10 Ways to Supply and Support Teachers in 2017

This post was originally featured in Mediaplanet

Teachers deliver so much to our nation’s children — inspiration, motivation and, ultimately, their futures. Among the many ways teachers go the extra mile, they often spend their own money to ensure students have access to supplies and resources that will enable them to receive the best possible education.

To help empower teachers and ensure a successful school year, it is vital to be a partner in children’s learning and give back whenever possible. Here are 10 ways families can partner with and support teachers:

1. Get to know one another

Develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him or her often.

2. Make a connection

Find out the best way and time to contact teachers and provide teachers with the best way to contact you.

3. Keep everyone in the loop

Supply information that will help your child’s teachers get to know him or her as an individual, such as allergies, behavior or learning issues, or changes in family life.

4. Work as a team

Set learning goals with your child and his or her teacher, and foster the achievement of those goals.

5. Monitor progress

Review your child’s notes to ensure he or she is on track.

6. Stay involved and ask questions

Look in your child’s backpack every day and frequently view the parent portal for assignments, grades and important information from teachers and the school.

7. Be available at home

Assist your children with his or her homework and talk about school matters at home.

8. Donate time

Actively participate at school when possible and volunteer in the classroom or at school events.

9. Do some legwork

Contribute your talents and skills, and aid teachers with tasks that will assist them in the classroom, like cutting out materials for class projects or helping create pieces for bulletin boards.

10. Provide for the classroom

Donate school supplies — pencils, markers, paper, scissors, crayons, tissues, disinfecting wipes — to help make sure teachers and students have the resources they need for teaching and learning, and to keep classrooms healthy.

Each year, the first full week of May marks Teacher Appreciation Week. This week is an important time to thank and celebrate teachers for their hard work and dedication to ensuring every child succeeds, but remember that every day is an opportunity to partner with and support teachers.

Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

The Who’s Who of #PTACon17

The 2017 National PTA Convention & Expo is right around the corner and we have an amazing lineup of education leaders and experts who are traveling to Las Vegas to connect with PTA advocates across the country.

We are pleased to welcome the following keynote speakers:

Paula A. Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, the nation’s largest non-commercial media organization, with 350 member stations throughout the country.

Steve Pemberton, author and motivational speaker who shares his personal story of beating the odds and overcoming childhood trauma through the power of education.

Rosalind Wiseman, author and internationally recognizes expert on children, teens, parenting, bullying, social justice and ethical leadership.

In addition to hearing from these influential leaders, attendees will have the special opportunity to take part in exciting events like the National PTA Awards and Reflections Celebration dinner – a night filled with awards and entertainment for the entire family.

This year, we are thrilled to announce that Le PeTiT CiRqUe will be performing during the awards celebration on Saturday, June 24 at 7 p.m.

Winner of 16 National Youth Awards, Le PeTiT CiRqUe has entertained audiences across the U.S. and internationally in Dubai and Canada. They have performed for world leaders including the Dalai Lama and the Sultan of Brunei and are the only all-kid prodigies cirque company in the world! You’ve seen them all over national television—they appeared on NBC’s “LITTLE BIG SHOTS” as featured guest stars on March 26, 2017.

Register for the National PTA Convention & Expo by going to PTA.com/Convention and be sure to get your tickets for the Awards and Reflections Celebration event too.

We can’t wait to see you in Vegas!

Ashley Collier is the associate manager of digital communications at National PTA.

5 Simple Tips for Engaging Your Family in Reading

This piece was originally featured in Mediaplanet

Reading and literacy skills are critical to children’s academic, social and emotional achievement. Families play an essential role in helping children develop their literacy skills and fostering a love of reading.

Research shows that when families read together, children do better in school and beyond. Reading with children provides an opportunity to expose them to more complex words and stories than they would normally encounter on their own. Research also demonstrates that children who frequently read with their families tend to have a strong belief that reading is both important and enjoyable.

