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

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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.

 

 

4 Things Not to Do When Dealing with an Angry Volunteer

woman-975339_640From the National PTA president down to the local unit, PTA is a volunteer association. PTA can’t do what it does without volunteers, and Illinois PTA has shared information on:

Most of the time, PTA volunteers are happy to share their time and skills, but occasionally one must deal with an angry or upset volunteer. When that happens, the Engaging Volunteers blog has a list of four things not to do, as well as what to do instead.

  1. Don’t Smile at an Angry Volunteer
    You might think a smile is welcoming and friendly, but to an angry volunteer you may appear to be condescending or not taking them seriously. Your smile might also be seen as an attempt to move them away from anger that they (perhaps rightly) feel is justified.
  1. Don’t Tell an Angry Volunteer How They Feel
    Saying, “I can see that you’re really angry…” may be an attempt to be empathetic on your part, but doing so can sometimes increase a person’s anger. Their reaction may be to deny the words you are using and push the conversation into an argument.
  1. Don’t Push Your Solutions
    An angry volunteer wants to be heard first, not have a solution thrust upon them. While you may feel like you are sharing your experience, providing a solution that they may not be ready to hear or have bought into is likely to go nowhere and can turn into a new point to argue about.
  1. Don’t Hijack the Conversation
    Sharing your story (“I know exactly what that’s like…”) may feel like you’re being sympathetic, to your angry volunteer it seems you are not letting them finish their story and have made the conversation about you instead of them.

Be sure to read the Engaging Volunteers article to find out what to do instead of each of these things to make sure your volunteers feel that their concerns are being met in a safe, non-judgmental, and empathetic way.

Illinois PTA Launches PTA Essentials Video Series

illinoispta-logoIllinois PTA offers free training, both in person and online, but realizes that not everyone’s schedule aligns with training opportunities. Today, Illinois PTA launches its PTA Essentials video series with two financial help videos on its YouTube channel:

PTA Essentials is a series of short videos that provide critical information on running a PTA. They are not intended to replace the Illinois PTA’s PTA University training courses. These videos offer a quick refresher for those who have already taken training and cover the basics for those who may be just starting a position and haven’t had the opportunity to take training yet.

The first two videos focus on key financial issues for PTAs. Failing to complete an audit, mishandling PTA funds, and not using deposit and expense vouchers are three of the most common ways PTAs run into financial problems. Future videos in the series will cover topics such as:

  • Running a PTA Meeting
  • How to Update Your PTA’s Bylaws
  • Maintaining Good Standing
  • Creating and Using Procedure Books

Click the subscribe button on any video to ensure that you don’t miss these future videos from Illinois PTA.

In addition to the PTA Essentials video series, the Illinois PTA YouTube channel has a recording of the first 2016 Illinois PTA Advocacy Day webinar on Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities for those who were unable to attend. Illinois PTA has also fixed an error in the sign-up form for the webinar series, so if you were unable to sign up to attend the Legislative Priorities webinar or want to sign up for these future webinars:

  • How to Meet with Legislators (October 13, 7:30pm)
  • Advocate the PTA Way (October 27, 7:30pm)
  • Hot Topics Briefing (November 10, 7:30pm)

head over to the revised sign-up form now.