Tag Archives: home and school

What Makes a Parent Leader?

Peony

The more I hear parents say that they didn’t think they could do or have a say in  x, y or z because they are just parents, the more I realize the importance for someone to be there to say, yes you can.

Serving as a parent leader isn’t just about planning meetings and recruiting. When I first took my position I didn’t want to ever be referred to as the president of our group. I preferred to simply inspire and contribute, in the same way I always had, alongside all the other parents. I believe it does not matter how wonderful of an idea you have, if those around you don’t support or practice it, it is nothing more than an idea (and ideas alone don’t make you a leader). I don’t know that I will ever come to feel comfortable with the titles…but I have come to see that that role for one, is not a role only one person fills. There can be many. Although a HUGE part, it is more than someone who is willing to just work beside others. It is also (in no particular order, other than how the thoughts passed through my head)…

Someone who is willing to step out from the crowd, at times, to push the group to be better or achieve more, based on community needs. Someone who chooses to expect more and not just the status quo.

Someone who understands the importance of building relationships with not only the families in their community – but also the school principal, staff and beyond. A positive relationship is what helps you work together as a team. I’m not saying a parent group can’t achieve a lot on their own – but in the last year of going through times of not having that strong, positive relationship with our building (not me alone – but our parent community), I saw firsthand the impact it has on what we can achieve. We cannot do it alone. The parent group and school achieve more by working together.

It requires you to not only set an example of how to build partnerships – but also share (and share often) why those partnerships are so important. These partnerships go beyond your building. They are with the others in your district and community. I don’t think they prevent building level achievement – but I do think they can amplify them.

It is someone who remembers to see things from an outsider’s perspective or view point. To be realistic at times, but also wear the rose colored glasses often.

For those using social media, it is setting the example of how to use it, and having no fear in asking and reminding others to follow suit. Personally, I take that beyond our building because social media has no boundaries or walls.

It is someone who can have those difficult conversations. Every single one of these things on this list will require a conversation that you would much rather ignore or run from (and that would be the easiest option). But the easiest option is almost never the best.

To love learning. This might be a deal breaker for me. You cannot lead if you do not love to learn. Leading requires constant learning both from your experiences and how to address and work with the  new challenges, and/or individuals, that come with each new day.

Passion. This (at least for me and those I know) is a volunteer position. There is no paycheck…no money to serve as a motivator.

Someone who has the ability to say no. This one I often fail miserably on – but have become far better in the last year. There’s no way to do everything, everyone asks…no matter how much you want to. I have begun to pick my battles and say yes to those things I have the most passion for.

And finally, someone who has a strong support system. People that you can depend on, to support you emotionally, serve as a resource and also not be afraid to tell you no or when you’re wrong. Last night (as I have said many times), I would not have taken on this role without having a support system…and there is no way I would have been able to continue without them. From those who are literally my physical neighbors, to those that are a tweet, DM, message or vox away…they are my strength and oxygen.

So now I realize this is a crazy long list of qualities, and I thought about editing them for the most important ones (in my opinion) – but I can’t choose (and this post has now been sitting on my screen for a week). These though, they all just seem to be uber important to me. I don’t believe one is strong in all of these, all of the time; but possesses these qualities more often than not. Your thoughts? Would you take any off? What would you add?

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New Look to PTO Agenda Includes Students and Community

student center - nisce org

This last year, Twitter chats and #ParentCamp have been beyond inspirational to me. I truly love the constant, 2-way discussions between parents, educators and students. I cannot get enough of the global learning and collaborating. I really wanted to see our school and home & school association (PTO) take those two things and turn our meetings into mini chats/sessions. Having dialogue between school and families in ways such as chats and #ParentCamp can do nothing but benefit every school community.

