutrition.

Join Us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15th

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November 15, 2016 is Parents Day as part of American Education Week. It is also Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield, an opportunity for PTA members from across Illinois to speak up for children.

While you may not feel like you can be a PTA advocate, you likely already have been one. If you have spoken to your child’s teacher or your building’s principal about an issue, you have been an advocate. Illinois PTA has prepared to make Advocacy Day in Springfield as simple as possible, even if you have never spoken to a legislator before.

From 9:30am until 2:00pm, Illinois PTA will have an information table in the capitol rotunda. Come to the table to get handouts to give to your legislators, talking points to cover, and if you have pre-registered to attend Advocacy Day in Springfield, your free Illinois PTA business cards. We will have experienced PTA advocates whom you can follow as they speak with legislators and who can accompany you while you attend the meetings you have scheduled with your legislators.

Illinois PTA will also be presenting a webinar series to prepare you to advocate in Springfield. Each webinar will start at 7:30pm and last for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. The webinars will be recorded and made available for those who cannot attend the webinar. Illinois PTA uses GoToMeeting for its webinars, which can be attended using your browser or an app for Android, iOS, and Windows. The webinars will be:

  • September 29: Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities
    Learn about the key issues affecting children that the Illinois PTA is focused on this year, including juvenile justice, children’s health and safety, family engagement, school funding, and the state budget.
  • October 13: How to Meet with Legislators
    Learn how to contact your legislator to schedule a meeting in Springfield or in their district office, what to say and do when you meet them, and how to use Illinois PTA materials to support your arguments.
  • October 27: Advocate the PTA Way
    PTA advocacy is not just with legislators in Springfield and Washington. Learn how you and your PTA can advocate at your local level with your school district and school board, school principal, or community. We will also cover IRS requirements on PTA advocacy and PTA guidance on issues such as teacher strikes and bond referenda.
  • November 10: Hot Topics Briefing
    Learn the latest on the topics we will be advocating on in Springfield on November 15th. We will cover both the background of these issues and Illinois PTA talking points you can use with your legislator.

Sign up to attend one or more of the webinars and to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15th.

Another Year of Legislative Success for the Children of Illinois!

takesactionheader_final_1050px-crop-2From youth safety issues to juvenile justice, from children’s health to readiness for college and the work-force, from childhood hunger to an interim budget in a year of fiscal deadlock, the Illinois PTA has advocated successfully for all our children. The highlights are below. Illinois PTA will continue to advocate for every child, and urges you to join us this fall for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on November 15, 2016.

Children’s Health and Safety

We have had successes in responses to children’s allergies and asthma, concussions, and childhood hunger.

Epinephrine Auto-Injectors: With as much as 25% of first time anaphylactic reactions occurring in a school setting, we cannot stress the need enough for the availability of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors. House Bill 4462, Epinephrine Auto-Injectors, now Public Act 99-0711, expands the protections currently in place to include additional circumstances in which a school district, public, or nonpublic school may have a supply of undesignated epinephrine auto-injectors available in a secure location so that they are accessible before, during, and after school, including while being transported on a school bus. The statue also provides for the training of state police in the administration of epinephrine auto-injectors. The expansions provided in PA 99-0711 will help prevent injury from a severe allergic reaction by Illinois children.

Asthma: On a related issue, students with asthma will now have additional safety measures in place. House Bill 6333, School Code–Asthma Action Plan, now Public Act 99-0843, provides for additional safety protocols with the requirements that:

  • the State Board of Education work with statewide professional organizations that have asthma management expertise to develop a model asthma episode emergency response protocol;
  • each school district, charter school, and nonpublic school adopt an asthma episode emergency response protocol before 1/1/2017 that includes the components of the State Board’s model;
  • all school personnel who work with pupils to complete a program every two years concerning asthma management, prevention, and emergency response; and that,
  • each school district, public, charter, or nonpublic school request an asthma action plan from the parents or guardians of a pupil with asthma each year.

Concussions: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 3.9 million sports and recreation related concussions occur in the US annually. They are one of the most commonly reported injuries in children and adolescents who participate in sports and recreational activities. House Bill 4365, IHSA Concussion Reporting, now Public Act 99-0831, amends the Interscholastic Athletic Organization Act to provide for the enhanced reporting of student-athletes who have sustained a concussion. Beginning with the current school year, all member schools that have certified athletic trainers are required to complete a monthly report on student athletes at that school who sustained a concussion during a school-sponsored activity that is either overseen by the athletic trainer or when the athletic director is made aware of a concussion sustained by a student during a school-sponsored (with student names removed). Beginning in 2017-2018, the data is to be compiled from the prior school year into annual report to the Illinois General Assembly. Is the legislature considering further protections for our children once they receive these reports? We will continue to monitor this topic for future legislation.

