Element of a Confident Parent – Looking for the Good

Originally posted on Confident Parents Confident Kids

Though the sunshine sparkles through the yellow leaves during these beautiful Fall days, there is less light in the morning and evening. And we’ve been doing this school thing for a few months now. We’ve poured it on and now we are slowing down a bit – tired. My husband and I noticed that some of the routines that used to run smoothly are in need of an update. In particular, we’ve noticed that our son leaves his dishes behind for someone else to take care of, whether it’s breakfast or dinner. He’s picked them up, cleaned them off and placed them in the dishwasher in the past. We know he can do it. But he’s forgetting regularly. And we began to remind him but realized we had down-shifted into nagging. When reminders happen day-after-day, then a parent knows that she’s entered the hamster wheel, a vicious cycle going nowhere. So the question becomes, “How does learning take place? How is change facilitated?”

We informally – Mom, Dad and E, our nine-year-old, sat around one night after dinner and brainstormed solutions. “The taking-in-of-the-dishes seems to be challenging. It’s hard to remember when you’ve got play you are eager to get to. What could help you remember?” I said and we started thinking off all kinds of ways to help him remember with E chiming in his ideas. “I could wear one of those rubber bracelets.” Or “I could not get dessert until my dishes are returned.” We talked about the possibilities of each and how they might work. And finally, he resolved that if we say simply “Dishes.” quietly when he’s asking to leave the table, that’s all the help he needs to remember. And it’s worked exceedingly well.

In addition, my husband and I resolved to be certain and notice when he did his routines without our reminders. So often, we play the “Gotcha!” game as parents. “You forgot this.” “You left that behind.” “You made a mess here.” And because we are so busy focused on the mistakes of life, we forget ourselves to point to the good even though we all tend to forget daily tasks. “Ooops, you are going to have to wear a day-old shirt because I forgot to get the laundry done last night.” is a common refrain of my own.

It doesn’t take long to recognize the good but it does take some presence of mind. We do have to pay attention to our kids not to catch them doing wrong but to catch them doing right. If kids are reinforced by recognizing their faults, they too will focus on their faults. And along with the fear of making mistakes (which often leads to more of the same), they will accumulate shame for their long list of missteps.

We can all use some reinforcing of the good. But as parents, we need help to remember. Habit changes can be tough for anyone. And looking for the good does not seem to come naturally to most of us problem-solvers who are ready to “fix” things. So how do we cultivate our own habit of looking for the good that our children do?

We need not shower them with praise. In fact, research shows that too much praise – or praise that is not specific – “Good job!” – or praise that is over-the-top, does not help reinforce positive behaviors. It doesn’t seem genuine and can actually de-motivate children.1 So in striving for authentic feedback that will provide a balanced view of children’s actions, here are some thoughts.

Step back and reflect.

Find a quiet moment to think about your feedback to family members. You might ask yourself the following questions. Consider these as they relate to each family member. Write your responses since the physical act of writing (by hand) will help solidify the thoughts in your brain. Conduct your own self-assessment so that you know how you can and want to improve.

  • What are typical daily comments I make in relation to _______________ (insert family members) behavior?
  • How many of those comments are about problems I see with others’ behaviors?
  • How many of those comments recognize positive contributions?
  • How frequently do I comment on that particular problem behavior? (twice a day, weekly?)
  • Does the behavior truly create a problem for the family? And if so, how can I facilitate a behavior change?

a.) Have I adequately modeled the behavior for my child so that I am certain he knows how to perform the task? Could he use a refresher in doing the task together with encouragement? Check out this article on interactive modeling for more.

b.) Or if he knows exactly how to do the task, can we hold a family meeting or talk just the two of us and brainstorm solutions on ways to solve the problem?

c. Can we create a plan for our newly revised routine? Formalize it by writing it down and posting it where your kids can see and be reminded by their plan they devised with you.

Set a goal.

Once you’ve identified not only what you don’t want to do but what habits you want to adopt, set a positive goal for yourself. What will you do to help yourself recognize the good?

Consider developmental milestones.

So often the behaviors that annoy us about children relate directly to the developmental milestones on which they are working. By the very nature of learning and achieving new levels of awareness and ability, they will be making mistakes. It’s a necessary part of how we all learn. So at this time when you are looking to make your own habit changes, read about your child’s age and stage and find out what they are working on. Then when they make mistakes, you’ll be able to recognize and connect it to their development. It will allow you greater empathy resulting in added patience and understanding. You’ll be ready to support their learning versus falling into the tendency to scold them for their mistakes. Check out the Parent Toolkit for development ages/stages. Download the free application that will send you updates on your specific child’s development.

Co-create a routine.

Since mornings were getting rough and I noticed the reminding was about to turn into a cycle of nagging, E and I worked on updating full-morning-routine-poster-2016his morning routine poster one day after school. We talked through specific times that were challenging to get through in the morning. “How are you going to remember to brush your teeth?” He enjoyed developing his routine poster. And yet again, it worked. Our mornings have gone smoothly ever since and I have been intentional about reinforcing his positive behaviors with comments like, “Woah, I didn’t say a word of a reminder this morning and we were out of the door on time. You completed all of your tasks and your backpack is ready.” Check out this video short on the morning routine if you need to revisit yours to help that time of day run smoothly.

