PD for PTO Leaders

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As I listen to educators on Twitter (and again in a meeting last night) speak about the importance of professional development (or PD), it made me think…parent group leaders need this. Whether you start in a small way on your school’s board and work your way up to an executive position – or do as I do and go from chairing events to taking on the president’s position, you most likely do the best with what existing knowledge and experiences you’ve had, to lead your community’s families. I understand the big differences is that for one, parents are volunteering for these positions, they are not paid, and two they are not long-term. At most, you will serve in the duration that your children are at the school. But are we selling our communities short by not providing groups with the training necessary to work with and best engage those from lives unlike our own?

As I wrap up my first term as president, I do not think that I would have been a disservice to our group or school if I had simply gone through these two years with the knowledge I brought and never exposed to how others were doing things outside of our district. I have always wanted everyone’s participation…but I think we would have continued to serve more as the fundraising and party planning committee and less as a resource for families. We each bring our own passions, and this particular one is mine. I honestly feel if all we do is support our schools during parties, we send the wrong message (as a group) to our children.

So where do I go to learn and share with others? 99% of it is free. Just like most anyone volunteering, in all reality, I cannot pay too much out of my own wallet to learn how to better serve in a short-term volunteer position.

Obviously Twitter is a place I use extensively. Lisa is a perfect example of one person who beyond sharing a blog with, is one who (like many others on Twitter) inspires me; helps me reach solutions; opens my eyes and pushes me to think from another lens. But the best part about Twitter is that I am not in a parent bubble. In most situations, parents and teachers/educators are not learning from each other. On Twitter, I am able to freely learn from and with educators. They have not only provided me with valuable information about topics in education, but helped me to see through another lens…their’s. If we want to have “a seat at the table” with teachers and school admin in planning for things to come, it helps if we understand how these issues/requests effect not only our children and families, but also the teachers and schools or districts.

This year, to help our own district parent groups connect and share with those outside of their own building, I created a Facebook group for us (most are not on, nor are they comfortable with or interested in Twitter). As much as I would love to see them all on Twitter, the WHERE isn’t what’s important; it’s the conversations that lead to sharing and learning that matters. I have to say, I love reading the Facebook feed. No it is not a massive learning forum like Twitter…but there is still extremely beneficial learning, sharing and connecting happening. We have lenses from 13 elementary schools, 3 middle schools and a few additional groups like gifted resources and special ed participating. Today I posted a question to see if they all are interested in doing a book chat. We did one at our elementary school, and would love to do one with all of our parent groups in our community, given we all come from such a variety of lenses. We’ll see.

But, as always, the ultimate way to connect…face to face. This happens in our monthly PTO meetings and in the school. We take it a step further at our school, and learn from a larger population when we host ParentCamp. These are not only free learning opportunities – but also relationship builders. And when we build and strengthen relationships, we open the door to inviting other people joining us in leading. Not only feel comfortable with us, but feel confident when participating in the conversations.

Now….as much as I learn from the above for free, I have found in the last year and half, great value in attending educational conferences. The world of education is far different now than it was when we were in school…plus just because we attended school, does not mean we know the least bit about the world of education. These conferences are geared toward the educators, but we can take this same information and apply these ideas at home. In addition, it also can provide us with information needed to be able to “sit at the table” when our schools and districts are planning for the future. With knowledge we can effectively advocate.

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference that was not only about education – but education with a focus on engaging families. I am still processing and excited about the people I met from around the country at the Families Learning Summit. For someone who loses sleep over knowing another school does not value a parent partnership or a PTO that doesn’t believe everyone in their community should have an equal voice regardless of the amount of time or money they have to give…this was like Disney World. Every conversation was about including families – from all walks of life. And that takes a lot of conversations, because how we engage an English speaking, stay at home mom is honestly not the same approach we will most likely need to take to engage an ESL family or one that the parents are working several jobs, early morning to late night. It was simply awesome to see firsthand how a school engages families through their STEM program by first exposing the families to the lessons. To hear a group of teachers share, tips not on how to help our children master their math facts, but a website that inspires so much wonder in their students that the children then take that excitement home with them; extending their learning to outside the classroom walls. And to a teacher who defines and shares with us the difference between cultural competence (which I feel is where many of us lie) and cultural proficiency (which is where we really need to be). Since not everyone can attend these fee-based learning opportunities (although I think it would be well worth groups setting aside a small budget to send 1 or 2 people each year), I think it is that much more important that those who do attend, share their experiences in some forum with others (in person with their community, in a blog, or through social media).

As much as I originally liked to think of this role of serving on our school’s home and school association (PTO) as just a way to help rally the troops to support our children and school, we are far more than that. When armed with knowledge and resources, we have the ability to really enrich our community and bring positive change.

Image Credit: CabotSchools.org

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About Gwen Pescatore

Mom of 3 ~ #PTchat co-moderator ~ @Edutopia community facilitator ~ @MomCorps Marketing Mgr ~ #ParentCamp ~ Co-host of ParentED at http://goo.gl/lS1xDu View all posts by Gwen Pescatore

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