Here are five tips for family reading:

1. Establish a reading area in your home 

Designating a special space in your home where you read together can help inspire your family to sit down and get lost in books. Creating a reading space with children is also a great way to enjoy quality time together.

2. Spend 30 minutes each day reading together

Even if your child is more interested in reading on their own, sit together and read something side-by-side. Then, ask questions about what they are reading.

3. Make it fun

Reading shouldn’t be a chore; it should be an adventure. If your attitude reflects the joy you feel from getting lost in a book, it’s easier for your children to feel that way too.

4. Look for interesting, reading level-appropriate books

For young readers, find books with illustrations or photos that bring words to life and provide context clues for new vocabulary. For adolescents, find books about subjects that interest your child or introduce new experiences or opportunities.

5. Books make great holiday presents

Giving books as gifts, especially on topics children love, will help encourage and support their interest in reading.

During the holidays and all year-round, it is so important to share the joy and importance of reading with children while making family memories.

Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

For more tips on how to how to grow children who love to read, or how to host a PTA Family Reading Experience, visit: www.PTA.org/Reading.

The Leader in You

Did you know that PTAs are run by volunteers? From the local level to the National PTA board of directors, volunteers govern our PTA association. Have you ever wondered how you can get more involved in child advocacy or education-related work?

It starts by raising your hand and getting involved. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s taken me from my local unit all the way up to the national level. At each level, my skills and knowledge in PTA, nonprofit governance and leadership grew. Here’s my story:

I first became interested in PTA when my daughter entered kindergarten. Even though I was a Girl Scout leader and served on the board of directors for the preschool, I had never attended a PTA meeting in those first two years. However, at the end of the second year, I noticed that the PTA had a vacancy in the office of president. I figured that it was a great opportunity for me to grow my communication and people skills and serve others, especially children and families.

I was elected and decided to attend my state PTA’s summer leadership conference to learn more about PTA, as well as my duties and responsibilities. This became a defining moment in my PTA journey—I was in awe! More than 700 individuals were in attendance at the conference, all focused on a mission to better the lives of students and their families. I was able to network with other like-minded volunteers and learn from state leaders about the structure and history of PTA. I knew then that I wanted to be part of this movement where parents, families and educators work together to advocate for children and youth.

After two years as a local leader, I moved up to the council level, where I first served as the vice president and then president. It was at this time that I experienced how effective and important PTA’s advocacy efforts were in my county and throughout the state. While attending our elementary school PTA meeting, I learned that the school’s playground needed to be replaced. Our council worked tirelessly to present testimony to show the school board all the elementary school playground equipment and the disparities between the schools. Based on our efforts, the school board decided that the county would take on the expense of the playgrounds.

My leadership journey continued as I served as the first vice president and then president of Maryland PTA. There was a great deal to learn in running a nonprofit business with staff while managing local units and fulfilling the PTA mission. Working with staff was a new experience for me, with oversight and direction as well as hiring and firing. Part of the work also involved working with local units to talk about the PTA programs and learn about nonprofit governance. All of these experiences added to my skill set and cemented my passion for child advocacy.

It was while volunteering with Maryland PTA that I learned about National PTA’s advocacy efforts, nonprofit laws and business management. I remember attending my first Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, where I learned about the important issues and met our state legislators when we went to PTA day on the Hill. To this day, I am excited to attend the conference and am proud to participate in advocating on behalf of our members to the legislators. I believe this is an important part of our mission.

Two years after my term as president of Maryland PTA ended, I was elected to the National PTA board of directors, which I served on from 2009 to 2011. During that time, I gained a greater awareness of the diversity we have in our education system and how rural states operate.

I believe in PTA so much, that I am now on staff as a national service representative where I’ve been on staff for over three years.