Establish accountability.

How are you going to keep yourself accountable to the goal you’ve set? How are you going to remember to recognize positive behaviors? Sometimes, the most powerful accountability comes from those around us. So if you let family members know about the goal you are working toward, they can check in with you. Those small reminders can help support your habit change.

Though many believe that we are only hard-wired for self-centeredness and the good must be socialized into us, in fact, research confirms that we are born with both the capacity for self-centeredness but also, altruism and empathy.2 Our very survival is based on our ability to connect with others. Studies with babies have shown that even those new to the world will try and assist others – babies or adults – who are suffering and need help.3

If we view ourselves as here to “fix” our kids, our kids will feel as if they need fixing. But if we view our kids as learners – as inherently ready to help and do good – they will help and do good. And if we are able to regularly find and shine a light on their strengths and the many ways they contribute to our family lives, they will grow with an identity that is strong and resilient.

I was recently reminded of contributions my son makes to our lives that I tend to take for granted. My Mom came to celebrate her birthday. And her grandson made her smile and laugh nearly the entire time she was visiting. As she hugged me goodbye, she expressed how much she appreciated her grandson making her laugh and how rare it was for her to experience laughter daily in her own quiet household of two adults. I had been consumed with the chaos and busyness of all of my responsibilities that day. What an important reminder it was for me and a helpful wake-up call to recognize the significant contribution of my child. When he’s grown and moved out, it’s the laughter I will recall not the dirty dishes.


About the Author: Jennifer Miller is the author of Confident Parents, Confident Kids and a recent guest on the National PTA podcast, Notes from the Backpack.

References

1. Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards; The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise and other bribes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

2. Szalavitz, M. & Perry, B. (2010). Born for Love, Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

3. Keltner, D. (2009). Born to be Good, The Science of a Meaningful Life. NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Excellence in Action: 2019’s Top 3 National PTA Schools of Excellence

Each year, the top three National PTA Schools of Excellence are selected to receive the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for demonstrating outstanding success in engaging families in student success and school improvements. These awards are selected by a team of Past National PTA Presidents and are the highest honor National PTA offers for success in family engagement.

The 2019 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients are: Mark Twain Elementary PTA (California) who received the top Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award, Norman Rockwell PTA (Washington) who received a Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit and Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA (Florida) who also received a Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit.

In addition to national recognition, thanks to the generous support of the Hearst Foundation, the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Awardee receives a $2,000 grant for their school and the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Merit Awardees each receive $500 grants for their schools.

We are so pleased to share with you just a snapshot of the fantastic work our 2019 National PTA Phoebe Apperson Hearst recipients put into building and growing family-school partnerships in their communities.

Mark Twain Elementary PTA, California

We were so impressed by the efforts of our 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award winner. Mark Twain Elementary School PTA began their School of Excellence journey with a vision to become a stable organization that leads in engaging with and meeting the needs of all families. The PTA focused on several goals early in their planning process and used these goals to build an organized approach to family-school engagement.

  • Improve leadership and member training, planning and organization
  • Refresh traditional PTA programs and add new ideas
  • Expand funding sources and eliminate inefficient activities
  • Increase school and community engagement

With these in mind, the PTA created an Excellence Team including PTA members, the principal, student support services staff, district communications staff and bilingual speakers. With their team set, the Excellence Team planned to combine refreshed traditions and new activities to best serve their current families.

One example of this combination was Mark Twain Elementary School PTA’s re-themed tradition: JOG-A-THON 2019: Run Toward Your Future. Students wore college gear or a shirt expressing their desired career path. Students were invited to help create a muraled billboard with miniature squares depicting their future career plans.

Mark Twain Elementary School PTA also launched several new events and programs, including their first-ever PTA College and Career Readiness Month in March with a combined Read Across America/Career Day. During the latter, the PTA invited parents to both read books and speak about their careers. In the usually female-heavy volunteer base, four new dads showed up and declared they would return next year.

The survey results Mark Twain Elementary School PTA eventually collected reflect just how much work went into achieving excellence. 100% of the year-end survey questions reflected an increase in the ‘always’ rating and 95% of questions showed ‘always’ selected greater than 50% of the time. The PTA even saw an 11% increase in the number of surveys submitted at year-end!

Norman Rockwell PTA, Washington

Norman Rockwell PTA, one of our two 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit winners, highlighted communication as the key to their success in the School of Excellence program.

The PTA’s emphasis on communication provided a deeper understanding of school programs, educated parents on transitioning students between grade levels and created more consistent communication to reach families where they were.

After a positive response to new, multi-lingual ‘Welcome’ signs, the Norman Rockwell PTA knew they needed to capitalize on their momentum towards consistent communication. To do so, the PTA decided to foster their partnership with the principal’s ‘Coffee with Mr. Clark’, a monthly meeting for families to discuss important topics with the principal in an open, casual Q & A format.

