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.

Dear Extraordinary Teacher

Dear Extraordinary Teacher,

On behalf of America’s students and families, we would like to take a moment during Teacher Appreciation Week to thank you for your work and impact that extends far beyond the boundaries of the classroom.

Look up “teacher” in the dictionary and you will likely find this definition: one who instructs. But there are a few adjectives missing from this definition … patient, knowledgeable, dedicated, compassionate, inspirational … the list goes on. As a caring professional who connects with students—and strives to discover what they’re passionate about to unlock their potential—you do so much more than simply instruct.

You’re constantly evaluating what works and what doesn’t, making quick adjustments on the fly, and assessing who gets it and who needs a little extra help. You come in early and stay late to give students the one-on-one attention they need. You inspire a lifelong love of learning and guide children’s futures. You advocate for children and your profession. And, in the midst of it all, you create safe spaces where kids can be themselves, dig into your own pocket to buy sneakers for a child in need or replenish classroom supplies, heal boo-boos, give hugs, and offer warm, encouraging and affirming words.

For you, there is no such thing as “other people’s children.” There are only your kids—the students you love and nurture as if they were your own. We not only thank you for all you deliver to children; we are proud to stand with you in everything you do to make sure students in every community have access to the great education they deserve. Together, we are making a difference for our nation’s students.

Thank you for being extraordinary and inspiring students to reach for the stars.

With much gratitude,

Laura Bay
National PTA President

Lily Eskelsen García
NEA President

4 Ways to Engage in Your Child’s Education

This piece was originally featured in Mediaplanet.

Over 40 years of research shows that regardless of a family’s income or socioeconomic background, students whose families are engaged attend school more regularly earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates.

Here are four ways you can help your child reach their full potential:

1. Talk about school matters at home

Encourage your child to talk about their day and express any concerns. It will help you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what activities they like and don’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical to keep your child safe, happy and learning.

2. Be a partner in your child’s learning

Every child’s education experience is unique, and ensuring it remains a positive one is a shared responsibility between families and educators. It is important to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher, keep the lines of communication open and work together to support your child.

3. Advocate for your child  

You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to speak up for your own child — and every child in your school community — to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. Use your voice to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world-class education to every student.

4. Join up with your PTA

Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Families are busier than ever and as an on-the-go parent, you will find support from others in PTA who share your questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children — including yours — receive a high-quality education.

The work your family does at home to support and reinforce what your kids are doing in school will have a significant academic impact. Don’t strive for perfection — remember that involvement looks different for every family — and any level of involvement in your child’s education will help ensure they have every opportunity for success.

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.

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.

Stakeholder Engagement: Early Challenges and Promising Practices

This post was originally published on the blog for the Learning First Alliance.

With the transition to a new presidential administration, change abounds in the federal education policy world. As we await action from a new Secretary of Education, we’ve also seen President Trump issue an executive order pausing the accountability regulations for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), followed by a move by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to overturn them. Those rules, finalized last November by the Obama administration, were intended to guide states in submitting their accountability plans to the federal government.

Despite the uncertainty that states are facing, work on these plans continues. And a key part of that work comes in the form of stakeholder engagement.

The stakeholder consultative process outlined in ESSA (and unimpacted by the president’s executive order) presents an important opportunity to fundamentally change how education policy is made. If implemented as intended, it will ensure that the expertise of the parents, educators and other leaders working with, and on behalf of, students every day informs the development of state and local policies and practices. In support of this process, we at the Learning First Alliance issued guiding principles to help states and districts as they began this important work.

But it is not easy. This level of stakeholder engagement is an entirely new way of doing business for most policymakers, particularly at the state level. And expecting all states and districts to get it right immediately is unrealistic. As with all new programs and policies, there will be a learning curve. What’s critical is that we—the collective “we,” including those in the education community that this process engages, the state and local policymakers charged with implementing it and the federal policymakers who legislated it—work through the challenges that come along. To avoid going back to business as usual, we need to commit to continuously improving in this endeavor.

The National Association of State Boards of Education recently released a policy update to help in these efforts. Drawn from reviews of 51 state education agency (SEA) websites and in-depth interviews with representatives from 15 SEAs, ESSA Stakeholder Engagement: Early Challenges and Promising Practices identifies five common challenges that states are facing in this work:

  • Identifying diverse stakeholders and casting a wider net
  • Overcoming time and resource constraints
  • Communicating effectively with stakeholders
  • Maximizing meetings’ impact
  • Organizing and incorporating feedback into a state plan

One especially interesting finding: Parents are cited as a particularly difficult group to engage. Noting that SEAs have much more experience reaching out to teachers and administrators, the authors acknowledge that parent and family engagement is new to many state officials.