My volunteer PTA leadership journey has offered many experiences and opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. Throughout the years, I’ve made many lifelong friends and gone on adventures that I would have never dreamed possible. I have been involved in important advocacy work for the children, families and educators fulfilling the mission of PTA. I treasure the work I’ve done and what I’ve learned along my journey. I hope you take the opportunity to raise your hand, and start your own.

Mary Jo Neil is a National Service Representative at National PTA.

Delegate or Do it Yourself?

This piece was first featured on Portland Council PTA’s blog.

Have you delegated a task, only to find out that the result wasn’t what you expected? Do you micromanage because you want things done properly? Many PTA leaders fail to delegate because they think it’s quicker to do it themselves—they can’t trust others to do the work or feel that they will just end up re-doing it themselves, so they may as well do it from the start. They are usually afraid that tasks won’t be completed in a timely manner or to a standard that they expect, so they often don’t delegate.

But delegation is a critical component for an effective PTA.

When you delegate successfully, you further the PTA as a whole, because as people gain confidence and experience, they will also grow as leaders. Delegation isn’t just a matter of telling someone else what to do. Truly effective delegation is assigning the right tasks to the right people and then guiding them to be successful in their tasks.

So how do you effectively delegate? Here are a few tips:

  • Develop an action plan for tasks. Give timelines, deadlines and expectations to your team. Give people plenty of time to ask questions and then complete the tasks.
  • Check in frequently, but don’t monitor too closely. Setting progress update meetings from the start will allow you to set your expectations and check in along the way. It also gives you a chance to make sure that the project is moving in the right direction before it is beyond the “point of no return.” Don’t be afraid to give constructive feedback, but also don’t micro-manage.
  • Break down larger projects into smaller tasks and delegate pieces out to an entire group of people. This can help keep work manageable while developing a team atmosphere. Again, be sure to assign each task to the person best suited to handle it to keep the project moving. There is nothing worse for your volunteers or board members than waiting on someone else in order to complete their own work.
  • If something does fall through, don’t take the work back on yourself. Accept that sometimes things need to fail to succeed. Reflect on if the project truly needs this task to be completed. Use caution if you need to re-delegate tasks to another person, as that can cause hard feelings between people.
  • Be sure to give credit where it’s due, but don’t place blame when things fail. The end result of the project was a team effort, whether it succeeded or failed.

Delegation takes some practice, but doing it effectively will free you up to do the things that only you can do for the PTA. When you delegate effectively, you can save time, balance your own workload and achieve more for your PTA, while furthering the growth of the organization and future leaders. That’s a win-win for everyone!

Lisa Kensel is the Portland Council PTA President.

The Latest Tech Gadget Requires a Safety Talk with Your Kids

A LifeLock security expert and dad discusses why a conversation about tech safety with your kids is a must when gifting them the latest tech gadgets. He offers The Smart Talk as a fun, free, online tool to help facilitate the conversation.  

The holidays are here and most of us are busy looking for gifts. In fact 42 percent of parents with children under 18 plan to give their child a smart device as a holiday gift this year, according to a survey by Harris Poll conducted on behalf of LifeLock. Maybe it’s finally time for a smartphone or to purchase a new family computer or some other kind of connected device. There are a lot of things to choose from, and these days more and more of them involve having your kids online.

As you gift your child such a device, consider having a conversation about security with them. It’s important to your child’s safety, and while it may sound like a chore, it doesn’t have to be. The Smart Talk is a free, online tool to that’s here to help you facilitate a conversation.

The Smart Talk covers a range of topics, including:

Safety

Whether it’s texting with friends (or strangers), engaging in a video game chat room, or uploading pictures to servers halfway around the word, online safety should always be top of mind. It’s critical for your children to understand that it can be very hard to tell the difference between good people and bad. In fact, anyone can pretend to be anything on the Internet.

Kids need to realize that online “friends” that they’ve never met are still strangers—strangers that may want to know more about their personal lives and habits. Predators may pretend to be a kid, and ask your child for photos of themselves. Kids should be in the habit of treating online “friends” the same as they would a stranger walking up to them on the street, for the same reasons.