During last week’s #PTchat we discussed student-centered parent group meetings. To me, this is the change all groups need to make. Making the students the center of all discussions has helped improve our meetings. The change aided in the issue of attendance, and also improved the quality of discussion between those attending. During the chat, I shared the agenda we planned out for our home and school meeting’s new look/layout. I shared more about the planning and pieces of it in my post here….but as excited as I was about the schedule we were building for the new year, it wasn’t at a point where I felt comfortable sharing. It is now pretty well set, and we’re ready to share. This is our first year doing something like this – so yes, there is plenty of room to grow.

To start, I set the spreadsheet up in Google Docs to simplify the ability to collaborate. If someone had an idea, they could add it on their own, for all others to see immediately. Each month has a theme that relates to what we have coming up at our school/effecting our families. The components try to compliment that theme, or address an additional upcoming event/concern. Given that we built this during summer break – a few of the student voice segments are still unfilled. As the school year gets up and running and classes and clubs start forming, planning and learning, we will fill the remaining openings. As far as the “Edu Voice” piece…this is our opportunity to really bring in the community. Yes, many of those months may be filled with our own teachers, but I hope to also use this to highlight the many professionals in our community near and far who can offer insight on a given topic.

To give you a clearer picture, I am sharing the full agenda/schedule, but it is only the outline which I believe can be carried over from school to school. Every school will have their own unique events and issues that are important to their families. It is those things that will be the focus of their meeting.

Knapp Elem Home & School Association 2013-14 Meeting Agenda

2013-14 Knapp H&S Meeting Agenda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are volunteering because of the kids. We are here to make today better than yesterday for them. To do so we need to make sure all voices are represented and we are a go to resource for information.

image credit: nisce.org


Fostering Home and School Partnerships Through Education

pyramid

“Visible learning, in all forms, helps a school truly become a community. It takes a village…” Stacey Wallwin commented on our discussion on Twitter about engaging parents. I couldn’t agree more. If we want to aid in building long-standing, strong partnerships between home and school, we need to be a source of information.

In speaking with our group of over 40 class captains and many other parents, the common “favorite moment” among all of them, were the times when they left the school with knowing something new to help them as a parent. Our parent-teacher book chat, our staff voice piece about RtII (What is it? How is the data used? What does that mean for my child?), and #ParentCamp all received numerous raving comments. This year we are trying something new for our monthly parent meetings. Well, not entirely new…more like expanding on what we were doing last year. We are using our monthly meetings to continue to share out as much information and resources with families and the community as possible. It is more than a wish to build the number of participants at our monthly meetings – it’s about empowering families so they can be part of the foundation that our great community is built on.

So last week, at our first board “gathering” (meeting sounds to heavy for summer), I made a suggestion; that we scrap our current agenda outline and build a meeting that parents would want to attend; packing it full of opportunities to learn about the school, students, community and how to support learning in all of those hours when our children are not in school, yet with the little free time we all seem to have.  We will then plan out the year in advance and post the schedule for families to plan in advance to attend the meetings most relevant and appealing to them. So what are we looking to include?

Tech Training (30 min prior to start of the meeting): a chance for parents to get a quick lesson in technology. The first one on how to join our meetings (or anything else) virtually. That means they have a choice over the following 8 months on how they wish to join us…physically or virtually. Others we are looking to include are social media use, tools/sites helpful for students as study tools or to complete HW or research; Study Island & Edmodo (both used by students at school and from home); edu-sites and apps.

Parenting: This will be a piece that we will share an article, chapter or short video in advance of the meeting (something that parents can read or watch in less than 15 min) and then participate in a mini discussion or Q&A during the meeting.

Edu-Voice: In the past we were always turning to the teachers to inform us parents. Although the teachers are still an important resource for us to learn from, this year we are looking to expand it to anyone in our community that can share their expertise on a topic relating to our children. With tools such as Skype or Google hangout – we are able to learn from those across the hall or across the world.

There are some things we are not looking to change…

Student Voice: A piece from last year that we believe in keeping. Us parents loved hearing about the good things happening at our school, the students (for the most part) liked having the spotlight for a few moments, and it brought in a few new faces each month.

