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.

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

The Journey to Becoming a School of Excellence!

Group of Multiethnic People Studying About Teamwork

When a school and its PTA make a joint decision to become a National PTA School of Excellence, they are making a commitment to work together as a team to build effective family-school partnerships in their school community.

There are three important steps on the journey to becoming a School of Excellence.

Step 1. Enroll

Step 2. Complete the family survey

Step 3. Complete and submit the Family School Partnership Scan

By now, most schools that enrolled are at Step Three. This step, the completion of the Family-School Partnership Scan and the receipt of a customized Roadmap to Excellence specific to local needs, provides a clearer picture of both the successes and opportunities for improvement. This leads to the decision of which path your School of Excellence team will take in the coming months. The possibilities are limited only by imagination and dedication!

After receiving the Roadmap to Excellence, some teams may wonder where to begin. For some schools, the Roadmap may seem extensive. This is the time to assemble the School of Excellence team, focus on specific opportunities for improvement and create an action plan by following these steps.

  1. Share your Roadmap to Excellence. Give your team plenty of time to review The Roadmap to Excellence before meeting. You may want to email a copy of it to your School Leaders and Board members or even set up a shared “School of Excellence” folder on your Google Drive.Organizing your School of Excellence documents (including your surveys and Family-Partnership Scan) on a shared drive—like Google Drive—is a great way to collaborate with your team. 
  1. Meet with your team. You may want to set a designated meeting time just to discuss The Roadmap to Excellence and your next steps. At your meeting, be sure to review the National Standards for Family School Partnerships. Discuss the joint goal you set with your School Leaders as part of your Family-Partnership Scan.Have your team identify two or three Roadmap recommendations per Standard to focus on for this year. You may want to narrow down your focus by identifying those recommendations that align with your School Improvement Plan, accreditation process, or any other big plans your school has for this year.Your focused attention to making substantial progress in a few areas per National Standards will help you be successful.
  1. Create an Action Plan. Now that you have identified your goals, it’s time to determine how you’ll reach them! Brainstorm with your team of parents, students (when age appropriate), teachers, school leaders, and community members, and get their ideas and input on what they can bring to the table to reach your common goal.Maybe you’ll continue or build on programs and activities already in place, or maybe you’ll move off in a new direction. Whichever way that you decide to go, don’t forget to take advantage of the many user-friendly tools and programs that National PTA has to offer—you don’t need to re-create the wheel! 
  1. Share your goals with your school community. This is a great opportunity to engage your families. Be sure to let families know how they can get involved and help by joining a committee, volunteering their time, or attending an event.You can use general membership meetings, your PTA website, newsletter and social media to promote your program, and be sure to highlight the special events and programs that are a part of your School of Excellence journey.
  1. Revisit your Roadmap often. Revisiting your Roadmap and those specific recommendations you have identified to work on this year periodically will help keep your team focused and on task.Set time on your Agenda at each Board meeting, general membership meeting, and principal meeting to discuss your School of Excellence progress, and don’t be afraid to rework and adjust your plan once you’ve see what’s working and where you may have an opportunity for improvement.After all, every journey has its pit stops and minor detours, and sometimes you make the most interesting discoveries along the way! 

Wherever the road to Excellence may lead you in the coming months, please know that you’ve taken an important step toward a better school community. It may not always be an easy trip, but there’s no wrong place to begin your journey.

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe,

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

You CAN achieve greatness for your school, your students, and your community! Through teamwork, dedication, and shared goals, you can achieve Excellence.


Kris Garst is a past president of European PTA, and currently serves on the European PTA Board of Directors as vice president for legislation as well as the convention chair

Lauren Van Hemert served as the president of The Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School PTSA for three years. She has also served on the Nominating Committee for the Wake County PTA and has promoted the National PTA School of Excellence on the county level.

Both Kris and Lauren are recipients of the 2016 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award.

Kindergarten Registration: Don’t Delay and Register Your Child Today!