The PTA found this format was especially useful as it made it easy for families to be heard, while also allowing parents and the principal to work towards a common understanding. Their work to foster this partnership paid off and ‘Coffee with Mr. Clark’ reached at least 50 parents. Norman Rockwell PTA hopes to double attendance next year.

Norman Rockwell PTA’s focus on communication did not stop with coffee, however. The PTA also worked to involve parents in planning for students transitioning between grade levels. Using National PTA’s Parent’s Guides to Student Success, the Beagle Bugle, Norman Rockwell PTA’s weekly newsletter, featured one grade level for two weeks and linked parents to an overview of key topics children learn in their English literacy and math classrooms. Each article presented activities for families to do at home to ensure students meet core expectations and support academic standards. The PTA went one step further and, before publishing the content, met with teacher groups to review the content and ensure their grade level met the outlined standards.

The concentrated effort Norman Rockwell PTA placed on communication did not go unnoticed in their state. Due to the PTAs efforts, the Washington PTA awarded Norman Rockwell PTA the Silver Award of Excellence for Outstanding Communication Strategy, an award that recognizes local PTAs for their use of multiple forms of communication.

Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA, Florida

Our second 2019 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit winner, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA in Florida, decided to focus on improving the education of their students by engaging more families during their School of Excellence program year. To accomplish this, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted events and programs that helped families to get to know and relate with one another both in and out of school.

One successful program was Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA involvement in the National PTA Reflections art program. The PTA had a total of 52 entries in visual arts and literature and have two became district level Reflections winners.

To further acknowledge the Reflections participants, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted an awards ceremony and invited parents to attend and recognize their children, as well as other participants. Following the Reflections competition, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA hosted an art show for all second through fifth grade students. Parents were able to walk through a gallery filled with many colorful masterpieces and talk amongst each other.

Additionally, the PTA hosted a family night at the local ice arena for families to come together and socialize, as well as a family night with the Miami Heat basketball team, which included a performance by the Jane S. Roberts K8 Center band students before the game.

The impact of these events was reflected in end of the year survey results, which showed a 26% increase in responses relating to encouraging families to volunteer, showing respect to all families, listening to families concerns and establishing policies to recognize diversity.

Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA also worked to strengthen their school’s presence in the community. The PTA reached out to a few organizations to begin building partnerships. At the first PTSA meeting, the PTA invited a financial planner to give a presentation to families in attendance. Additionally, in the school’s main office, the PTA put together a parent resource center that provided families with valuable information from various organizations in the community. In partnership with the Student Council, the school and PTA also gave back to the local community with a food and toy drive. The PTA’s work to improve community relations was show in end of the year survey data which reflected an average increase of 17% as it relates to community partnerships and resources.

By the end of the School of Excellence program, Jane S. Roberts K8 Center significantly improved their family-school partnerships, made their school community more welcoming and inclusive, increased participation in PTA events and fostered more productive conversations with families. The School of Excellence program allowed Jane S. Roberts K8 Center PTSA to remain aligned with the PTA’s mission to make every student’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering their families and the local community.

Congratulations once again to these amazing PTAs and to all of our 2019-2021 National PTA Schools of Excellence. The work that these PTAs accomplished shows just how much impact a dedicated PTA, school and community can have in just a year’s time.

Take the first step in becoming a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence by enrolling now through Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence and visit PTA.org/Hearst for the full narratives our Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awardees.

Email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Ellie Miller, Programs & Partnerships Specialist at National PTA.

Why Should You Listen to the New PTA Podcast?

From PTA flyers and permission slips to handwritten updates from your child’s teacher, every day your child comes home with notes in their backpack. How do you keep track of everything that’s going on? With limited time, it can be difficult to figure out where to invest your energy, when it comes to engaging your child’s school. That’s why we launched Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast!

Each 30-minute episode offers frank advice and ideas from researchers, parents, educators and other experts. Guiding these conversations are our hosts, LaWanda Toney, Director of Communications, and Helen Westmoreland, Director of Family Engagement, who are both mothers navigating their own parenting journeys.

The podcast answers those questions you have always been wondering but weren’t sure who to ask, like:

What questions should you be asking to make the most of your child’s Parent-Teacher Conference? We turned to Luz Santana, Executive Director of the Right Questions Institute to provide her expert opinion.

What should school discipline look like at your child’s school and what does restorative justice even mean? Former Secretary of Education John King sheds light on why so many students get suspended and where we go from here.

Is it possible to avoid wanting to tear your hair out when trying to help your child complete their homework every night? Researcher Steve Sheldon offers evidence-based tips for making the most of homework time, without the stress.

How can you possibly help your child navigate the world of hormones, crushes and frenemies now that they’ve entered middle school? We chatted with school counselor Phyllis Fagell, who will provide concrete strategies for making the most of your child’s adolescent years.

Notes from the Backpack covers all of these topics and more, providing you with the practical information you need to make the most of your child’s school experience.