1 hour time limit: This is key! Families are busy and no matter how much they want to know what is going on at the school…they don’t have the time to spend hours at a school meeting. To accomplish this, it requires clock watchers who aren’t afraid to say, “move on.” I hope that the number of families using our Facebook page and on Twitter continues to grow and the discussions can continue not only when we are together in the same room – but also online while we are waiting for our children to finish their extra curricular activity or sitting in the pediatrician’s waiting room.

Business as Usual: We want to keep all families in the loop and participating with the home & school association. They need to know what is upcoming and in the plans so they. To save on time, and because we have already shared it online and in the newsletter, we will eliminate the re-hashing of news that has happened since the last meeting.

Live streaming: It is the most successful tool we’ve used to reach and include more parents and staff than any other. We’d be crazy to abandon it.

I see our group’s role in the school and community much like the role of those I turned to as a new parent. When we had our first child, we read endlessly, talked to everyone from the doctors to our family and friends, and then in the end, pulled the pieces of advice from each, that best suited our child and family, to form our own parenting style. Here, we are one of the pieces to help each student achieve their potential.

Image credit: sxc.hu


Engaging Parents When Technology Doesn’t Exist

no service

How do families and schools stay connected when technology, as basic as cell phones, doesn’t exist? This past week I spent a week staying in Hartwick, NY. A small town next to Cooperstown with NO cellular service while my oldest child stayed nearby with his baseball team (fully “connected”). When we first arrived I simply found it inconvenient. As the days passed, and I could only talk to my son via a corded land line phone, I began to really wonder how they do it in this town…that is after I questioned how a place not in the middle of nowhere, could have no cellular service and my youngest complained about the phone being broken because it sounded like a bee was buzzing on it. One of the many things I love about our elementary school is how we don’t just use one tool to communicate. We share information through paper, face-to-face, email, website and social media. We have many options as to how we reach our families…no matter how busy they are.

If we were to live in a location without access to the most basic technology, how could we keep everyone in the loop and on the same page? How do those families who don’t have that time to go to the school, get their information? Or aren’t they? I don’t believe their children are any better about bringing home all the papers from school, or that their parents are any better about remembering all of the fundraisers, activities and events; so there needs to be another way to share information and ideas.

In my short stay, I can say I witnessed conversations about school, politics and local news happening on a Saturday at the local farmers market, at the local restaurant during breakfast and dinner (where at the times we were there, we were the only non-local “guests”), and as they strolled down the street in the evening. These face-to-face conversations are crucial, and as a PTO or school, although always important, are even more so.

Taking their monthly meetings “on the road”; varying the times, days and locations so that all families have a chance to catch up on what is happening could be effective at that restaurant, or the farmers market…or even at the little local library on the Friday evening when they’re open, in reaching those not able to get to the school. Instead of reaching them where they are on their mobile devices – you reach them where they are physically.

Any thoughts on other ways? I wish I had more free time while I was there. I would love to have chatted with the local parents; learn more about what they do.


The ParentCamp Experience

ParentCamp

Below Lisa & I have shared our ParentCamp experiences

We first began discussing the idea of hosting an un-conference at our school for parents in the fall, at one of our monthly home & school meetings. Our principal, Joe Mazza, had attended something similar for educators called EdCamp, and hosted an EdCamp style staff meeting for the teachers. We all agreed that this style of learning could greatly benefit the parents not only in our school, but in our community. For me, I envisioned all of those parents who aren’t on Twitter, experiencing the learning and sharing like those of us who have connected on and participated in chats such as #PTchat…only this would be live, face-to-face two-way discussions.

I’m not going to go into all the planning details in this post – but I will say the hardest part was explaining what ParentCamp was about, and how it could benefit those attending. For educators, many have heard of, or attended this style of conference – but for parents this was a foreign concept.  Because this was so new to parents, we decided that it was best to line up session leaders in advance. (At actual EdCamps attendees write in sessions that they wish to lead once they arrive at the “unconference”) It wasn’t until we shared the session descriptions, that we really began to see people registering. As far as educators participating in this, it didn’t cross my mind before the event that some (or maybe many) would be uncomfortable with this style conversation – especially face-to-face with parents. We did have far fewer educators than parents attend, but the ones that attended added great balance to the conversations they participated in and were excellent leaders of discussions and not just lecturing.