Many parents are excited and feeling anxious about their child beginning kindergarten in the fall. Some parents feel this way simply because they may have unanswered questions about registration processes, transportation to and from school, and school expectations. This feeling is normal for parents; however there are several steps parents can do now to get their son or daughter ready for this exciting day.
• Don’t put off registering your child for kindergarten. Many schools across the nation begin registration for kindergarten in the spring of the year. There is no need to fret if you may have missed the special day set aside by many schools for registrations because schools will continue to register children throughout the summer.
• Check your school district’s website to determine the location of your child’s school. These sites have quick and easy navigation tools to locate your child’s school. The district website is the best website to use because it provides you with specific boundary information based on your home address. Other websites available to find schools in your area include www.greatschools.com.
• Check with your school district or school to determine the specific documents you will need to register your child. These documents usually include a birth certificate, proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, lease or mortgage agreement), and current immunization record.
If you don’t have a copy of these documents for registration, order these documents as soon as possible, so you won’t delay the registration process. Many states have online access to order birth certificates. Contact your child’s pediatrician to obtain their immunization records.
• Visit the school with your child to help ease the transition for your child and yourself. Many schools will allow you to schedule a tour.
Take the summer months to read books with your child that correlate with the beginning of school. Look for books that will help lessen apprehensions, and most importantly, can open a channel of communication about school between you and your child… the start of a lifelong habit; parent involvement.

Honoring Jan by Honoring Diversity and Inclusion

At the end of February, we lost a tireless advocate for this association, but most especially someone who had devoted her life to making the world a better place for our children. During its March meeting, the National PTA Board of Directors approved the recommendation of the Diversity Committee to name an award focused on diversity and inclusion for Jan Harp Domene. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be more fitting. Jan had a deep seeded passion for ensuring that everyone was included and treated with respect and fairness. She was someone who did not just ‘talk the talk’ – no, Jan did much more; she ‘walked the walk.’

You have recently had the opportunity to read about her many accomplishments, as well as her contributions as our National PTA President, 2007-2009. What I want to offer is some insight into Jan as a person worth knowing, as well as to Jan my friend.

I first met Jan when she served as NPTA Secretary-Treasurer during Linda Hodges’ administration (2003-2005). As Tennessee PTA president, I had the chance to work with her on a number of occasions and even had the good luck to have her serve as Nat Rep to one of our conventions. What I remember best about those first interactions is Jan’s warmth and sense of humor. Being around Jan could be such fun!

In the years that followed, our relationship grew from mere acquaintances to one of complete friendship. We traveled together, roomed together on occasion, sat up late into the night sharing our lives – in essence we shared a special bond, a deep friendship. There is something so remarkable about a person who can at once lead an association such as ours and also sit with you deep into the night to share all your secrets. But that was Jan!

More than that, Jan taught me many things about what it means to be a leader. It was her passion to ensure that the National PTA Board began to reflect the children and families of this country. Jan showed me that diversity does not just happen – we must work to make it happen. With each appointment to the Board and to committees, she made a conscience choice to guarantee that we would begin to set a standard for others to follow. It left an indelible mark on how I would choose to lead in the future.

When I got the call that Jan had died, I was speechless, shocked – it had to be a mistake. Her husband, Greg, asked if I could share some thoughts about Jan at her memorial. To say that it was one of the toughest things I have ever done would be an understatement. How do you sum up such a special gift as Jan in just a few minutes? Here are the words I shared at the memorial:

To know Jan meant so many things — above all was her love and devotion to Greg and her family — and her passion for her work.

Jan never went in to anything unless it was to succeed. She did not know the word “failure.” She could be a tough task master in the very best way — especially, when it came to PTA — and her passion for its ideals, and for our work.

Yet, she could be extremely thoughtful, especially in the way she could remember the little things.

In early December, we were able to spend one of those ‘perfect’ days together. We went to Newport Beach to have lunch and shop – it had been such a long, long time since we were able to spend that kind of time together. In the evening, we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant, Lin Chin’s, with Greg, Kris, Cali, her favorite niece, and friends – the family. And I was part of the family – we had such an incredible time — food, fun and laughter — it was quintessential Jan!

