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.

The PTA President’s Guide to Happiness

3803517719_61fc214012_bSo you’re a new PTA president getting ready to start your first term. Maybe this is your first position with the PTA; maybe you’ve been involved for years. Either way, leading your PTA is a big new step. Here are our suggestions for finding happiness as a PTA president.

You Can’t Do It All Yourself

As a leader, your role is to guide, facilitate, encourage, and enable your volunteers to be successful, not to be the SuperMom or SuperDad who does it all. The do-it-all leader tends to drive away volunteers and leave the PTA in worse shape when they leave office. A successful leader cultivates volunteers and makes them feel valued, which generates enthusiasm for the PTA and its work. Illinois PTA has tips to get more volunteers and to overcome those who say they can’t volunteer.

Get Trained

Chances are your parents didn’t just toss you the car keys and wave when you turned 16. You took a driver’s education class and spent time behind the wheel with an experienced driver guiding your learning. Illinois PTA has several free training courses to help PTA leaders learn the ins and outs of their PTA position. Contact your district or region director or Illinois PTA Leadership Director Brenda Diehl to find out when training is scheduled in your area or to set up training. Take a look at National PTA’s E-Learning Library for online courses, many of which are available in both English and Spanish.

Communications is Key

Both National PTA and Illinois PTA provide lots of resources to help PTA leaders be successful. From the National PTA Back-to-School Kit to the Illinois PTA Local Unit Packet that is distributed to all PTA presidents, this information is yours to share with your PTA leaders and members. Be sure to look through all of the materials you receive and pass on applicable information to those who need it. Your PTA treasurer, Reflections chairperson, or other leader will be more likely to run for a second term if you’ve been providing them with the information that they need to be successful.

Effective communication isn’t just with your PTA board, but with your members and community as well. If the families in your school know what the PTA is doing, they are more likely to step up and volunteer to be a part of the great things your PTA is doing for kids. If the businesses and community members know that the PTA is making a difference in your school, they are more likely to sponsor PTA activities and donate time or materials. Use Illinois PTA’s tips for effective communication to help plan your outreach.

Work with Your School Administrators and Teachers

A well-run PTA can be a principal’s or a teacher’s biggest asset. A poorly-run PTA can be their worst nightmare. Having a good working relationship with your school’s principal and teachers is critical to having an effective PTA. Communicate regularly with your principal. Work together to map out the school year in terms of PTA activities, fundraising, and meetings. Find out what the school’s goals are for your students, and see what PTA programs can help meet those goals.

Remember You Are Running a Business

You may think you are running “just the PTA,” but you are in fact running a 501(c)3 organization. Make sure your PTA is following the IRS requirements on filing tax forms. Remember that PTA fundraising is to support the mission and purposes of the PTA, not just to make money. Consider incorporating to protect your PTA officers if your PTA hasn’t done so already. Use procedure books to preserve your PTA’s knowledge and experience. Make sure your bylaws have been updated in the last two years, and develop standing rules to cover things the bylaws do not.

Be an Advocate

You joined PTA because you care about your child and their school. Maybe you’ve spoken with a teacher about a classroom problem, a principal about a school problem, or perhaps even a superintendent or the school board about a district problem. If so, you’ve been an advocate for your child, but also for the children in that classroom, school, or district. PTA provides you with the opportunity to advocate and make a difference in the lives of children across Illinois and across the country. Illinois PTA uses tools to make advocacy as easy as clicking a few buttons. Sign up to receive Illinois PTA advocacy e-mails, and encourage your members to sign up as well. A single drop of water seems insignificant, but a drop of water falling into a pond can spread ripples across the surface of the entire pond. When single drops of water move together, they can power a mill or carve the Grand Canyon.

Have Fun

Being a PTA leader can be a lot of fun, whether it is seeing all the smiling faces at a PTA event or taking a cream pie to the face when your PTA meets a difficult goal. If you and your fellow PTA leaders are having fun, chances are your members are as well, and those who haven’t joined the PTA will want to join in the fun, too. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy your presidency.

Photo ©2009 by thephotographymuse under Creative Commons license.

News from National Convention—Partnering with Educators and School Administrators

PTA Convention 2016 LogoOne critical component of running a successful PTA is working well with the teachers and administrators in your school building. A workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando focused on what those teachers and administrators want when working with their PTA. The panel discussion was moderated by Deb Strauss, National PTA Vice President of Membership (and an Illinois PTA Past President) and featured:

  • Dani Carver, an elementary teacher
  • Harold Dixon, Family Engagement Specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) Schools
  • Sherry Griffith, currently Executive Director of the California PTA and a former school administrator
  • Renee Jackson, National PTA Senior Manager of Education Initiatives and a former principal

The panel began with Mr. Dixon sharing what he thought the three components of effective family engagement were for schools:

  1. Shared Responsibility (both schools and families committed to the process)
  2. Continuous Across a Child’s Life (cradle to career)
  3. Across All Contexts (e.g., home, pre-K, school, after-school programs, faith-based organizations, community organizations, etc. all engage with the family and school)

The rest of the workshop was devoted to discussion of questions from the moderator and audience. Here are the highlights.

What do administrators find to be the greatest strengths of working with PTA?

  • PTA’s family engagement programs (e.g., Schools of Excellence, Family Reading Experience, Connect for Respect, PTA Reflections)
  • PTA’s role in providing communication between families, teachers, and administrators and connecting families to what is happening in the classroom.
  • PTA brings to the school things that other parent organizations do not—a legacy of reliability, accountability, and stability—and the knowledge that if there is a problem in the PTA, there is a state and national association there to help.

What are the greatest challenges for administrators in working with PTA?