At our school, we see some of our most diverse and largest turnouts at educational focused events. This was no different and no less awesome and amazing to see so many people from all different cultures, communities, beliefs and lenses sharing their thoughts and asking questions, all while not judging the other’s because of their opinions. Not only did parents attend together, but we also had a few Principals attend with their parent association leaders (the ultimate sign of wanting a home-school partnership).

To start the day off, we had Melissa Bilash as our keynote speaker. She shared snapshots of what role parents, from all around the world, play in their child’s education. This would have been a great presentation no matter where it was shared, but with such diversity in the room, I feel it was a homerun.

In the sessions I attended, I witnessed parents from different schools learning together about the potential of parents connecting through social media to how to plan for the big expense of sending their children to college. I caught a few minutes of parents and our district admin learning about iPad apps together; a custodian sharing one of the most powerful first-hand experiences with losing a child to drug use and ways we can hopefully prevent that same tragedy in our own homes or community. There was another session with teachers learning with parents about better ways we all can support our children’s emotional well being together inside and out of school (this was one of several sessions that had pro-active parents of children not starting school until this coming September).

In the session I led with a few other members of our home & school board, we started out with sharing the ways live streaming our monthly meetings has improved participation, communication and relationships in our school and finished up with the importance of, and ways to successfully lead positive, productive and constructive meetings. These views, ideas and suggestions came from a room of parents, other PTA/HSA leaders, teachers and principals from our district and a few others. I was only a portion of the conversation, everyone contributed their thoughts and experiences, and we all took away pieces that we felt would improve our own schools.

I love participating in chats on Twitter. It really is something else (and almost addicting) to be able to learn about how other people view and approach the same task as you from other parts of the country or world. BUT….I also think it’s as equally as powerful in building up a community when you have a physical room of people together sharing thoughts on how to help each other with an issue, learn a new way of communicating, or improve on current efforts.

I hope after leaving #ParentCamp, if they didn’t already, people saw the benefits of ongoing communication between one another, at all levels. That speaking with each other a few times a year is not enough. That, conversations need to be on a deeper level, where schools and families come away with new knowledge. These conversations can and should be had, as often as possible in our communities. They don’t need to be big, grand events, nor do they need to be limited to face-to-face. The more often we all speak AND listen to each other, the better we can make decisions on what’s best for our family, schools and community.

I can’t wait for the next #ParentCamp. It is energizing and exciting to families and schools learning and working together to build stronger partnerships.

keynote

My Experience as a Parentcamp Presenter and Attendee

After being invited to lead a session at Knapp’s first Parentcamp, my reaction was – of course! It was after that immediate YES that I thought, what can I talk about? Joe and Gwen decided a good topic would be “The Blue Ribbon Experience”. While I was first uncomfortable with the topic (only because it could come across as arrogant or elitist), I realized it was a great way to highlight and discuss all the wonderful things happening at Cantiague. So, while the focus would be on the award process, the meat of the discussion would be the characteristics and evidence of excellence taking place at my school. It would also be an opportunity to hear how other schools were approaching the same tasks. At Cantiague, there is always an interest in improving, never settling for status quo.

A few weeks after confirming attendance, we found out that Tony Sinanis, my principal at Cantiague, would be joining us. What a wonderful opportunity for parents and educators to have the perspective of both home and school in one discussion. This was going to be a great session.

The discussion was very informal and fluid. It was constant stream of questions and answers, with not a second of empty space. We began with a description of what the Blue Ribbon award is, and moved onto the award process our team embarked on.