As she took me to the airport the next morning, she gave me an early Christmas gift – a Lenox china star, which reads ‘Believe.’ Jan believed in her family, in her mission as an advocate for children…..Jan believed in me.

I want to share her note with you, because it is so ‘her’ – “Remember we have a whole country of children depending on us and the work we do. Stay focused on them — and always believe in yourself. I am always here for you….Whatever!”

Her legacy is in the family that she loved ….in her California roots….it is in her tireless devotion to every child in this nation. Jan served as our National PTA President – one of only handful of individuals that have ever held that honor. She has left an indelible mark on an association that would not have been the same without her leadership.

Jan believed in the ‘all’ – not just the ‘one.’ She believed in the ‘end’ — not just the ‘beginning.’

Most of all, she showed us the value of a “single” life and how important each one of us truly can be in making a difference.

Our memories of the people we have loved are truly how we keep them alive. I have wonderful memories of Jan – our friendship wasn’t always smooth, but that is what made it all the richer. She was in many ways the big sister I never had – as I was part of her family, she was part ours. Mary Frances’s wedding would not have been the same with her and Greg!

It would mean the world to Jan to know that she will be remembered to future generations of PTA leaders and members through this award.

My friend, Jan, made a difference to me – much more importantly, she made a difference in PTA that will only continue to enrich and grow our association until we finally are truly reflective of the children and families that we choose to serve. Just as she dreamed!

A Successful Event for Families during Take Your Family to School Week

Editor’s note: Below is a note from two local PTA leaders in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, about their Take Your Family to School Week event. Their PTA was one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

Northrop PTSA is incredibly tired today :-), but we wanted to share the link to the pictures from our event last night. It was incredible! The event was more than we could ever have expected.

We believe the actual count for attendance is around 600 people. We had 38 tables in our common area for businesses, colleges and organizations and 12 parent round table discussions ranging from legislation and advocacy by Indiana PTA. The scholarships and financial aid information and discussion were very popular. There was also great information about preparing for college, graduation requirements, and the Indiana Department of Education sent a representative to talk about the common core state standards.

Check out these pictures at this link below. They really tell the story of our event: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.297213710342704.73912.184820444915365&type=3.

We can’t thank National PTA and the AXA Foundation enough for making this happen with the Take Your Family to School Week grant. We couldn’t have done it without the grant. The AXA Foundation is the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, and a Proud National Sponsor of PTA.

The funny part is that as soon as it was over the first comment made was, “We’re going to have to expand the area for next year!” It wasn’t a question of if we would do it again… we are already planning! Happy Take Your Family to School Week!

Kathie Green & Theresa Distelrath
Northrop PTSA Co-Presidents

My Inspirational Visit to a Local PTA for Take Your Family to School Week

I was so excited to represent National PTA as a member of the National PTA Board of Directors at a local event in honor of Take Your Family School Week. I went to Norco Elementary in Norco, California to participate in their event and present them a “big” check because they were one of 45 PTAs to receive a Take Your Family to School Week grant of $1,000.

What an amazing visit to Norco Elementary! I was amazing to see the turnout of parents. I drove two hours through heavy rain thinking that few parents would turn out… but not so. The event was supposed to be a picnic with parents, teachers, the principal and students. However, the rain caused us to move the picnic inside the cafeteria which could not hold more than one grade at a time, so each grade took turns in the picnic.

We started with the first grade class and there were many parents eating with their children. Almost every grade level had as many parents for the picnic. Sandy Ramirez, 23rd District PTA President, participated in the “big” check presentation during the third grade picnic.

In addition to mothers and grandparents, there were so many fathers taking time to be with their children. It truly was a great turnout of parents.

Norco Elementary is nestled in a horse ranch community with a diverse community of students. Amy Shainman, the school principal is wonderful! It’s no wonder the school has the support it has of the PTA and parents. I observed her interaction with parents and students and she was so caring and warm.