Childhood Hunger: Children don’t do well in school if they’re hungry. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the lack of adequate healthy food can impair a child’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school, and is linked to higher levels of behavioral and emotional problems from preschool through adolescence. Approximately 1 in 5 Illinois children are affected by hunger. Senate Bill 2393, Childhood Hunger–Breakfast, now Public Act 99-0850, is intended to help with this ongoing issue. PA 99-0850, amends the Childhood Hunger Relief Act to provide for “breakfast after the bell” program beginning with the 2017-2018 school year, according to a model that best suits its students. This Act also provides that the Illinois State Board of Education is to:

  • collaborate with school districts and nonprofit organizations knowledgeable about equity, the opportunity gap, hunger and food security issues, and best practices for improving student access to school breakfast;
  • distribute guidelines for the program’s implementation; and,
  • post a list of opportunities for philanthropic support of school breakfast programs on its website.

The statute also allows schools and school districts to opt out under certain circumstances.

Education

Two new statutes have been enacted to address student achievement in Illinois.

College and Workforce Readiness: The lack of readiness for college and/or the workforce is a concern for parents, students, and employers across Illinois. Approximately one-half of Illinois high school graduates entering as full-time freshmen in Illinois public community colleges require remedial education. House Bill 5729, creates the Post-Secondary and Workforce Readiness Act (Public Act 99-0674). The statute is a plan to address these student achievement concerns by creating:

  • a postsecondary career expectations model to be adopted for public school students in grades 8 through 12, defining activities where school districts, parents, and community-based organizations should support students, and the related knowledge students should have;
  • a pilot program for competency-based high school graduation requirements;
  • transitional mathematics courses from high school to college level;
  • a statewide panel that will include ISBE to recommend competencies for reading, and communication and strategies for achieving this in high school coursework; and,
  • College and Career Pathway Endorsements and State Distinction programs to provide student incentives and encourage their exploration and development.

After-School Program Grants: Senate Bill 2407, Department of Human Services–Teen REACH Grant Program, now Public Act 99-0700, amends the Department of Human Services Act to provide that, subject to appropriation, DHS will establish a establish a competitive state grant program—Teen Responsibility, Education, Achievement, Caring, and Hope (Teen REACH)—to support local communities in providing after-school opportunities for youth 6 to 17 years old that will improve their likelihood for future success, provide positive choices, reduce at-risk behaviors, and develop career goals. These grants are to be awarded to community-based agencies, in which successful grantees are to plan and implement activities to address outcomes in 6 core areas: improvement of educational performance; life skills education; parent education; recreation, sports, cultural, and artistic activities; the development of positive adult mentors; and service learning opportunities. 

Juvenile Justice

We have been successful in advocating for justice-involved youth in relation to the reporting of serious incidents impacting their health and well-being, legal representation, and expungement of records.

Critical Incidents While in the Juvenile Justice System: With the passage of House Bill 114, Juvenile Court–Critical Incident Report, now Public Act 99-0664, provides additional protections to a minor who is committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice. These protections include the Department notifying the court in writing of a critical incident which involves a serious risk to the life health or well-being of the youth within 10 days of the incident. The report is to include the actions the Department took in response to the incident.

Legal Representation for Youth: Research has shown that children do not understand the “Miranda warning,” do not understand the implications of making a statement to the police, and are more likely than adults to make a false confession. Senate Bill 2370, Juvenile Court–Counsel Representation, now Public Act 99-0882, requires that:

  • children under 15 be represented by legal counsel during custodial interrogations for homicide and sex offenses,
  • all interrogations of youths under age 18 for any felony and misdemeanor sex offenses be videotaped, and
  • police read children the new Miranda-type warning detailed in the statute.

While Illinois PTA does not believe this bill went far enough in protecting the rights of children in police custody, it is a move in the right direction.

Expungement of Juvenile Records: House Bill 5017, Juvenile Court–Expungement, now Public Act 99-0835, amends the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 to provide that whenever a person has been arrested, charged, or adjudicated delinquent for an incident that occurred before she or he turned 18 that would be an offense if committed by an adult, that person may petition the court for the expungement of related law enforcement and juvenile court proceedings. Once the related juvenile court proceedings have ended, the court is to order the expungement of all related records in the possession of the Department of State Police, the Clerk of the Circuit Court, and law enforcement agencies for those circumstance specified under the act.

State Budget

Thank you to those of you who helped seek the passage of an adequate and sustainable budget in Illinois in a year of grid-lock and finger-pointing. Over 2,000 messages were sent by Illinois PTA supporters to legislators, the governor, and local newspapers regarding the need to support education, after school programs, and services for families and children with an adequate and sustainable budget. This created an atmosphere where there was at least some movement in a difficult year: the passage of a stop-gap budget with Senate Bill 2047 which provided funding through December, including for school funding, the Illinois State Board of Education, and state colleges. Is this enough? Absolutely not. We need an adequate and sustainable fully-funded budget to ensure that our children and Illinois families thrive and that schools, colleges and universities, and public service providers can plan for the future.

How can you help? Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to stay up to date on Illinois issues and plan to join us for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield on Tuesday, November 15, 2016.

Questions concerning advocacy issues? Please contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty at lgarbaty@illinoispta.org.