Join the First-Timers Experience at National PTA Convention!

Are you a PTA mission believer and achiever? A PTA leader of leaders? An advocate who wants better for our students and schools nationwide? Then we’ll see you at 2018 National PTA Convention & Expo June 21-24 in beautiful and historic New Orleans, La.

In true New Orleans hospitality, we will welcome our first-time attendees with extra kindness. We will show you how to navigate National PTA’s largest and most comprehensive leadership development experience while making the networking easy for you!

Here are your three FIRST steps to making sure this is your best PTA decision ever:

  1. Come to the First-Timers’ Boot Camp. Join the Convention General Arrangements Committee and other first-time attendees at this must-attend event designed just for you on Thursday, June 22 at 1:15 p.m. in Room 235/236. Walk in knowing who you came with and walk out knowing at least five new friends. You’ll hear about the business, special events and learning experiences at Convention, and then your National PTA First-Timer Friend will help you design a plan for workshops and networking experiences that will match your goals for the weekend. Finally, you will take a tour of important locations like the workshop rooms and General Meetings. Leave this workshop feeling oriented, confident and connected.

 

  1. Meet back up with your First-Timer Friends for an Expo Hall tour and #PTAProud team-building experience. Your National PTA First-Timer Friend will give you a special invitation to explore an Expo Hall tour designed just for you. Meet National PTA’s sponsors, connect with National PTA Board Members in the PTA Booth, and then head over for a fun #PTAProud Team-Building Experience. Enjoy a fast-paced icebreaker with your new friends and then take a group selfie at our #PTAProud Wall. Leave this experience with a #PTAProud Recipe for Teamwork that you can take home and facilitate your own PTA team-building experiences!

 

  1. Pack a sweater—even though the average temperature in New Orleans is 90. Trust us. Every Convention Center looks a little different but offers the same chilly relief from blazing summer heat. So, bring a sweater or jacket that will help your mind to stay focused on all the possibilities National PTA’s Convention has to offer!

If this is your first time at National PTA’s Convention & Expo, get the VIP treatment—join the First-Timers Experience!

Didn’t register yet? There’s still time. Visit PTA.org/Convention to register today.


Mary Pat King is the director of education and leadership development at National PTA.

5 Secrets to Finding the Perfect Balance as PTA Leader AND a Parent

(Sponsored Post) Let’s be honest. Parents are some of the busiest people on Earth. And when you add in a PTA leadership role, it can be tough to juggle responsibilities at home and at school. So how do you strike the right balance?

After working with thousands of PTA leaders, and helping them run over 10,000 successful fundraisers during the past 16 years, at Boosterthon we’ve learned a thing or two about serving in a parent organization. Here are five simple secrets to creating a healthy balance between being a parent and a PTA leader.

 1. Schedule and save

Leading the PTA requires a ton of planning and time-consuming work. One way to overcome this is by scheduling time for PTA-related work (just like you would for any other job). For example, try setting aside several hours one weekday for PTA meetings, projects or just getting organized. Knowing this time is blocked out on your calendar will allow you to be fully present in other areas of your life. And because you’re not worried about finding the time to get the work done, you’ll be far less likely to feel overwhelmed.

 2. Next, flex

Whether it’s a last-minute PTA project or a DIY project at home, we all know things don’t always go as planned. Having flex time built into your schedule can help you catch up. Find some open time in the week and protect it like you would an important meeting. That way you can use your scheduled flex time to catch up before heading into a busy weekend.

 3. Be realistic and communicate expectations

When working with others on a PTA project or event, you should first consider your schedule and how much “PTA time” you have available. Here’s a tip: Be realistic. Don’t try to do it all. Then communicate openly and clearly to ensure everyone understands the expectations on timing. Most people are working to establish the same type of balance in their lives, so others will understand if you have to say no.

 4. Don’t be afraid to ask for H-E-L-P

As a PTA leader, one of the most important parts of your job is building relationships with other parents. Many parents genuinely want to help out. Get to know the volunteers who sign up to help at events, and let them know how much you value them. Make note of parents who sign up regularly to volunteer, and ask if you can contact them directly with other volunteer needs.

Building relationships you can lean on is crucial in maintaining more balance in your life.

 5. Focus on your family

As PTA leaders, you spend a lot of time at various PTA events throughout the year, and many of them occur outside of school hours. Getting your kids involved gives them a sense of pride and allows you to spend time working together as a family to help your school. Who knows? Your kids might just love making posters for book fairs, greeting new students at the open house and helping with carnival set-up.

A Final Thought

Remember, no one gets the whole “being a parent” thing perfectly right. Give yourself grace as you seek to strike the right balance between parenting your kids and volunteering at your school. But remember, it’s because of committed parents like you that schools thrive. And to that we say this: Thank you.

Boosterthon is an elementary school fundraiser on a mission to change the world by helping schools raise more and stress less. With over 2,400 schools and 1.6 million students across America participating in our programs, we’re reinventing the way schools do fundraising. To learn more, visit Boosterthon.com

Membership Matters: Reevaluating at the End of the School Year

It’s hard to believe, but the school year will be over in just a few short months. Right now is the perfect time to take a step back and evaluate the impact that your PTA has had on your community over the past year. Have you created a welcoming environment for parents, teachers and community members? If you feel that you may have missed the mark or would like to try some new things, now is the time to try out some new tactics.

In a recent article in FastCompany titled, “The Best Brands Are The Ones That Build ‘Belonging’,” enso co-founder Sebastian Buck explains that most people today essentially live in social isolation. This means that despite the fact that we communicate more than ever—with the advent of social media, texting and emailing—these means of communication are impersonal, and we end up feeling more alone than ever before.