So how can you learn more about this new resource and start listening? Visit PTA.org/BackpackNotes for a full list of the episodes we have released so far, and more information about the podcast. You can also listen or download on all major podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Leave us a review to let us know how we’re doing!

We want you hear from you on social media! Engage with other parents in conversations around the topics we discuss on the podcast and share your own thoughts, advice and parenting anecdotes on social media using #BackpackNotes.

Step Up Your Family Engagement

Dance can be a powerful way to foster Social Emotional Learning (SEL), celebrate cultural diversity and promote parent involvement.

Many parents are reluctant to participate in school activities, possibly due to feeling intimidated by the school building or not feeling they have enough spare time to attend. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a parent whose heart doesn’t melt the day their own child invites them to dance as their partner.

As a PTA leader, offering programs that promote community engagement through healthy, culturally-enriching events should be one of your primary goals. Though it’s often overlooked, dance has the power to engage students, parents/caregivers and school staff in an activity that creates joy and unity.

Beyond the obvious health and cultural benefits, research indicates a strong connection between dance and Social Emotional Learning (SEL). The most successful SEL programs use active forms of learning to teach students, and evidence suggests that dance out-paces other forms of physical activity AND other forms of arts learning when it comes to measurable SEL outcomes.

How Dance Connects to SEL

Schools across the country are prioritizing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and looking for ways to embed SEL into all aspects of school culture and climate. Dance is a proven strategy for fostering positive outcomes in the three major dimensions of SEL.

  1. Intrapersonal SEL Skills: Self-Awareness and Self-Management are fundamentally rooted in the body, making dance an excellent tool for building such competencies as emotional awareness, accurate self-perception, and impulse control.
  2. Interpersonal SEL Skills: Many dance and movement activities promote teamwork and cooperation and provide rich opportunities for developing Relationship Skills and Social Awareness.
  3. Responsible Decision-Making: Dance and movement can also be a wonderful way for students work on problem-solving, develop the ability to evaluate and reflect, and consider their responsibility to help make the world a better place.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Considerations

When choosing resources to use for dance or movement-based activities, keep in mind that cultural dance, in particular, can be useful in fostering cross-cultural understanding and respect. By studying dance forms that originate in other parts of the world, students gain understanding of the history, identities and values of others.

Dance can also help students and their families overcome cultural and linguistic obstacles due to its focus on nonverbal communication. For English language learners in particular, dance provides the opportunity to express oneself through the body and is shown to bolster self-esteem.

Two Left Feet? No Problem!

In many schools, the greatest barrier to bringing in a dance program is a lack of comfort with dance on the part of the adults in charge. For most students, permission to move—and especially moving to music—offers considerable stress relief and an immediate boost to their sense of optimism and joy.

Using dance and movement activities to foster learning is not as hard as it sounds, and a number of resources exist to take the pressure off of teachers and program facilitators to lead the activities.

One such program, EduMotion: SEL Journeys, is a digital experience that allows groups of participants to explore the world while focusing on themes like diversity, empathy and kindness. Each journey starts with participants choosing a cultural destination and then following along to learn simple movements inspired by a dance from the selected culture. By the end of the journey, participants are engaged with one another in movement, playing the roles of “Joymaker” and “Peacemaker” as they dance together.

How Your PTA Can Integrate Cultural Dance

With the right approach, dance can contribute to a positive school culture through integration during the school day as well as during out-of-school time and family engagement events. Your PTA can be an ideal catalyst to introduce a dance program into your school that benefits the entire community.

During the School Day

Invite teachers to be part of the experience. Provide resources like EduMotion that enable them to explore, learn and/or create a dance with their students without placing pressure on them to teach dance steps. Classroom teachers can include this activity in morning meetings, during social studies or at another transition time. It can also be a great end-of-week reward (Friday dance party, anyone?). Physical education and music/art teachers are the most likely advocates for a community engagement-oriented dance program, so try reaching out to them first!

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS? Teachers who embrace this strategy will see a boost in student morale, improved peer relationships and better academic performance. Multiple studies prove that active students learn better, so the time teachers take to integrate dance into the weekly schedule is time well-invested.

SHARE THE EXPERIENCE…

  • Classroom Dance-Along: Teachers can invite parents or another classroom in for an interactive dance exchange.
  • Assembly program: Classrooms can practice and present different dances in an assembly program. Most parents won’t pass up an opportunity to see their child perform!

After-School & Family Engagement Events

Your PTA can host an after-school club or incorporate dance into an existing after-school program. Working with a community partner who specializes in dance is one common solution. Alternately, a program like EduMotion: SEL Journeys offers online content that a parent volunteer or OST program leader can facilitate easily—no dance experience required!

For special events, you can host a parent-child dance, or incorporate a dance activity station at an event such as a Multicultural/International Night, Health Fair, etc. Dance can even connect to STEMyou’re your next STEM + Families event, encourage students to think about coding as a series of dance steps they can put together to create different outcomes. With a little imagination, you can connect dance to all kinds of themed events you may host throughout the year!