Privacy

Your kid is in her room, the door is closed, everyone else in the house is asleep. She shares personal thoughts on social media or she’s texting with friends, possibly sharing pictures. It feels private to them. The harsh reality is that what they are sharing is anything but private. Once something is available on the Internet, it’s pretty much staying there. As the saying goes, “the Internet never forgets”.

Maybe your kid wants to share a silly “selfie” with someone who promises to delete it. The supposed friend doesn’t delete it. In fact, they share it. Maybe someone gets ahold of your child’s smartphone (or her friend’s) while it’s unlocked, and starts going through the photos.

Help your kids understand the privacy isn’t something you can count on when sharing data online.

Bullying

Online bullying through social media is a constant problem. It’s important to help your kids understand that it’s not okay to fully or be bullied. By having those conversations with your kids, they’ll feel more comfortable telling you about when something comes up. This includes videogame chats, where your child may be exposed to all kinds of angry taunts and verbal abuse. If this is seen as “the norm,” it can be tempting for your child to join in or start their own attack later.

Another topic that goes beyond the trend of holiday gift giving, but that relates to connected devices your kids use is the Internet of Things.

More and more household devices and toys can connect to the internet. Toys want to download content from the internet—stories, new game modules, sounds, pictures. They also want to collect your kid’s name, maybe have your child take a picture of themselves with a built-in camera and display it as part of their online account. Some kids’ toys even have built-in Web browsers. They claim to have “child-safe filtering”, but earlier this month a security researcher demonstrated how to bypass the filtering on one toy tablet to access adult material. Frankly, it’s a mess.

Think twice about giving your child a toy that wants to go online. If you decide it’s worth it, spend time with your kids while they play with the toys and be alert for anything the device is doing (or asking your kids to do) that just doesn’t feel right.

Connected devices can open a whole new world for our kids. As parents, it’s our job to help them explore that world safely.

To have The Smart Talk with your kids, visit TheSmartTalk.org


Joe Gervais is a LifeLock cybersecurity expert.

Bullying: It All Comes Down to Culture

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In my elementary school years, I was badly teased, excluded and ridiculed. Almost every day I would come home from school crying, feeling defeated, crushed and not wanting to return.

Only the constant support and encouragement of my mom and dad got me through it all. The strength that I ultimately gained through the process of overcoming the bullying inspired me to create my own bullying prevention presentation, which combines music and messages of bullying prevention, positivity and encouragement.

So far, I have performed my assembly at over 350 schools and 150,000 children nationwide. My newest project, a free Bully Prevention Video Package, is currently being used in over 2,700 schools, representing more than 1.6 million children.

School Culture

According to Dr. Kent D. Peterson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, school culture is “the set of norms, values and beliefs, rituals and ceremonies, symbols and stories that make up the ‘persona’ of the school.” During my school years, there were some personas that put me in a great mood all day, and some that left me appalled.

A toxic school culture is detrimental and leads to an intolerance and unhappiness among all students and administrators. A healthy school culture is what turns a mediocre school into a great school, and a great school into an EXCEPTIONAL school. Here are some characteristics of EXCEPTIONAL SCHOOLS that I have observed and that parents should insist upon.

Top Four Characteristics of Exceptional School Cultures

  1. Positive/uplifting leadership—Encourage your school’s principal to be invigorated, inspired and invested in the spirit and demeanor of everyone in it. Culture trickles down from the top. 
  1. Mutual respect—Establish mutual respect. This is the key to opening critical doors to conversation and understanding about difficult topics, such as discipline, etc. among parents, teachers and students. 
  1. Display students’ artwork—Get those bare walls decorated with students’ colorful artwork. Seeing their own creations displayed inspires students to be more imaginative and more invested in their school community. 
  1. Strong and positive rapport between staff and parents—Develop good relationships between your school’s faculty and administration and families. A seamless transition between a student’s home and school life happens best if parents and administrators communicate well and stress similar values in each place.

