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.

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

Excited About Service

Let me start by saying how proud I am to be serving as National PTA’s new President. To be able to represent millions of parents and friends of education is exciting. We have a great deal of work to do and I know we are all ready for the task at hand.

As we work through these challenging economic times I want to say how much I appreciate the work being done by the National PTA Board and staff in making sure this association remains strong. Like many of you, my wife Teresa and I have seen our 401k turn into a 200.5. Like many of our employers, our PTA business took an investment hit last year as well, but we are rebounding strong. So far this year PTA is seeing strong returns as the market begins to rebound.

You would think that with the economy being what it is that our convention attendance would suffer; however, this year that wasn’t the case. This past week we were able to host one of our most successful conventions in Fort Lauderdale, with an increase in attendance over the past two years. Our thanks to the wonderful folks with the Broward County Schools, Florida PTA, Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the entire Fort Lauderdale community for making this annual event a home run!

One of the topics of conversation at convention was focused on another challenging year regarding membership. Considering the economy, and seeing other not-for-profits facing the same issue, we’re happy to be in the position we’re in. PTA has some exciting opportunities in the coming years. As we roll out new programs, projects and events you will see a more proactive association; one that will be able to address parents’ issues quicker.

As we do move forward let us all keep in mind that we still have some challenges ahead. The economy will take some time to return to the position it was just a few short months ago. As your PTAs plan for the next school year, let’s work to keep all of the families in your communities involved. If individuals cannot afford a PTA membership, let’s keep them engaged by letting them know that we are ready to help in any way possible.

And let’s stay connected on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/chucksaylors

Until next time!