Just like trying anything new at your school, the first few steps are often the hardest. While adding dance and movement to your programming may sound intimidating, the potential benefits are well worth it. Please reach out and connect if you’d like some moral support to make it happen in your school!


NATIONAL PTA EXCLUSIVE OFFER: EduMotion has a special offer available for PTA program leaders. Click to learn more!

Margot Toppen is an educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts and physical education. In 2006, she developed Dancing with Class, a program delivered to hundreds of schools each year.

How You Can Help Teachers Tackle Tough Topics

Today’s classrooms are heavily influenced by the communities in which they are located. In addition to teaching, educators often have to address challenging social ills such as bullying, youth violence and mental health issues—which impact students’ learning potential and can have long-term impacts on their well-being.

According to the 2018 “Voices from the Classroom” survey of America’s educators, teachers are concerned about school safety and want more training on how best to address school violence and improve student behavior using non-punitive strategies.

How can you as a PTA leader help educators with these issues?

WE Teachers Resource

To address the need for resources, Walgreens has launched WE Teachers, an initiative to support teachers and empower students. In partnership with the ME to WE Foundation and Mental Health America, the WE Teachers initiative provides all educators with free tools and resources to tackle issues related to youth violence, poverty, diversity and inclusion, bullying, and mental health and wellbeing.

WE Teachers is a resource for teachers to support students who have experienced—or are currently experiencing—traumatic situations, as well as to prevent those traumas in the first place. The goal is to help teachers create trauma-informed classrooms where there is a safe environment to foster student growth and an understanding of the impact of trauma and adverse life experiences—such as a student experiencing homelessness, feeling unsafe in their own neighborhoods or the trauma of being bullied.

Identify, Secure, Introduce and Help

Through WE Teachers, educators will access online digital training modules specially created to help them:

  1. Identify and assess the tough issues affecting their students
  2. Secure the tools needed to address the issues in a supportive manner
  3. Introduce new experiential learning techniques in the classroom
  4. Help students become more socially conscious, compassionate and engaged citizens.

The modules will begin rolling out online this fall and will be available to teachers across the U.S. and Puerto Rico in both English and Spanish. Introduce them to educators at your school at your next PTA meeting!

Shop Back-to-School Smart

Through September 7,  when customers shop back-to-school at Walgreens they join in the company’s commitment to supporting teachers across America. Shoppers can track the impact that ME to WE Proud Supporter brands are making at Walgreens.com/MeToWe. Customers can also make a direct impact through cash donations at the register, which will help fund additional WE Teachers resources for educators.

Nominate a Special Teacher for a $500 WE Teachers Award

Visit a local Walgreens stores to learn how to nominate a special teacher in their community for a WE Teachers Award. A minimum of 500 deserving educators will each receive $500 Walgreens gift cards to purchase classroom supplies—the average amount (and some teachers spend more) of a teacher’s annual out-of-pocket expenses. Teachers can also apply directly. To learn more about the WE Teachers Awards, visit Walgreens.com/MeToWe.

Excellence in 3 Ways

We are so pleased to announce our newest class of National PTA Schools of Excellence. The amazing 2019-2021 designees consist of 326 amazing PTA leaders—a whopping 17% increase from last year!

The two-year School of Excellence designation celebrates PTA leadership and accomplishments in building strong, effective family-school partnerships! Through the year-long program process, each PTA examines how their community feels the school measures up to the research-based indicators of the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Then the PTA members work in partnership with their school community and administrators to address areas for growth and create new ways for families to support student success.

Here are just a few examples of how the 2019-2021 National PTA Schools of Excellence worked to improve their schools and communities to achieve the designation.

Wiregrass Ranch High School PTSA, Florida

Wiregrass Ranch High School (WRHS) PTSA worked to increase student participation and engagement. Through a coordinated social media and outreach campaign, WRHS PTSA obtained a record number of student liaisons (18). The liaisons diligently attended PTSA Board meetings and managed the PTSA Twitter account. Their perspective and insight were invaluable!

The student engagement didn’t stop at the school walls, however. For the first time in the history of WRHS, the WRHS PTSA student liaisons attended the Florida PTA Legislative Conference in Tallahassee. At the conference student liaisons met with legislators to discuss changes in the law to benefit their education and communities.

Leroy Gordon Cooper PTA, New Jersey

Leroy Gordon Cooper PTA hosted an Art and Music festival to begin strengthening their Family-School Partnerships. At the event, parents, students, and special guests, including district administration, viewed musical performances and artwork created by Leroy Gordon Cooper students.

To get more families involved and bring awareness to the event, Leroy Gordon Cooper PTA held contests for the design of the event program and t-shirts. They also raised money during the event by auctioning off student artwork and hosting raffles and a bake sale. This allowed the PTA to give scholarships and funds directly to the art and music program at Leroy Gordon Cooper, showing the value of PTA!

