PTA Reflections: Within Reach

PTA Reflections is a national program that sparks students’ imagination, curiosity and participation in the arts! Each PTA partners with their school and community to offer activities, events and awards for families to enjoy. Check out these fun ideas on how to bring Reflections to your community—in school and at home.

Reflections at School

Reflections will empower students to take charge of their own learning and make personal connections across their community. Share these ideas with teachers and school leaders to help increase student engagement and deepen learning.

TIP 1: Introduce Reflections at a faculty meeting early in the school year to offer ideas on how the annual theme can align with school and classroom goals.

TIP 2: Connect with student leaders and club sponsors who may be able to offer support to interested students before/after school or during school lunch/recess times.

Offer a Reflections Club. Host a series of after-school workshops for students to explore each arts category. Allow teachers, teaching-artists and community artists to inspire students and lend their expertise in guiding creative ideas and supporting technical skills. Coordinate with your visiting instructors ahead of time to align their activity with this year’s annual theme. Choose a time that doesn’t conflict with curricular and extra-curricular activities and provide supplies for students. Reflections activities can also be hosted by school and community partners (e.g. libraries, scout troops, YMCAs, BGCs, etc.)

Invite the Whole Family to Your Meeting. Dedicate space and provide supplies for students to have fun. Ask student leaders to share their artistic talents and inspire students to use supplies to create their own original works. Provide time at the end of your meeting for students to share their interpretations on the theme. If any works are still in progress, ask students to share their ideas/plans. Don’t forget to send everyone home with an entry form and an invitation to your Reflections celebration!

Host a Family Art Night. Welcome families to explore Reflections, together! Invite teachers, teaching artists and community artists to help you lead art-making activities based on the annual theme. Start small by offering one or two activities (e.g. Visual Arts; Literature). Or, go big by offering all six activities (e.g. Dance Choreography; Film Production; Literature; Music Composition; Photography; Visual Arts). Start the evening by announcing the theme and introducing your station leaders. End the evening by announcing your submission deadline, passing out entry forms and collecting any finished works.

Set Up a Back-to-School Reflections Table. Make sure everyone knows about Reflections when they come back to school! Inspire participation by showcasing past winning works in highly visible locations. Also, dedicate space for distributing materials and collecting entries. Consider displaying a virtual gallery or hosting student performances to draw greater attention to your Reflections station and assign a student leader or parent volunteer to help answer any questions on how to participate.

Reflections at Home 

Share these ideas with parents/guardians to help students find inspiration at home and around their community. Creative sparks can happen anywhere and sometimes all it takes is a little space and time to stretch the imagination and start the arts.

TIP: Dedicate a safe place in your home/community where students can feel welcomed to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Discover Cultural Heritage through Folk and Traditional Arts. The Folk and Traditional Arts remind us of who we are and what we believe as a family or community. They are deeply rooted in history, tradition and culture, allowing us to explore our heritage, language, religion, occupation and geographic region. Discuss your traditions and have a conversation about the types of music, dance, crafts and/or oral expression your family have created and enjoyed across generations.

Lead a Family Arts Club. Whether it’s a structured like a book club or just a discussion around the dinner table, start a conversation about the annual Reflections theme. Yes—that means fun for the adults too! Give your family members an assignment to explore what the theme means to them. Feeling ambitious? Explore an arts category each week leading up to your local entry deadline.

Host a Party for Kids. Whether it’s a birthday celebration or a simple get-together, ask your child to invite their peers to join them for an “art party.” Throughout the party, offer activities. Allow kids to share their art with each other and send them home with a treat bag. When the party ends, ask parents to complete their child’s entry form and ensure works are submitted on time.

Take a Family Field Trip. Bring the Reflections theme with you on your next family escapade! Consider places that help kids explore their world, including museums, history centers, art galleries, performance venues, libraries, cultural centers and religious institutions. You can also bring the theme with you to sporting events, playgrounds, parks and even the grocery store. Wherever you go, it’s important to help your family make connections among what they’ve learned or experienced and to the theme.