So how should SEAs and local education agencies (LEAs, which are typically school districts), when they begin this work, address this concern? The brief offers a few promising practices related to the overall challenge of identifying diverse stakeholders and casting a wider net, including utilizing existing networks to expand the pool and allowing for a dynamic process so new stakeholders can be engaged even after the process as begun.

Speaking specifically regarding parents, Laura Bay, president of National PTA, notes that there are multiple aspects of conducting effective parental stakeholder engagement—such as transparency, inclusion, information sharing and multiple opportunities for input—and achieving perfection in all areas is challenging for any one state.

To help overcome it, Bay encourages SEAs and LEAs to partner with their state and local PTAs.

“PTAs want to be a part of the solution. PTAs are a trusted messenger and a valuable resource to be able to reach all families, encourage families to get involved and provide input and ensure all parent voices are heard,” Bay said.

National PTA has identified the following best practices for engaging parents in ESSA:

  • Ensure there is at least one dedicated parent representative on any ESSA state- or local-level committee
  • Partner with PTA to:
    • Disseminate information on ESSA and any meetings, forums or webinars
    • Co-host ESSA-related forums
    • Leverage parent and community leaders to gather input from other parents and families in the community
  • Show how parent input has been considered and/or incorporated in state plans and policies
  • Ask for specific input and feedback on topics and in parent-friendly language
  • Build in structures and opportunities for ongoing engagement and feedback

The association has also created a wide variety of resources accessible at PTA.org/ESSA to support states, districts and schools in engaging families in ESSA.

What I’ve Learned…

As a former state president and a longtime PTA member, I am aware that creating an environment where all parents can work together is challenging and conflict is too common. But if there is anything I have learned throughout my involvement in the association, members in our states need to be empowered to be advocates—for our children, families, school and communities and within PTA. That is, after all, the foundation on which our association is built.

Over the past week, National PTA has been made aware through phone calls, email correspondence and social media that PTA members in Georgia are concerned about the recent actions taken by the Georgia PTA Board of Directors.

Please be sure that we take the concerns of our members seriously. And we are always concerned when national-, state- or local-level conflicts distract from the important mission of representing our children to the best of our ability. We hate to see this happen within any PTA.

As it pertains to the situation in Georgia, and as we would do for any similar situation involving a PTA, we have consulted with our attorneys to be sure that we are fulfilling the authority that you as members have placed in your national association. They confirmed what we believed to be true, that the remedy that is being sought from National PTA is limited by our Bylaws and the Standards of Affiliation that we have with each state.

You may be aware that National PTA is separately incorporated from the states and each has its own 501(c)(3) status. Therefore, we are often not able to intervene and correct perceived or real inequities. However, our standards of affiliation do allow us one area where we can investigate state action—where there is clear evidence that the bylaws of the state association have not been adhered to. If someone from a state is able to provide evidence where an action is taken that is in direct conflict with specific bylaw(s) of that state PTA, we can investigate that in order for the state PTA to retain good standing with National PTA. These rules adopted by our Board of Directors and our membership are in accordance with legal counsel. We know you expect us to follow the rules our membership has put in place. To do otherwise would create even more chaos. These rules also exist for the state’s protection to prevent National PTA from capricious involvement in state affairs.

If, on the other hand, members of a state PTA believe that their association is violating the nonprofit laws of that state, the recourse for those members is not with National PTA but with the attorney general of that particular state. The attorney general is able to adjudicate whether state law has been violated. Such a determination is outside National PTA’s expertise and authority.

I am often asked what is the internal recourse for members when they are not happy with leadership’s actions in guiding a state PTA or of National PTA. There are two answers—change the bylaws through the convention or change the leadership through the election process. The power to create change always resides within me and each one of you as a member.

Though it may be tempting to withdraw from the state PTA when there is conflict, the states that work through the conflict together end up having the greatest capacity to serve their families. We hope that Georgia PTA—and any PTA facing a similar situation—can find equitable resolution to debilitating conflict that embraces the needs of the greatest numbers of members and leaders.

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

Family Engagement is Critical to Education

PTA-Dad

This blog post was originally published on Medium.

As an educator and parent, I’m always excited by the back-to-school season. I love meeting new families and helping students grow and develop as they learn new skills.

The start of this school year is even more exciting than usual because it’s the beginning of a new era for our nation’s classrooms. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the new federal law governing K-12 education — goes into effect this year.