  Barksdale Elementary PTA, Texas

As a part of their work with the School of Excellence program, Barksdale Elementary PTA focused on creating a welcoming culture and climate by helping their school community understand and respect cultural differences. To accomplish this, the PTA created a Cultural Diversity Night, where families volunteered to host tables that showcased their families’ culture.

Barksdale Elementary PTA realized that English was the second language spoken by most families they hoped to involve in the event. To resolve this, Barksdale Elementary PTA worked with an ESL specialist to translate the invitation into Japanese, Mandarin, Korean, Russian, Hindi and Spanish. The invitation was then sent home with students in their family’s first language.

By the evening of our event, seventy families had volunteered to host a table, representing twenty-eight countries and six continents! Table host families dressed in customary attire, prepared traditional dishes, performed dances, provided crafts, and displayed artifacts and pictures. Families that did not host a table received a passport upon arrival, which was stamped after the student and their family had ‘explored’ the country’s display. This event was extremely well received, and enthusiastically praised by all that participated. There was a palpable sense of community and inclusion that carried over into the rest of their year!

Congratulations to these amazing PTAs and, once again, to all of our 2019-2021 National PTA School of Excellences. The work that these PTAs accomplished was specific to their unique schools’ needs. How will your PTA work as key decision-makers and action-takers in your school this year?

Take the first step in becoming a nationally-recognized PTA School of Excellence by enrolling now through Oct. 1 at PTA.org/Excellence. Email Excellence@PTA.org with any questions.


Ellie Miller is a Programs & Partnerships Specialist at National PTA.

By The Numbers: A PTA Connected Event

At Middlebrook PTA, we realize that technology and social media are a part of our lives. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to ensure our children know how to use these tools safely and respectfully. We had:

  • 4 teacher volunteers join other parent volunteers in leading 6 sessions for our Kindergarten-5th grade school.
  • 1 critical partnership in our Technology Integration Specialist to get her support and ask her colleagues to join her in leading a breakout session.
  • 1 Director of Digital Learning to lead the first session with all who attended that night.

Having the “agree/disagree” cards for parents and students was an effective way to see differences of opinions in the school and offered a kinesthetic learning moment for all. It was reported to be a favorite activity by many who attended and the energy in the room was high. It set a great tone for the night and both parents and students felt engaged in the material and with each other.

Melissa Larzo, PTA President for Towne Acres PTA, agrees with Middlebrook PTA.

Our event served as a family engagement night for our school.  It came on the heels of a presentation with similar subject matter that had just been held for the area middle schools in response to those incidents, so our event was tailored to capture those families with younger children.  We had:

  • Multiple outlets of promotion, but primarily through online promotion on our school’s PTA Facebook page.
  • 1 principal and many of our teachers to come out and show their support
  • 1 supervisor of safety and mental health for our school system as our guest speaker
  • 150 people in attendance that night, which was better than we expected given the busy time of the year it was.

The information we were able to deliver to the audience that night helped to begin the discussion within families, it seemed to ease some of the fears that many families had, and it helped us to feel more like a team as we tackle these issues together.

Visit PTA Connected to get made-for-PTA resources on hosting digital safety events and apply for grant funding to host your own event night. PTA.org/Grants


About the Authors: Ruth Fontilla is from Middlebrook PTA and Melissa Larzo is from Towne Acres PTA

How Sitting on a Ball Helps Kids Focus and Do Better In School

Balance balls were originally developed in the 1960s for physical therapy purposes; who knew that one day they’d be recommended for children who have trouble focusing in school?

But today, that’s just what’s happening. Balance balls might be just what the doctor ordered to help children reach their full potential in the classroom, especially for those with sensory processing disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or just a strong need to fidget.

Around the same time that fitness fans began using balance balls (also called exercise balls, stability balls or therapy balls) in their exercise regimens as a way to strengthen abdominal and back muscles, ball chairs were developed as a way to strengthen core muscles and improve posture while sitting. During the 1980s, some occupational therapists began recommending them to educators for classroom use, deeming them particularly helpful for children with special learning needs.

Then in 2003, a study was published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy concluding that in students with ADHD, sitting on therapy balls improved behavior and legible word productivity. In other words, students using ball chairs were able to sit still, focus, and write more words clearly.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester seconded those findings in 2007 with a study on the benefits of a chairless classroom. In the Mayo study, which focused on improving learning and reducing obesity by making children more active, researchers found that the ability to move around more while sitting made the students more attentive. Mayo Clinic communications consultant Bob Nellis told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune that he believes this is because kids are able to burn off excess energy by bouncing on a ball.

“Sitting still” isn’t always a good thing

“Generally speaking, people don’t sit still,” says Diana Henry, an occupational therapist who travels the country in an RV to offer school-based and individual occupational therapy services. “They are always wiggling around. The littlest kids are even more wiggly because their sensory systems are still developing.”

That’s why children need recess at school. “Running and jumping and spinning and twirling and swinging,” says Henry. “Those activities are very important for the development of children’s central nervous systems, their brain, and their body.”