For more ideas and to access your free digital kit, visit PTA.org/Reflections!

Ethan Clark is the Manager of Education and Arts Initiatives at National PTA. 

Delegate or Do it Yourself?

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

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

But delegation is a critical component for an effective PTA.

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

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

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

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

Lisa Kensel is the Portland Council PTA President.

The Latest Tech Gadget Requires a Safety Talk with Your Kids

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

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

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

The Smart Talk covers a range of topics, including:

Safety

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

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

Privacy

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

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

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

Bullying

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

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

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

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

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

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


Joe Gervais is a LifeLock cybersecurity expert.

Is Your PTA in Compliance with the IRS?

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Are you looking to support your PTA by becoming a better leader? One way you can help your Local Unit PTA excel is by making sure it is in compliance with the IRS!

Many local and state leaders don’t realize that every PTA, due to being a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, must file some type of paperwork with the IRS every year. To help support our local and state PTAs with this issue, National PTA is developing a series of e-Learning courses on how to maintain your 501(c)(3) status regardless of your PTA size or income!

The first of these courses, Maintaining Your PTA’s 501(c)(3) Status, is set to be released Nov. 14. This course looks at the issue of revocation through the eyes of a Local PTA leader and walks you through the process of maintaining your Local PTA’s 501(c)(3) status.

In just 10 minutes, this e-Learning course will help you will identify the last time your PTA filed paperwork with the IRS and learn how to properly fill out your IRS paperwork for filing on time each year.

Have more questions about managing your PTA’s IRS paperwork? No problem! Maintaining Your PTA’s 501(c)(3) Status will be only the first in a series of finance courses based on this subject that will be released over the next few months!

Have general questions about managing your PTA’s finances? We can help with that, too! Over the past few months we have released other finance-related e-Learning courses to help local PTA leaders with some other areas of interest:

  • Quick Guide to Budget Basics
  • Quick Guide to 501(c)(3) Status
  • Quick Guide to Taking & Approving Meeting Minutes

All three of the above e-Learning courses cover a specific topic in under 10 minutes or less! These “micro-courses” are different from normal full length courses in that a specific topic is covered in depth over a short period of time, rather than covering many different topics over 30-45 minutes.

We believe that these new micro-courses give our members the flexibility to learn about a subject they are interested in or need help with over a very short amount of time, which fits better into all of their busy lives.

To access the PTA eLearning courses, visit PTA.org/eLearning. You will find our entire e-Learning library of 17 full-length courses, three micro-courses and four of our most popular e-Learning courses in Spanish!

Make sure to be on the lookout for more updates on National PTA eLearning courses in the future via National PTA’s Twitter and Facebook pages!


Jonathan Baker is the e-learning manager at National PTA.

All PTA Members Have an Obligation to Vote in Elections

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“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it.” –Congressman John Lewis

Every day, throughout this nation and overseas, PTA members are hard at work, striving to better the lives of all children. Collectively, our non-partisan voices have made a positive impact nationwide.

Just as we speak up for children through our advocacy work, we also need to exercise the privilege given to every U.S. citizen—the right to vote. Not only should we vote, we need to motivate the people in our schools and communities to vote.

As child advocates, we need to engage, inform and educate our membership on the issues facing our children and education on the ballot today. We need to provide them with the tools they need to vote intelligently at the ballot box.

Elections can have consequences to our mission and we need to make sure our elected officials will work to serve our children well.

So, how can PTA members get involved in non-partisan civic activities? There are a several ways for PTAs to engage their membership as Election Day approaches.

View the list of civic engagement activities your PTA can do as a nonprofit, non-partisan organization below and check out our Election Guide for more options.