The most enjoyable part of our session was when we spoke about our teachers and staff, the programs used at Cantiague, and the fostering of literacy as a core of what we do. I felt that we were able to present a window into our school – highlighting the relationships between families, teachers, staff, administrators, and students.

I learned from our session as well. There was a principal and incoming H&S president in our discussion. Seeing that team work and dedication was inspiring. A dedicated 5th grade teacher from NJ joined us as well. While many questions did become professionally directed, we were all at the table. This was a wonderful chance as a parent to hear the discussions that often take place in a staff meeting between professionals. The conversation was authentic and real. Everyone was genuinely invested in creating the best learning experience for their students, and it was beautiful to see.

In the end, I hope that attendees were able to take away a few concepts – passion is the foundation for making a truly special school and experience for students, anything is possible – relationships can always be built and fostered, and transparency and educational opportunities that promote constant learning for all parties creates an opportunity for wonderful, creative, holistic learning.

As an attendee, I really enjoyed the ParentCamp experience. I participated in a Parent Engagement discussion led by Dr. Mazza and Tony Sinanis, and the presentation on live streaming Meetings by the Knapp H&S. I loved the format of the ParentCamp. It was very informal, with discussion continuously shifting and changing to address the questions and comments of the participants.

In the first session, the presenters began with the description of a Partnership School from Beyond the Bake Sale. Conversation quickly customized to the parents and educators in the group. Each person shared questions, experiences, and thoughts. It was a very rich experience, with many takeaways to think about.

The next session was about the benefits of live streaming H&S meetings, and bringing meetings and information to all families. The H&S shared their experiences of taking their meetings to the community. It was enlightening and inspiring to hear the benefits of meeting parents in their comfort zones, and how the experience built trust in the school. The live streaming opportunities also bring information to parents who once were unable to participate. We also discussed the importance of keeping meetings timely, respectful, and meaningful for all involved. We were fortunate to have many H&S leaders in the group. Each shared their most positive events and strategies to engage families and bring them into the fold.

Overall, I left ParentCamp feeling more strongly than ever, the importance of empowering families to engage in home/school experiences. I left with abstract and tangible ideas on how to create positive relationships with all home/school players – students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators. Learning with like-minded parents and educators fueled my desire to always improve our efforts as leaders in the parent community. I can’t wait to try some of the ideas at my school!

H&S 2.0 Building Partnerships

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Does Your PTO Portray Your School Community?

When you look around your parent association meeting, who is there? Do you have all parties involved represented? I mean ALL parties, circles, groups, neighborhoods, communities…ALL. As we elect our new board members, I think it is important to remember to include all lenses, not only on our board – but as voices in our meetings and partners in the planning and running of events/activities. As a parent association, it is our responsibility to represent our schools.

When I look at many boards (including the one I belong to), I see a small group represented. I love our team and appreciate their efforts and time, but we represent less than half of our families. We are growing in diversity recently – but until I see every neighborhood, grade, ethnicity, religion, language, learning support/gifted classes,  staff, district admin, school board and community members, I will not be content. How can we accurately make decisions affecting all of our children, if we don’t know what their concerns or wishes are?

We have a large school with diverse cultures and socio-economic conditions…so there are lots of families to represent. There is no way to represent all of those families unless they are present. By present, I don’t mean strictly at our monthly meetings. They could be a class captain (if your captains are used as a resource/liaison), just as long as they are part of the discussions. I know some people feel that it is up to those individuals to jump in. But sometimes we need to extend that hand, put out the welcome mat and offer them a cup of coffee in order to get them to initially participate.  We need to start with the personal, face to face interaction. Give them someone to connect with. Someone they can recognize at the next event or meeting. From there, we can use all the pieces of technology and social media to keep in regular contact….stay fresh in their mind, and build the relationship.  Many of us start off as a small piece of the puzzle (something in their comfort zone, related to their child) and gradually grow to become a larger section of the puzzle (being a voice, leading).