More of What I’ve Learned About Culture

  • Disciplining works. Condescending tones DO NOT. In my experience, when an adult speaks to a child in a loud volume and/or with a condescending tone, the child either doesn’t listen and puts up a wall, or becomes timid and retreats inside their shell.
  • Become a safe space for them. When children retreat inside their shell, it is more difficult to help them because they won’t necessarily open up to you the way you need them to. Let them know that they always have a safe space in you. Then, back that up by actively and genuinely listening.
  • Focus on the DO’s, not the DON’T’s, and be their example. I attribute the success of my assembly to two things. One, my age, and therefore my ease of connecting with students. Two, my emphasis on the DO’s instead of the DON’T’s. My experiences show me that children want to make the best and healthiest choices, but they can’t always do that unless they see it being practiced all around them. Tell them, but more importantly, show them, what to do through your own behavior.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is: kids will be kids, but they all want to be better. It is our responsibility, as leaders, to help them become the best of themselves. A thoroughly positive school culture will do that, not only for the students, but for the entire school community.

It’s so easy to say we’re going to do something, but it takes something completely different, a true investment of time and talent, to actually do it. Many of the schools I’ve visited hit the nail on the head already, establishing good, safe school cultures, but the majority have not. Help make YOUR school truly exceptional. With more and more examples of excellence, we can make safe, welcoming schools the rule.


Lizzie Sider is an 18-year-old singer/songwriter, recording artist and Founder of the bullying prevention foundation, Nobody Has The Power To Ruin Your Day.

Do You Know of a Great PTA Advocate?

As we approach National PTA’s 120 year anniversary, it is important to stop and celebrate some of our members’ accomplishments. PTA has been a leader in working to improve the lives of all children—advocating for everything from hot school lunches to universal kindergarten.

As the Vice President of Advocacy for National PTA, I have the pleasure of traveling across the country and hearing from PTA members about their advocacy efforts, challenges and successes. At National PTA’s 2017 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, we want to honor the incredible accomplishments of PTAs and their members.

The Dec.18 deadline is fast approaching for nominations for the 2017 Advocacy Awards, so if you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA.

As in previous years, advocates may also nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Local and state category-winning PTAs will receive a monetary award. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year.

The 2016 advocacy award winners were some of the most impressive advocates I’ve seen in my years as a PTA member. Massachusetts PTA, the state PTA winner, advocated on behalf of LGBTQ youth. Their efforts led to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously passing a measure to update the school system’s policies related to LGBTQ youth, which hadn’t been updated since 1992.

The local PTA award winner, Rochester Community PTA Council, worked to educate all PTA members and families communitywide on the specifics of a $185 million bond issue to make much-needed renovations and upgrades to school facilities, technology and infrastructure. The improvements would ensure students in Rochester are provided a high-quality education and have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn. With the efforts and contributions of Rochester Community PTA Council, the bond issue passed with 73% support.

The individual award winners were equally impressive. The Youth Advocate of the Year, Brian Rodriguez, worked to promote civic engagement and increase community involvement among youth of all ages in the Miami area. Joy Grayson, the 2016 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year, led South Carolina PTA to adopt an annual legislative platform; organized and moderated an annual state legislative conference; and revamped the state membership unit to become a state advocacy unit, which engaged community members in PTA who had no affiliation with a local unit.

These two individual advocates and two state PTAs are just some of many examples of the incredible work that PTA members and PTAs are doing across the country.

That’s why we’re excited to hear about other standout PTA advocates and celebrate their efforts to improve the lives of all children with a 2017 Advocacy Award. For more info on how to nominate a person, PTA or yourself, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards or contact Lindsay Kubatzky. Deadline for submission is Dec. 18!


Shannon Sevier is the vice president of advocacy for National PTA.