  • Organize voter registration drives (check state and local laws)
  • Host candidate forums
  • Work with other organizations like the League of Women Voters to distribute information on state and local issues that may be on the ballot
  • Hold or participate in a Mock Student/Parent Election on Nov. 3
  • Encourage 18-year-old students to vote and help them register, and plan a trip to the polls together
  • Ask your membership to familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues
  • Help members identify the location of their polling place and its hours of operation
  • Inform parents and families of the proper identification and additional information they need to bring with them to the polls in order to vote in your state
  • Provide information to your school community about alternative ways to vote in your state (absentee, early voting, vote-by-mail)

Voter turnout in the United States has steadily declined. A Pew Research Center study shows that in 2012 the U.S. trailed most developed countries in voter turnout, coming in at number 27 with a 53.6% voter turnout. Often people do not vote because of time constraints, lack of information about the process or because they think that their vote will not matter.

Have your PTA members mentioned that they feel their vote does not make a difference? Remind them that elections have been won by just one vote—and in the not-too-distant past, 537 votes made the difference in a presidential election.

If we as PTA members do not speak up for all children, who will? Make a difference in the lives of children. VOTE on Nov. 8 and encourage all child advocates to cast their ballots.

 As you head to the polls, remember these wise words from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


 

Latha Krishnaiyer is the past president of Florida PTA and a current National PTA bylaws and policy committee member.

Summer Tips for Incoming PTA Leaders

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Summer vacation is here! While these months can be filled with road trips to the beach, summer camps, long nights and lots of “R&R” time—summer is also an opportunity to plan a smooth transition into the upcoming school year. Just as teachers must plan the next school year’s curriculum, PTA leaders have an assignment of their own, too.

At the end of their term, outgoing leaders transfer their procedures books to the incoming leaders. Even if an outgoing leader thinks the information is of no value, with these books you will have a better idea of what was done in the past and how the PTA went about doing it. Outgoing leaders can also offer valuable insight on things yet to be done, what they would do better and suggestions on how to be more effective and efficient in the performance of your new duties. Take notes and don’t be afraid to ask questions!

Start planning now for your own smooth transition into office. Here are a few tips for incoming local leaders to consider:

Share contact information with outgoing leaders and set up a directory to be and remain connected. With previous leaders’ contact information, you’ll be able to reach out for additional support throughout the year or to ask for insight as problems arise.

Review procedures books given to you from outgoing leaders. If there are none, do not worry; start one by getting and reading your local unit bylaws. The PTA unit’s secretary should have a copy. If you can’t find it, call your state/congress office; they’ll be happy to mail or email you one.

Visit PTAKit.org and review the sections that may apply to your new position.  If you don’t see your position listed, the information this website contains is of value to the entire PTA board.  Even if you’re an experienced PTA leader, it is worth reviewing every year as it is updated with the most current information and trends to help you and your unit to be successful.

Check out your state PTA’s website.  They may have information that can start you off on the right foot for the year. For example, templates, training opportunities, resources, program materials, newsletters, etc. You might find ways to connect with your state through Facebook, Instagram, Legislative Alerts, Twitter, etc.

Take advantage of the e-learning courses. National PTA offers online training courses to help you grow as a leader at PTA.org/eLearning. Although you may want to start with what you’ll need for your own PTA position, please take all courses. As a board member, it’s important to know the role of each position and what to expect.

Meet with your school principal to learn about school goals and objectives for the incoming year. Share with the principal the programs the PTA would like to hold (Reflections, Family Reading Experience Powered by Kindle, Healthy Lifestyles, Fire Up Your Feet, Take Your Family to School Week, Teacher Appreciation Week, Connect for Respect, etc.) and how these programs will support the goals and objectives of the school. Think about becoming a School of Excellence in the process!

Set up a communications plan. Newsletters and social media keep everyone informed, engaged and proud of what the PTA is doing. Go through your PTA’s goals, identify specific strategies your PTA or committee will use to achieve each goal and then create a step-by-step plan for each strategy. This is key to growing membership and gaining members and community support.

Have a successful PTA year and thank you so much for your dedication and commitment to the mission of PTA!


Ivelisse Castro is a national service representative at National PTA.