I wish we had pictures to share but, Kathleen Camarillo, the PTA parent who wrote and submitted the grant application, will forward the pictures of the event to us and we’ll post them then.

We did have heavy rains all day but the sun is out again in sunny California. I have lots of snow in the mountains near my home… What an inspirational experience!

Founders Day

Here at PTA, we are very proud of our history, filled as it is with such accomplishments as the establishment of universal kindergarten, a juvenile justice system, and the National School Lunch Program. In 1912, we established February 17 as Founders Day to honor our founders, Alice McLellan Birney, Selena Sloan Butler, and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, and draw attention to our legacy of service. It seemed only natural to extend our celebration to the entire school community by establishing PTA Take Your Family to School Week during the week of Founders Day.

Just as we honor our founders, for several years now, students, teachers, and school principals and staff have been welcoming families to school during this special week with family breakfasts and lunches, school assemblies, games, and many other creative activities to honor them. Parents have commented that PTA Take Your Family to School Week not only made them feel welcome to participate at school but also gave them the first real insight into how their children spend their days. For some family members, the event represents the very first time they ever walked through the school doors.

As a longtime PTA member, leader, and now National President, I can’t imagine not “going to school” with my children, meeting their teachers not only during parent-teacher conferences, but also during the day when I can see and appreciate what they do, not only for my children, but for so many children. I always enjoy spending time with other parents and their children during PTA Your Family School Week, and feel this celebration is exactly what our founders might have envisioned. After all, the dream of establishing a national PTA was first imagined when Alice McLellan Birney sat drinking lemonade during a summer retreat in Western New York with some other mothers who were as concerned as she was about the state of education and child welfare in our nation.

I wish all of our PTAs a happy Founders Day and a memorable PTA Take Your Family to School Week. Our sincere thanks to AXA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, for sponsoring this special week. If you are a parent who has never had a chance to participate in this event, what are you waiting for? We’d love to have you join us!

Thank You, Congressman Platts!

United States Representative Todd Russell Platts (PA-19) announced last week that he will not seek re-election after six terms in office. Congressman Platts is best known as one of the last Members of Congress who refuses political action committee dollars, instead relying only on personal contributions to fund each of his congressional campaigns. He’s also well-known around the Capitol for his long daily commute to and from York, Pennsylvania – choosing to forgo the convenience of a DC apartment for evenings at home with his wife and two sons. What an incredible example of family engagement!

It comes as no surprise, then, that a steadfast commitment to children is a hallmark of Platts’ Congressional service; particularly, issues of educational equity and children’s health, both PTA priorities. As a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Congressman has been a loyal champion of public education. Platts was the lead Republican sponsor of Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation in 2010 that significantly improved the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, a champion of special education funding, and has consistently bucked his own party in opposition of federal funds for private school scholarships.

During the 111th Congress, Platts teamed up with Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY/04), to secure bipartisan introduction of the Family Engagement in Education Act, serving as the lead Republican cosponsor of PTA’s signature piece of legislation. This Congress, despite a new majority and shifting political dynamic, Representative Platts assumed the lead, reintroducing the bill with Representative McCarthy by his side, in May of 2011. During committee efforts to reauthorize and improve the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind (ESEA-NCLB) Congressman Platts has been a vocal advocate for family engagement, offering  and successfully securing adoption of an amendment to save Parent Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs). Most recently, he worked to ensure inclusion of key family engagement provisions in Chairman Kline’s (R-MN/06) draft reauthorization language.

In recognition of his ongoing commitment to children and families, Representative Platts was honored with the 2011 PTA Congressional Voice for Children Award.Thank You!

At the 2011 PTA Legislative Conference, the Congressman spoke of his family as inspiration for his public service, accepting the award in honor of his mother, who he credits with being an active participant in the education of him and his four siblings.

Our PTA tagline is every child. one voice. Upon learning that Congressman Platts will be taking a bow at the close of 2012 to spend more time with his own children, we wish to sincerely thank you, Congressman Platts, for being a true voice for every child over the course of your 12 years on Capitol Hill.