Why I Volunteer

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Even at 40 years old, I still get scared. Driving out of town to a place I have never been before, going to exercise class for the first time, even flying on airplanes can give me a little anxiety. I say things to myself like:

  • You’re going to get lost.
  • You’re going to look stupid.
  • This plane could go down and there are still wet clothes in the washing machine.

But when my kids are scared I hear myself say things like:

  • This is an adventure!
  • You’ll make new friends!
  • Flying is safer than driving!

I know the right things to say to help them be brave, but I don’t say those things to myself.

The first time I volunteered to help with a PTA function, I was nervous. I had offered to help mount artwork for the Reflections program, only to find out the other volunteers were getting together at 11 a.m. at the school (But I work fulltime downtown?!).

I felt I couldn’t back out so I used vacation time. I got my orange “Volunteer” sticker at the office and met the other volunteers for the first time. They showed me where the PTA room was and we worked together for a couple of hours marveling at the little masterpieces. I remember finding my daughter’s painting in a pile with other kindergarten pieces and taping it to black paper. It was a fun day.

A few months later, I decided I would give volunteering another try. I showed up at the spring Carnival (not knowing anyone) and I was assigned to the cash register at the concessions table. I had worked the cash register one time as an employee at Bed, Bath & Beyond and I was a disaster (they kept me in the bedding department after that).

The cash register should have been the worst assignment at the PTA event. Except it wasn’t. Instead, I stood around and chatted with other moms and we all laughed every time I had to do math in my head and tried to count change. I made a lot of mistakes. But no one said I was stupid and they didn’t audit my register. People even thanked me for volunteering. After that, I knew I could do anything.

Fast forward five years and I still volunteer at most PTA events. And now that my kids are older, they always come with me. I still work full time, but I look forward to volunteering in the evening and on the weekends because I know I can bring my kids with me. I don’t have to sacrifice time with them in order to be involved at their school. And they can help too! (Or they can at least run around the cafeteria with their friends while the moms and dads are working.) Most importantly, I have made a lot of friends and my kids are friends with their kids.

If you have never volunteered for PTA, know this: It’s an adventure and you’ll make new friends! The wet clothes in the washing machine can wait.


Heather Zirke is the president of Grindstone PTA and mom to Aurelia, a fourth grader, and Kip, a second grader.

How to Celebrate American Education Week

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This week—Nov. 14-18—marks the National Education Association’s (NEA) 95th annual celebration of American Education Week. NEA has created resources and a cheat sheet for how you can celebrate and promote the week.

Go to NEA.org/AEW for more info on American Education Week—including an online toolkit and artwork. Contact Christiana Campos for questions and more details.

About American Education Week

Each year, American Education Week is observed during the first full week before Thanksgiving.

American Education Week began in 1921 with the NEA and the American Legion as cosponsors. The goal was to generate public awareness and support for education because of concerns over illiteracy. A year later, the U.S. Office of Education signed on, and the PTA followed in 1938.

Cosponsors now include the U.S. Department of Education, National PTA, the American Legion, the American Association of School Administrators, the National School Boards Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the American School Counselor Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National School Public Relations Association, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Daily Celebrations

Monday, Nov. 14: Thank You to All Educators
Across the nation, Americans are sponsoring special events and activities to thank educators and celebrate public education.

 Tuesday, Nov. 15: Parents’ Day
Schools are inviting parents into classrooms to experience a day in the life of students.

Wednesday, Nov. 16: Education Support Professionals (ESP) Day
Schools and communities are honoring school support staff—bus drivers, nurses, secretaries, custodians—for their commitment to students.

Thursday, Nov. 17: Educator for a Day
Community leaders are being invited to teach a lesson or visit a class and connect with public school students and teachers.

Friday, Nov. 18: Substitute Educators Day
This day honors the educators who are called upon to replace regularly employed teachers.

AEW Tools and Resources