 

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Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid in Communicating with Your PTA

shutterstock_216261145Effective communication is essential to driving PTA member engagement. Yet all too often, we see PTA leaders make several crucial mistakes. Here are 10 of the most common communication pitfalls and how you can avoid them with your PTA.

  1. Communicating with your PTA members only when you need money. Yes, school fundraising is important. But your PTA members want to know about other things as well, such as school events, PTA programs and volunteer opportunities. Sharing this information will give everyone a deeper connection to the school and to your PTA. That deeper connection will allow you to raise more money when you organize your next fundraiser.
  1. Communicating too much. If you find yourself hitting the “Send” button several times a day, you’re communicating too much. Few parents enjoy receiving multiple emails every day from their PTA leader. If you have a lot to say, try combining your requests and updates into a single email or newsletter. Parent portal platforms such as SimplyCircle allow you to consolidate all your communication into a single Daily Digest.
  1. Communicating at inconsistent frequency. One week you’re sending many emails per day. Then your members don’t hear from you for a month. Unless there’s a good reason for your silence (like a long school holiday), you should pick your communication frequency (daily, weekly or monthly) and stick with it. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: the larger the group, the less frequently you should be communicating. Plus, knowing that your communications always come out on Mondays at 3 p.m. will “condition” your group members to open your emails. That translates into higher member engagement for you.
  1. Not being clear about what’s most important. When you put your most important request at the bottom of a 4-page long newsletter (and you should think twice about sending out a 4-page long newsletter in the first place), your critical call to action will more than likely never get seen. Instead, put your main request at the beginning. It should appear both in the subject line and at the top of your email or newsletter.
  1. Making it difficult to take action. The whole point of communication is to drive member engagement, right? So make it as easy as possible for members to engage. If you’re asking them to volunteer, let them sign up with one click. Don’t send them to a paper signup at the school office, or to a spreadsheet that half of the school can’t open. Parent portal platforms such as SimplyCircle integrate signups, event RSVPs and post commenting. When you make it simple for people to volunteer and otherwise engage, you’ll find more of them will do it.
  1. Starting a reply-all email mess. This one is a personal pet peeve of mine. I hate getting emails that ask people to bring food to an upcoming school event where everyone is on the “to” line. Within minutes, my inbox is flooded with “reply all” responses: “I will bring watermelons”. “I won’t be attending”. “What kind of cheese do people like?” Instead, use a platform like SimplyCircle. It allows people to sign up without the blow-by-blow commentary of who is doing what. If people are commenting on your posts, all the comments are summarized in one convenient Daily Digest. If you must communicate by regular email, then put everyone’s email addresses on the Bcc line.
  1. Not respecting people’s privacy. There’s another reason why you should put everyone on the Bcc line. It signals that you respect their privacy. I remember freaking out when I got an email from a non-profit organization I just joined, and saw my email address displayed on the “to” line. Needless to say, I severed my ties with that nonprofit in seconds. People are rightly paranoid about their privacy. So either move everyone to the “Bcc” line, or use a service like SimplyCircle. It hides email addresses, while still allowing everyone to communicate.
  1. Not providing easy opt-out or unsubscribe options. In 2003, Congress passed a law called CAN-SPAM. The law requires senders of commercial messages to let recipients unsubscribe from unwanted emails. While PTAs are not commercial entities that are bound by CAN-SPAM law, it is still a good idea to let people opt out. Here’s why. If you irritate people with frequent communications, and don’t let them get off your mailing list, they will mark your email as “spam”. Too many spam complaints will ruin your email deliverability. That means that all your emails will start landing in people’s spam folders. Needless to say, not being able to connect your PTA members is not effective for great outreach. So let people unsubscribe if they want to.
  1. Making typos or other mistakes in your communication. Spelling or grammatical errors make communication look unprofessional. Fortunately, these errors are easy to avoid. Just run a spelling and grammar check before sending something out. Also be sure to check your email for accuracy and completeness. You don’t want to have to contact a thousand people with an “oops, I got the date wrong” email. Remember, once you hit that “send” button, there’s no way to unring that bell. The email is out.
  1. Leaving some people out. Make sure your communications include everyone. For example, you should not limit your updates to just paying PTA members. Everybody needs to be informed about school and PTA events. In fact, if you keep parents in the loop and make them feel like part of the community, they might decide to join your PTA. If you have a large Hispanic population at your school, you should try to write in both English and Spanish. Using a free program like Google Translate is better than nothing. But you should be able to get translation help from someone at your school who speaks both languages.