Buck cites several disheartening statistics to back up his point, including the following: 40% of Americans report feeling chronically lonely and only half of the population trust their neighbors. It seems that we have lost the ability to spontaneously begin the meaningful, in-person conversations that build relationships and communities. But PTA just may be the perfect solution.

Association trends show that individuals want to join groups to belong. Here is an opportunity for PTAs to create a strong community where families, teachers and the community can interact and connect with one another. From these interactions, your community will develop trust and empathy toward each other as well as learn about each other’s similarities and differences.

So before the school year ends, ask yourself and your fellow PTA members the following:

  • What can you do to build these relationships?
  • Have you considered having an icebreaker at the start of your general meetings—something to get folks talking to people that they would not otherwise reach out to?
  • Could you do some large team building activities to get the community involved?

At a recent training, we did an exercise where individuals walked around and greeted each other. The concept was simply to say hello; however, the activity went to a new level and participants ended up hugging each other.

Another idea that we played with was to thank people for coming to a training session by saying “thank you” in some fashion. I observed participants giving each other high fives and hugging each other. Could you imagine how your members would feel if you ended your meeting or training session in this manner?

The last few months of the school year provide you with the chance to try something new and to build stronger relationships with your members. Give it a try, who knows what kind of connections you might make!

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

Celebrate Take Your Family to School Week All Week Long

Take Your Family to School Week (Feb. 11-17) is more than just a one-night event, it is a weeklong celebration of family engagement and the great work PTAs have done to support the school community.

This year we came up with an easy way for every family to participate in celebrating PTA—Daily themes!

Maker Monday: Celebrate the arts in your school community.

  • Showcase the artwork of your 2018 Reflections participants by creating a display in the school entryway. Share pictures of students, teachers and parents enjoying the display using #PTAProud.

Try-It Tuesday: Help create healthy eating habits by encouraging families to try a new food or recipe.

  • Pick a fruit or vegetable to be an honored guest! Set-up tasting stations throughout the cafeteria where students can try your featured ingredient prepared in different ways. Share the recipes that you used with your school community.

Writer Crush Wednesday: Share your love of reading!

  • Set up an area before or after school for students to read classic love poems and to write their own. There is no better valentine then one that comes directly from the heart! Check out this list for some school appropriate poems.

Techie Thursday: Use this day to highlight the “T” in Stem

  • Share an interview with the school technology administrator or robotics coach and ask them what things they wish the greater school community new about the technology opportunities within your school. Even better, set-up an online chat where parents or families can ask the questions live!

Family Celebration Friday: Celebrate all the families in your school community!

  • Use this day to take the time to thank everyone for celebrating with us this year!

With these themes every PTA member and school can participate in Take Your Family to School Week. We cannot wait to celebrate the founding of National PTA with you all week long! Remember to use #PTAProud to show how you are celebrating Take Your Family to School Week on social media! And, Make sure to share your events with us!

Alyssa Montchal is a Programs & Partnerships Program Manager at National PTA.

Are You Engaged?

As PTA members, you know that family engagement is an important part of your child’s successful development and academic outcomes.  You participate on school advisory committees, lead parent advocacy, work with teachers in their classrooms, read all about ESSA and other regulations related to children’s health and education, and inspire your community to support all children.  Family engagement is evolving from “involvement” in the sense of families receiving a one-way stream of information and sponsoring endless fundraisers at school.  Instead, it’s the opportunity to build relationships between two crucial components of a child’s life together–families and school personnel–to further support their successful education, well-being and development.

As a parent, you have plenty of options, depending on availability, interests, skills, and personal constraints, to be engaged.  Many of you are finding ways such as these to do become a part of your child’s school community.

  • Establishing positive relationships with school administrators and teachers.
  • Meeting with teachers about academic and social development goals for your child. If you aren’t exactly sure what to ask your child’s teacher, check the Department of Education’s Parent Checklist to get started.
  • Attending PTA or school meetings to find out about the issues in your school.  Ask questions if other’s aren’t bringing up the things that matter to your child’s success or your community.
  • Volunteering on a committee that focuses on an activity or issue important to you, whether it’s school transportation, safe places to play after-school, teacher diversity, bullying or academics.
  • Voicing your opinion to local and state Boards of Education and local, state, and national elected officials on things that matter to your family.
  • Keeping up with and providing input on your state’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. Check your state’s education website to find out about your parent representative and the developing plans.

Being engaged in education doesn’t require endless free time or multiple degrees and in-depth knowledge about schools. You just need a concern for your child and a little bit of time to act on that concern.

We know you are engaged in your schools, supporting your community and the Department of Education wants to hear from you.  If you’ve been recognized for your involvement in education by your state, share your story.  What did you do to garner such recognition? What lessons have you learned through your involvement?  What tips do you have for other parents who want to be engaged in their schools?

The Department of Education’s Family Ambassador, Frances Frost, wants to feature you in an upcoming Family, School and Community Engagement Newsletter, distributed monthly by the Department.  Submit your story for consideration, in 400 words or less, with your contact information to carrie.jasper@ed.gov, with the subject line “Parent Involvement for Newsletter.”

Frances Frost is the Family Ambassador at the U.S. Department of Education, serving as an advocate for family engagement in education and equitable opportunities for learning for all children. She brings the family voice to discussions at a national level and facilitates discussions between the Department, families and family engagement stakeholders.

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.

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.

Bullying: It All Comes Down to Culture

Bullying

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.

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.