I know the administrators, school board and community members might not have children at our school, and their participation may be a stretch – but they’re making decisions that can affect our children, so it only makes sense that they see firsthand what families are concerned with. A few months ago, our group was lucky to have our assistant superintendent join us. This is the first time I have been at one of our home & school meetings where someone from the district joined in. I must say, it was such a positive addition. Not only does it help to build the relationship between people who see each other so seldom, it gave a voice to the district. There were a few questions/comments that came up that we (school level) didn’t have the answer for, and she was able to provide that – right then and there. I can only imagine a school board member and members of the community could also add that nice balance.

All of these people are key pieces in our puzzle to build a strong, cohesive community. It is important to look to include them all as we go forward.

image credit: sxc.hu


It’s Time to go for a Leadership Position in Your Parent Association

raise-hands-volunteer-copy

Image Credit: www.technorati.com

In many PTA’s throughout the land, it’s that time of year again….time to nominate the next year’s executive board. It’s also time to sign up for committees and leadership roles throughout the organization.

If you have already held a position on your PTA, then you know the value of participating as a leader in your parent association. If you haven’t, here are a few things to think about.

Taking a leadership position provides growth and development opportunities. Organizing events, working with other parents in your community, and collaborating with school staff is a very fulfilling experience. The on-the-job learning is one you can really only get by doing it.

It allows you to see how things work. By stepping up your involvement in PTA, you get a behind the scenes look at how things run. You get to see how everything comes together, all the programs, fundraisers, and events.

It gives you a voice in how things are done. If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Why don’t they do it this way?”-  this is your chance. Share your expertise and ideas. You also have an opportunity to decide what events and programs will take place in the coming year.

It provides opportunities to get to a new level. In my experience, joining the executive board introduced me to the next level of parent leadership, which is the district level. My eyes were opened to how all the schools in the district function, both independently and collectively. I also became involved in discussions about state mandates, budget, health & safety concerns, and more. These were topics not usually discussed in depth at our general PTA meetings.

Your school needs you! I’m assuming your school is like mine. Generally the PTA is comprised of a specific number of active parents who take on many responsibilities, wearing many hats throughout the year and their experience in the school. New members are always welcome and genuinely wanted! With new faces come fresh ideas.

I hope these reasons have inspired you to take the next step and reach beyond your current level of participation in your PTA. There are so many reasons to do so, and it will benefit your child, your school, and YOU!


Connected Parents and the Power of Twitter

Twitter Meta Moo! too far?

(Photo credit: Josh Russell)

Once I decided to give Twitter a chance, it took me months to figure out how it might be of use to me as a parent. To start I sat through a Twitter 101 night at our school. I went because I wanted to learn how to use a tool that I knew my children will be using sooner or later, whether I liked it or not. I will warn you that a 1 hour crash course is not enough time to learn a new language. It is a start though. Twitter, just as a new language, is best learned when you are immersed in it.

The first few months went by and I enjoyed seeing snippets of the school day as the principal and a few teachers tweeted…but was this it? Was it just about following celebrities and watching what happened at school? After a few months, I joined in on the weekly #PTchat. Although the title stands for “Parent-Teacher chat”, it was mostly educators (not to say they weren’t also parents – but they were speaking mostly from the educator’s perspective). As great as the topics were, just sharing out from a parents lens wasn’t going to keep me interested in using this tool…I had to get something from it.

The more people I followed, the more I participated, the more I realized that everything that is shared could also be used by parents to help their children continue the learning outside of school, educate ourselves to be better advocates for our children, and provide insight on how to improve all of our home and school partnerships. Twitter has given me tools and ideas on how to help my children get more from their studies. Ideas that I possibly could have gotten from reading dozens of books, but realistically don’t have time for. One of my biggest takeaways so far (remind you I’m only a year in) is my recent discovery of the literacy powerhouses we have access to (this sentence can be translated to whatever your interest is). It is through Twitter that I found several phenomenal books on reading comprehension; given the opportunity to observe another school’s reading workshops; and connected with and learned from literacy experts from all over the world on how to help my children improve their reading skills and then bring those ideas to the attention of our school for all students to benefit.