Some kids need more movement than others. And for some kids with a sensory processing disorder or ADHD, being in motion allows their brains to be engaged. “There is a neurological pathway that goes from your body’s balance and movement system to your alert system in your brain. Movement actually allows for alertness and attention,” says Henry.

That’s where ball chairs come in. In response to the ball’s instability and in order to remain balanced while sitting on one, the body instinctively — and continually — engages core muscle groups. Constant movement is required in order to stay seated on the ball. And that movement, however slight, helps them focus.

Parents and teachers put ball chair benefits to the test

“Ball chairs are very good for children who need to move a lot,” says Kay Barrows, a retired elementary school teacher from Monument, CO. Barrows had such success in her classroom using a ball chair for one special needs child that she pushed for and was awarded a district grant to get ball chairs for her entire class. “The chairs were helpful for special needs students in particular, but I also saw a big difference in kids who were just always rocking in their chairs and needed to move.”

When a child sits on a ball chair, they are able to direct their natural kinesthetic energy and need for movement in a positive way, because the child on a ball chair has to constantly move his body on the chair to maintain his balance.

So rather than squash a child’s innate need for movement, ball chairs channel their physical energy in a positive way, allowing them to focus on their work more completely and reach their full potential as learners.

Darcy Lewis, a mother of two sons with ADHD in Riverside, IL, has started using a ball chair at home. “They feel less fidgety and more relaxed when they sit on a ball and, by their own assessment, are more able to concentrate, whether on homework or dinner conversation with the rest of the family,” says Lewis.

Parents like Lewis are utilizing the concept of classroom ball chairs and allowing their child to use one in a home setting. To this end, a ball chair can be a great tool for your child, however, it is extremely important that a small child doesn’t sit on an adult size ball. “It’s important that the ball fits the child,” says Henry. Strive for a 90-degree angle in the knee bend when the child is sitting comfortably on the ball. A regular sized chair or ball may be fine for an older or taller child. Or try a child-sized ball chair.

What if your child is just plain fidgety?

You can act on this research whether or not your child has SPD or ADHD. As Henry and Barrows both note above, every kid has a need for movement. With or without a real ball chair, here are some things you can do to give your children more wiggle room while doing homework or other seated activities at home:

  • If a child-size ball chair isn’t in the budget, have your child sit on a Kids Stay-N-Play Ball an appropriate-sized Balance Ball stability ball (just the ball on the floor) while reading, doing homework, even watching educational programming on TV.
  • Place a resistance band on the legs of a chair so your child can bounce her feet up and down while she works.
  • Tape sandpaper to the underside of a table or desk so your child can rub his fingers against it while sitting for any task.
  • Provide a bin filled with objects your children can fidget with during time they are expected to sit still. (Try Koosh balls, squeeze balls, stretchy animals, and other tactile toys.)

UPDATE: Gaiam gives kids the gift of bounce

After reading this article (originally published in September 2010) and reviewing more research recommending balance balls as a strategy to help students focus in school, second-grade teacher Lana Ray in Connelly Springs, N.C., convinced her school’s principal to let her purchase six ball chairs for her classroom.

Many of Ray’s students have ADD or ADHD; shortly after the chairs arrived, she started noticing marked behavioral improvement from students on the days they got to sit on the ball chairs (Ray rotated the chairs around the classroom so that each of her 16 students got to sit on a ball chair every third day). One student even stuttered less when he sat on the ball. Ray’s local paper covered the story, raising awareness among other educators and parents.

When Ray wrote to Gaiam to share her success story and ask if the company would consider selling her additional chairs at a discounted rate so that each student could use one every day, Gaiam responded by donating 11 additional chairs to her classroom — one for each of the remaining students, and one for Ray.
The heartfelt thanks we received, as well as the knowledge that the chairs will continue to help students for years to come, made the donation more than worth it. Ray wrote that “in August, these students came into my classroom 1-2 years below grade level. If they continue to grow in the next semester as much as they have in the first, they will be on or close to grade level at the end of the year.”
Explore Active Sitting products for your children to use at school or home!

Be Internet Awesome: Host a PTA Connected Workshop This Year!

The 2018-2019 school year officially launched our PTA Connected digital initiative. We had 200 PTAs across the country commit to hosting a Be Internet Awesome workshop. Was it a success? Two of our grantees gave us the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a Be Internet Awesome grantee.

Erin Hill, a PTA leader at Pivik PTA in Plum, Pa., shared, “When our PTA was awarded the Be Internet Awesome grant from the National PTA and Google, our principal had told us the school district had held something similar a few years previous and only a few people showed up. The bar was set! We were going to get more than that this time…I hoped.”

Their principal’s main concern was that younger kids wouldn’t find this program useful, but as Erin points out, “kids using technology, getting on the internet, and even using social media are getting younger and younger. Our school… is K-4, and our kids are unfortunately at an age where they’re being exposed to some unpleasant things on the internet while their parents—me included—may think they have a few years before talks of responsible usage need to happen. When I saw this opportunity, I knew we had to apply.”