  • Both PTA leaders and school administrators need to have clear rules, roles, and goals.
  • Many school administrators simply see PTA as the ATM for the school, and it is necessary for PTA leaders to educate those administrators of the role of PTA in engaging and educating families and in advocating for every child.
  • Have a back-to-school meeting with the building principal well before school starts to share goals, calendars, and deadlines as well as to discuss how to collaborate to help the school meet its goals.

What are your tips for PTA leaders to work with school administrators?

  • Meet with administrators over the summer to begin collaborating and planning for the school year ahead.
  • Continue to meet with the school administrators during the school year to keep communication open and ensure that everything is running smoothly.
  • Don’t forget school district administrators as potential collaborators as well, since they can be some of the biggest PTA advocates in the district.
  • Invite the school board, superintendent, and other school district administrators to PTA events.
  • Find out what the school district’s goals are and discuss how the PTA can help meet them.

In terms of fundraising, how can PTAs work with school administrators?

  • Work with your principal over the summer to create a calendar that is not too crowded with school and PTA events.
  • Create a master fundraising calendar so that PTA fundraising doesn’t overlap with band booster, sports booster, and other fundraising at the school.
  • Don’t get too hung up on fundraising; focus on what your PTA can do to support your families to work with their children at home.

What advice do you have for working with principals who are under-involved or overinvolved?

  • Make sure that your principal understands that PTA is an independent 501(c)3 organization.
  • One of principals’ biggest fears is that PTA problems will become their problems. Be sure your principal knows that if there are PTA problems, he can also turn to the council, district, region, or state level of PTA for help.
  • If your principal is antagonistic or apathetic, approach the school district about how the PTA can help them meet their goals for the school.
  • Make sure that your principal knows that they don’t control the PTA. They have, at most, one vote on the PTA board.
  • If a principal or school administrator is retiring soon and “checking out” of engaging with the PTA, contact the person handling family engagement for the school district to discuss the future at the school and how PTA and the district can work together during the transition. Also, enlist teachers, especially teacher leaders, to help integrate PTA’s efforts with those of the school.

Our school district requires all Title I schools to have a PTA, but they seem to exist mainly on paper. What can we do?

  • Work with the families at the school to determine what they want or need to support their child’s education.
  • Focus on PTA programs that would help those families.
  • Every Title I school receives funding targeted for family engagement, and that money is returned to the federal government if it is not spent. Work with the school to have those funds used to support PTA programs and parent education, training, and leadership capacity building.
  • Have your school district stress why they require PTAs at those schools and the importance of those PTAs fulfilling their mission.

What are the first positive signs of good PTA family engagement?

  • Families need to see that someone cares about them and their student, that the PTA has goals and plans, and that the PTA is not just about fundraising. Once they see that, they will readily engage with the PTA and the school.

PTAs at the middle school and high school level are struggling to reach families. How can these PTAs better engage these families, since many of the PTA programs are geared primarily towards the elementary level?

  • How are you inviting parents to engage with PTA? Speak before school events (e.g., Open House, Homecoming, etc.) about the different role that PTA plays at the middle and high school level.
  • Parents have likely engaged with PTA around events at the elementary level, and are still event-driven towards engagement at the upper grades, but those events are now sports or other school activities. Since there is little classroom engagement at the middle and high school level (e.g., reading to students, parties, etc.) and students don’t want parents there in that role either, engage them on the curriculum and education side of PTA. Have parents serving on building committees or school district committees that then share that information with families.

National PTA Back-to-School Kit Now Available

BTSK-2016-1It’s that time of year again! The 2016-2017 National PTA Official Back-To-School Kit launched on Monday, June 27. As always, it’s jam-packed with tools, resources and info—all specially designed to help you run your PTA. It’s a one-stop click for everything you need to know.

For the second year, the kit is completely digital and mobile-friendly. This means you can view the website from your phone, tablet, or other mobile devices. Having the Back-To-School Kit with you while you’re on the go is a big perk. We guarantee it will help you be more efficient and productive as a PTA leader.

Here are the top three things you need to know about this year’s kit:

  1. This Back-to-School Kit is a Member Benefit
    Only PTA members can register and access the 2016-2017 Back-to-School Kit. Keeping helpful resources at your fingertips is one of the many ways National PTA supports you, our hardworking and deserving members. You have an important job to do and we believe this kit gives you the tools you need to be a standout leader.
  1. PTA Members Need to Register to Access the Website
    Registration is a very simple process:
  • Go to org. President Laura Bay’s welcome video and the homepage are open to everyone.
  • Once you begin to use the site, you’ll be prompted to register. There is also a “REGISTRATION” tab on the top right corner of the homepage.
  • Fill out all of the required information.
  • Once you’ve completed your registration, you’ll receive an e-mail with a link. Click the link to set a username and password.
  • After your username and password are set, you can access all areas of the Back-to-School Kit.
  1. All State and Local Leaders that Register for the 2016-2017 National PTA Official Back-to-School Kit Will Receive a Special Recruitment Tool

    Our brand new Recruitment Tool is a physical packet of information that will help you describe PTA’s goals, structure, and message. More importantly, it’ll help you recruit new members. At this time, only state and local leaders (region, council, district and local unit presidents) will receive the special recruitment tool. However, it can and should be shared with unit members.

  • When registering for the Back-to-School Kit, state and local unit presidents should provide the mailing address for where they’d like to receive this Recruitment Tool.
  • Mailing for the recruitment tools will take place from July to September 2016.
  • No additional packets can be requested at this time. However, we anticipate that many PTAs will request additional packets, and we are currently working on a plan that will accommodate those needs in the future.

Questions?

For a Back-to-School Kit FAQ, log onto PTA.org/BTSKit or contact us at BackToSchool@PTA.org. National PTA is also producing a how-to video that will walk members through the registration process.