So where can parents start? Who can they follow? Below are two places I found people who I have drawn from. These are just a few – I encourage you to share those who have inspired you.

If your school and/or teachers, principal and fellow parents are on Twitter – follow them. The glimpse into the school day provides you with great conversation starters outside of “how was school?” and it is nice to see what other classrooms are doing. For me it was @knappelementary, @joe_mazza, @miss_a_abel and @lspencerslp. (This list has grown since then – but too many to list)

Check out chats. The first one I joined in was #PTchat. Not only can you share and get some great info/ideas from these – but you also can find other people to follow that share similar interests. This is my number one source to finding great minds and inspirations. It also provides you with the opportunity to interact with people you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance. Some of the people I have pulled the most info and ideas from are: @lisaodavis (my partner in this blogging adventure and a role model for advocating for our children); @lornacost, @drpricemitchell, @smconstantino, @drmerylain and @larryferlazzo (connecting parents and schools); @sirotiak02, @coachyetter and @johnfritzky (teachers who share the ways they inspire kids to want to learn and how they include the families in the learning); @pennykittle, @kylenebeers, @sharonletslearn (literacy superstars); and @freeingyourmind, @micheleborba and @annie_fox (pros in the mental well-being of our children).

Twitter didn’t make me a connected parent or an advocate for my children’s education – but has made me a more effective one.


Building Home-School Partnerships

Executives Shaking Hands

Image credit:  http://office.microsoft.com

One of the most effective ways to advocate for your child throughout their education is to learn the culture of your school/district and build partnerships with the people who will be a part of your child’s educational journey. Team members constitute your Parent Teacher Association (PTA), teachers, administrators, and other professionals that work with your child throughout the day.

PTA

WHY? The PTA is a wonderful opportunity for parents to learn the ins and outs of your school. PTA organizes amazing events for students, fundraises for important programming, and stands as a group to advocate for all students. By involving yourself in PTA, you have an opportunity to connect with faculty, staff, and other parents in your community. Oftentimes district information is shared via PTA. Face to face meetings provide valuable moments to interact with your principal, superintendent, and/or other school representatives.

HOW? The first step is joining. Membership forms are generally sent to families the first week of school. Dates and frequency of meetings vary from school to school. Volunteering in PTA events give you access to school and also present opportunities to get to know the principal and faculty on a different level. Taking on leadership positions like the chairperson of committees or executive board positions offer occasions for personal growth and development. They also give you a chance to participate in decisions that will impact your child and the school at large.

Your Child’s Teacher

WHY? Your child spends a very large percentage of their waking time with their teacher. He/She gets to know your child in many ways; academically, socially, and developmentally. On the most obvious level, your child’s teacher is responsible for educating your child. In a more complex view, your teacher understands your child’s learning style, sees your child’s social strengths and weaknesses, and is in a position to assess your child’s development in relation to peers and expectations. Teacher/Student relationships can be very influential in a child’s life, impacting decisions such as career choices and other future plans.

HOW? In the beginning of the year most teachers reach out to parents and ask for information about your child. Do it! Being responsive to teacher requests and taking part in early dialogue sets the stage for future conversations. Being honest about your child’s strengths and weaknesses strengthens your relationship with your child’s teacher. By being open and respectful, you will create the groundwork for effective advocacy throughout the year and possibly years to come. Being proactive as concerns arise by emailing, calling, or sending a note to school addresses issues and opens dialogue for resolution.

 Administrators

WHY? Depending on the size of your school, you may or may not have a vice principal, but you definitely have a principal. These individuals are responsible for many tasks throughout the building; working with teachers, overseeing curriculum, managing staff, fulfilling district goals to name a few. These people are also there for parents if problems come to light.