While many teachers, students and parents won’t see immediate change in their schools and classrooms, states are actively working to create new education plans to implement ESSA that we hope will soon make high-quality, well-rounded education a reality for every child.

For the first time, ESSA acknowledges the critical role parents and other stakeholders play in student success and school improvement efforts by requiring that they be involved in the development of new education plans and implementation of the law.

Parents and their children are the consumers of our nation’s public education system, and parents have always been essential partners in education. However, they haven’t always been included at the decision-making table. This has caused confusion, mistrust and backlash when new initiatives — whether at the federal, state or local level — have been considered and implemented. ESSA now provides a unique opportunity for parents and families to give their input and to hold states and districts accountable for their children’s educational experience.

So how should states, districts and schools engage families in implementing ESSA? I have four suggestions.

First, invite families to participate. It seems basic, but many families do not feel welcome or know that the law requires that states and districts involve them in developing new education plans. Education leaders should use a variety of communications channels to reach out to parents and share ways they can get involved. Educators can also rely on a trusted messenger — such as PTAs — to communicate better with families.

Second, make messages to parents easy to digest. Most parents do not come to the table with expertise in education policy, but they are experts on their children. It is important that educational jargon is explained in simple terms — how does this affect my child and what can I do? Families must also be provided greater context about current policy and programs to understand ESSA’s impact on existing practices and future policies.

Next, translate materials to reach all families. It is essential that ESSA-related materials be translated into at least one of a community’s most popular languages other than English. Although it takes time and resources, this demonstrates a commitment to making sure all parents and families have the information they need to support their child’s learning and development.

Finally, demonstrate why family participation matters. If families are included in all stages of ESSA implementation, they will understand the ways it relates not just to their children but to every child in the community, the state and across the country. Mechanisms should be provided to allow parents to give regular feedback, and education decision-makers must listen when they do. When all voices are heard and valued, everyone’s engagement rises and consensus is easier to achieve.

ESSA provides an important opportunity for every part of every community to unite in designing the best education system possible for our nation’s children. But for education to be truly successful, family engagement must go beyond ESSA. Forty years of research proves that family engagement makes a real difference, so states and districts must prioritize it. Systematic and sustained efforts to integrate families into the fabric of our schools is key to our nation’s future.


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. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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A New School Year, a New Education Law

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are sitting at their desks working on an assignment. Their teacher is sitting with them and is answering any questions they have.

A multi-ethnic group of elementary age students are sitting at their desks working on an assignment. Their teacher is sitting with them and is answering any questions they have.

A new school year comes with new people to meet, new material to learn and new expectations. This year, it also comes with a new education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Across the country, states and districts are crafting new education plans that will guide the implementation of ESSA. The process of implementing the law presents an important opportunity for families and PTAs to help shape the future of education for our nation’s children. Under ESSA, parents are required to be “meaningfully consulted” during the development of the new education plans.

To empower families and PTAs to be at the table and active participants in state and local implementation of ESSA, National PTA has developed a wide range of resources at PTA.org/ESSA.

In addition to these resources, National PTA recently hosted a webinar to delve into the specifics of how parents and PTA members can and should be involved in the implementation of the new law.

The webinar showcased two incredible PTA advocates: Kelly Langston, president of North Carolina PTA, and Otto Schell, legislative director of Oregon PTA, both of whom have been heavily involved in the ESSA implementation process in their respective states. They shared how parents and families are critical to making sure that state and local education plans meet the needs of all students. Jessah Walker, senior federal relations associate for the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), also gave a state education leader perspective on ESSA and reiterated the importance of having parents and families as partners in the implementation process.

As the new school year gets into full swing, here are three quick things you can do to make sure you are ready for ESSA:

  1. Read “What Does this New Law Mean for My Child?

This resource is designed to give parents a basic understanding of what ESSA will mean for their children.

  1. Check out what your state is doing to implement the new law

Visit National PTA’s website and find your state to see the latest resources, events and news about the ESSA implementation process and ways to get involved.

  1. Advocate for your and every child

PTA members are leading advocacy efforts at the school, district, state and federal level to ensure better educational opportunities are provided for all of our nation’s children. This school year, let’s continue to build upon our 119+ years of advocacy by working with school and state leaders to help every student succeed.

National PTA encourages every parent and family to lend their voice to the implementation of ESSA. To learn more about what you can do to get involved and help improve education for your child and every child in your community, visit PTA.org/ESSA.