Each grantee received $1,000 to put on their event. What’s the best way to spend that grant money? Take a tip from Erin: “During the planning we decided to put most of the award money towards the food and giveaways. We figured a nicely-catered event with the opportunity for prizes would draw in more people.”

We understand PTA leaders are busy! Erin had some great guidelines for efficient planning and set up, sharing, “We used our cafeteria, which has a large screen where we projected the presentation. We decorated five tables with balloons in the breakout session colors (that corresponded with colored dots on attendees’ name tags), pens, markers, notepads and a large poster board. We allowed attendees to eat first, then after about 45 minutes of arrivals and eating, we had people go to their breakout session table. I had organized attendees into their groups prior to the event.”

Another pro tip from Erin? Get the right—and the right amount—of volunteers. Erin shared, “At our event, there were eight volunteers. We had three people at the check in table, passing out name tags and materials. We had three people handling the catering and food set up. Five of us, including some who helped in the previously-mentioned capacities, ran the breakout sessions. We had a parent volunteer deliver most of the presentation that National PTA and Google provided with the grant materials. We also had our district’s director of information technology present. He was able to provide some nice examples and tips because, one, he knows the technology being used by the kids, and, two, he has young children.”

Promoting your event is key! People need to know about the event and be excited about it. Dana Hansley of Dodge Elementary PTA in East Amherst, N.Y. noted that, “a key to promoting our event beyond the usual PTA route of emails and newsletters was an outreach to all of the teachers in the building with an explanation of the event and a simple graphic with important info like the event date, time and place. The majority of teachers in the building pushed out the graphic provided through their SeeSaw, Class Dojo and Remind accounts to parents. This additional layer of teacher support greatly impacted turnout and added weight to the subject.”

You might be wondering why PTAs are so excited about these digital workshops. Dana put it perfectly, saying, “hosting a Be Internet Awesome tech evening allowed parents an opportunity to talk through what it’s like to raise children in a digitally-connected world. This event empowered parents as they realized they were not alone in their struggles and concerns. They walked away more confident to set healthy boundaries in their households, armed with solid information they gleaned from breakout sessions and from one another.”

The event at Dodge Elementary was in high demand. “Many families who were unable to attend expressed great regret at missing the event, and inquired as to additional events,” stated Dana. “They needn’t worry, as our school principal asked us to do a Be Internet Awesome event twice next school year.”

Applications are now open for grants to host a PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshop. Apply today at PTA.org/Grants! Learn more about the PTA Connected Be Internet Awesome Family Workshops at PTA.org/BeInternetAwesome.


About the Authors:

Erin Hill, of Pittsburgh, PA, is chair of multiple PTA committees and was PTA President of Pivik PTA during the 2018-19 school year. She has two children, a fourth grader and kindergartner. Without the internet, she wouldn’t know how to do common core math, what to make for dinner, how to dress, what was happening at school or in the community, or how to get anywhere. The internet, she feels, is such a wonderful tool and opens so many informational doors for anything you could possibly want to know.

Dana Hensley is a PTA Co-President at Dodge Elementary School. She lives with her husband and four children in East Amherst, NY and spends her free time coaching her daughter’s soccer teams. She is a strong proponent of screen time limits for both children and adults and she spends too much time on Twitter. 

Parents Look to Find Balance of Fun and Learning This Summer

Summer is not necessarily a season where school and learning are at the forefront of people’s minds. To many people, summer is a time for vacation, camps, barbecues and fun. Sitting in a classroom and discussing education, however, is not usually on that list. Or so you may have thought.

After PTA events in Chicago and Louisville drew in large crowds earlier this summer, as many as 300 people attended one event in Chicago, whereas 1,500 attended another event in Louisville, it became clear that many parents are just as interested in staying invested in their children’s education over the summer as they are during the school year. For many parents, the only thing that changes during this time of year is the season.

“Parents are desperately looking for summer enrichment so that those months are a productive use of time,” said Vanessa, the Chicago Region PTA leader who hosted the listening session that had 300 people in attendance.

Summer is notorious for learning loss among students. Studies show that most students lose two months of mathematical skills over the summer, and low-income students lose another two to three months of reading as well. In order to combat this loss of learning, parents need to be looking for opportunities to help their kids learn. And for many parents, their local PTA is the one that provides access and information to these opportunities.

By hosting a listening session with your PTA this summer, you could be helping out many parents by providing them free resources. Everything in the Summer Learning Toolkit is free of charge and contains both academic and non-academic resources, making it accessible for people of all income levels and concerns. At the Louisville event, one parent even said in response to the toolkit that they had no idea it could be so simple, or so cheap, to continue their child’s education in the summer. The will is there for many parents, but the way is not always as obvious.

You might think that with children out of school and vacation on everyone’s mind that many members would not be interested in attending a PTA event in the summer. But Chicago and Louisville proved that many parents want to stay engaged during the break because it is arguably the most crucial time to do it. PTAs have a duty to help these parents out, so they should consider hosting a Summer Listening Session before the break is over. You never know just how many people you might help out until you do it.

For more information, visit https://www.pta.org/home/programs/connected/access/