If you avoid these 10 common communication mistakes, you will get higher member engagement.

Want to learn more about how you can simplify PTA member communication? Visit SimplyCircle.com.

Happy communicating!


Dr. Elena Krasnoperova is the Founder and CEO of SimplyCircle, a popular parent portal for PTAs, PTOs and other parent communities. She is a mother of two children in elementary school, and an active member of the PTA.

Five Tips for Healthy Food without the Fight

March is National Nutrition Month®, launched by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and a perfect time to refresh (and brighten up!) your family’s go-to meals.

MyPlate, which is the newest version of the “food pyramid,” helps us visualize what a balanced meal should be: full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low fat dairy. But many adults and children don’t eat this way – we eat too many refined grains, and not enough colorful fruits and veggies.

Photo credit: Chartwells – Kids cooking and measuring ingredients, Clintondale, MI

Photo credit: Chartwells – Kids cooking and measuring ingredients, Clintondale, MI

It can be tough introducing new foods to our families, especially kids, from taking the time to find and prepare new recipes to making sure everyone eats them. Meals can sometimes feel like a fight between serving the meals we know our kids need, and just preparing the food our kids want. Here are some tips you might find useful for navigating mealtime:

  1. Photo credit: Chartwells – Garden Wilton, CT

    Photo credit: Chartwells – Garden Wilton, CT

    Make It a Team Effort – Involve everyone in the shopping and preparation effort – they’ll be more open to trying new foods this way. Have your kids pick out new vegetables at the supermarket to try at home, recruit them to wash fresh produce, tear apart lettuce leaves, and measure ingredients.

  2. Naming Fun – In our café’s, we’ve found that giving foods fun and enticing names can increase the number of students who choose and eat that food. If you plan out your family’s meals for the week, post a menu on the fridge and use names like “X-Ray Vision Carrots,” or “Crazy Crunchy Kale.”
  3. Photo credit: Chartwells – Chef Table Student Feedback, Ann Arbor, MI

    Photo credit: Chartwells – Chef Table Student Feedback, Ann Arbor MI

    Try It Tuesday – It may take a few times of “trying” before you or your kids begin to really like a particular food. In our districts, we host chef tables in the café to expose students to new recipes before they’re served. Consider sampling a new vegetable dish each week (make only a few servings) and suggest everyone take a bite. Don’t push too hard – it’s OK if the answer is no. Try vegetables in different forms, and keep trying them – this one requires some real patience!

  4. Grow a Healthy Appetite – There’s nothing better than eating food you’ve grown yourself. Start a small windowsill herb garden, convert a corner of your yard, or buy a plot in a community garden – as an added bonus, gardening is great physical activity!
  5. The Power of Choice – We’ve worked with researchers at Cornell University and found that introducing a greater variety of fruits and vegetables to kids more frequently, while still giving them the ability to choose what they take and when, can increase their chances of eating these healthier offerings.
Photo credit: Chartwells - Salad bar day, Grand Blank, MI

Photo credit: Chartwells – Salad bar day, Grand Blank, MI

We’ve used the above in our own cafés to encourage healthy eating habits, and I hope you’ll try them at home with your family too!


Whitney Bateson, RD, is the Director of Nutrition and Wellness for Chartwells School Dining Services. Chartwells provides meals to almost 4,000 schools nationwide. Learn more at ChartwellsSchools.com.

Chartwells School Dining Services has a financial interest in National PTA, and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA. National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Slide image photo credit: Chartwells – Girl Scouts making meatballs, Forest Hills, MI