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Why Bad Moms Need PTA

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This article was originally published on Huffington Post. (Photo Credit: STX Entertainment)

I’m sure you’ve seen the advertisements on Facebook and TV for the new comedy Bad Moms, released in theaters July 29. It tells the story of an over-worked and over-committed PTA mom who teams up with other stressed-out moms to free themselves from the everyday challenge of balancing kids, home and their careers.

In the movie, some of the seemingly perfect moms ridicule the main character, Amy Mitchell (played by Mila Kunis), and her friends at various PTA meetings and events as they let loose and stop trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. While this is an extreme and fictional plot, the stress these moms feel is a relatable narrative for many moms (and dads) across the country.

As a mom, I understand the often thankless work it takes to raise kids, and I agree with the film that being a mom is one of the toughest jobs out there. It can be overwhelming and exhausting, and at times you need to take a break, have fun and do something for yourself. However, at the end of the day—as the movie shows—we love our children fiercely and have a universal desire to build a strong foundation for our children. As a PTA leader and member, I also know it is important to be involved in the hard work in a community to help schools improve and make every child’s potential a reality.

PTA has been around for a long time—more than 119 years. Throughout all of those years, we have been a community for families who need support during the busy, fast-paced school year. We have been an ardent advocate for bettering the lives of every child in education, health and safety. Our community is 4 million members strong and truly makes a difference in the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

With PTA, parents come together to create powerful change and solve the toughest problems facing our schools and communities. PTA is responsible for the creation of kindergarten classes, child labor laws to protect children, healthy school lunch programs and juvenile justice reform. Currently, the association is advocating for policies that protect LGBTQ youth and practices that create and maintain safe, affirming and inclusive learning environments for all students.

I won’t lie to you, being a PTA leader is a big job, but I’m proud of the work we do. I dedicate the time because I know it makes a difference for our schools, communities and our children’s long-term success. Unlike the depiction in the movie, PTA members strive to be collaborative, committed, diverse, respectful and accountable. When we achieve these values, we can reach remarkable milestones.

So, savor these last few weeks of summer before gearing up for another hectic school year. Some of you will enjoy this guilty pleasure and laughing with the PTA overachievers in the movie. It’s OK, we get the joke. But please consider getting involved in your local PTA. I personally encourage you to become part of the network of PTA parents who believe that every child deserves a high-quality education in a healthy and safe environment that enables them to pursue their dreams.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to making a difference for children’s health, safety, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

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4 Ways to Keep Your Kids Engaged This Summer

Summer break is an important time for children to bond with family and friends, participate in enriching outdoor activities and enjoy a break from school. But while enjoying the free time and taking advantage of all the season has to offer, it is essential that children do not take a break from learning.

Research shows that children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. Keeping children engaged in learning during summer break will help ease the back-to-school transition when the time comes and help them start the new school year on the right foot.

Summer activities provide fun, teachable moments—connecting real-life activities to what children have been learning in school reinforces those skills. These moments also provide great opportunities to expose children to new ideas and information and allow parents to encourage creativity.

Here are four ways to optimize learning during summer break:

Explore a National Park, Museum or Historic Site—Parks, museums and historic sites provide opportunities to bring learning to life for children. Many historic sites stage reenactments of battles or demonstrations of life during that time period. Almost all of the parks have activities for children. Ask your children to identify things they learned in school and nurture their navigation skills by making a scavenger hunt for your outing. You can also put your kids’ math skills to the test by giving them a set amount of money and having them manage their spending throughout the day.

Read Every Day—Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity families can do to prevent learning loss. Take your kids to the local library and borrow books to read over the break. And spend time reading together as a family—it helps children develop their literacy skills and excel academically.

Go to a Cultural Festival—Many communities host cultural festivals during the summer months, which are great occasions for children to learn about different cultures. Sample authentic food and drink, listen to storytellers, watch traditional dances and enjoy the artwork created by local artists from that culture. After attending a festival, discuss the experience as a family and encourage your kids to Google answers to any questions.

Keep a Journal—Summer activities abound, and recording them in a journal is a great way to capture those memories. As an added bonus, encouraging your kids to write about daily events helps boost their vocabulary and practice their handwriting as well as their grammar, spelling and creative writing skills.

Family schedules can be grueling during the summer—running from camps to swim meets to baseball and softball games—but it is important to keep learning a priority. Engaging in educational activities for an hour or even 30 minutes each day will support children’s success and ensure they start the new school year on track.


 

Laura Bay is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement. In addition to leading National PTA, Bay is a coordinator for assessment and instruction for the Bremerton School District in Bremerton, Wash.