HOW? Oftentimes parents enter an elementary school for the first time, and flashback to when they were a child. The principal’s office was a scary place students were sent when they misbehaved. As a parent, it’s important to break that mindset and recognize that the principal and vice principal are resources for you. When issues come up that occur outside the classroom, or if you have a broader concern regarding your child’s education, the principal is often the best person to address the questions. The principal also is involved in student placement from year to year. That is a really important reason for them to fully understand the personality and learning style of your child.

Other Professionals

WHY? There are other professionals in the school that play a role in your child’s education. If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), your team might also constitute a case manager, occupational therapist, speech therapist, school psychologist or physical therapist. These professionals also serve as resources for parents if you have concerns about your child.

HOW? If your child has an IEP, you will attend regular Committee on Special Education (CSE) meetings. For other parents with questions, contacting these professionals should be as easy as contacting your teacher. Generally your teacher will let you know if they believe a problem exists. But you should not hesitate to contact someone if you are worried about your child.

These ideas are just a starting off point for creating positive partnerships with the key players in your child’s education. The most important thing to remember is that you are the number one advocate for your child. You know your child best, and represent him/her from the home perspective. That perspective is just as important as what happens in school. You also need to know how to follow through and support school efforts in the home. Partnerships work best when all team members are respected and heard. Good luck with your team building efforts. Post experiences or comments here!


Our PTA is a Private Club

Private Club

Private Club (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

Parent Association’s (PTA, PTO, HSA whatever you want to call them) have earned the bad reputation for being uninviting, clique-like, a private club.  How do you break that? So many groups say they want to get rid of that image, have more families join them at their monthly meetings, and join them in volunteering…but do their actions speak louder than their words?  I don’t believe you can correct it with one person or tool. It takes a group effort of all those involved using all of the tools.

1. Relationship Building: More than anything else, I think you need to build relationships before the parents are going to jump at joining you; be it for a meeting or volunteering. This takes time. It requires your team to genuinely care about the other families.  Yes, you can go through the motions and pretend – but let’s be honest, most of us can see through that. Does it require you to be best friends? No, but find some way to connect.  Given that we’re all parents, I can always find something. And one of the easiest ways I find is to ask questions about them. I am always amazed at how much I learn about our community from asking questions of those I am just meeting.

2. The Board Is There To Inspire: Think of your duties not to just “represent,” but to ”inspire.”  Inspire others to want to fill the same positions you all are filling currently. Remember that not only do you need help with everything you are doing for the kids now, but you will not be there forever and will need people to take your place.  The average parent will need to build up to serving on the board or as a chairperson. Not many will jump in with little to no volunteer time.  You need to provide opportunities for them to start small and gradually work their way up to the commitment that serving on the board requires.

3. Stream Meetings Online: This might be one of my favorite ways to allow others to see you are welcoming, fun and open to others ideas and suggestions (of course this mean you actually need to practice these things…otherwise you are just confirming the negative image). Families can sign in from the comfort of their own home and get a view of what your meetings are like and open their mind to attending in person or joining the team.

4. Take Your Meetings To Them: Hosting your monthly meetings at the school doesn’t always work. If you are missing a portion of your population, try other ways. Not only is it more comfortable for others on their own or neutral turf, but it shows that you are open to others being a part of the team. Try community centers, places of worship or anywhere else your families spend time outside of school.

5. Communication: Everyone one of your families has their own preference on how to receive their “news”. If you want to include all families you need to make sure they all get the information you are sharing. That means sharing the same information in many locations and forms. Some options are paper hard copy, email/electronic, social media and text. Your goal is to make sure all of your families are well informed in advance. The beauty of the social media piece is the possibility of two-way communication.  Real feedback and idea sharing when face to face isn’t possible.

Ultimately it’s the golden rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated. Welcoming others to be part of your school family the same way you welcome your personal family members into your own home. Is it not?


SheilaSpeaking

A space for thinking, reflecting and sharing about education -- and the odd other thing...

Ingvi Hrannar

Icelandic educator, iPad 1:1 classroom, speaker & entrepreneur.

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013

Sharing our inquiries - March 23-30

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