Summer break! Time to rest, relax, and enjoy life—right? Well, teachers, administrators, and PTA board members are gearing up for the next school year. August will be here before we know it and waiting until the week before school starts is not feasible. So plans must be made now. Below are some tips to get you off on the right foot. Let us know if you have any special tips of your own.
Spend some time getting to know the other components. The PTA is supposed to be a parent/ teacher organization that helps the school and students. However, some teachers rarely participate in PTA events unless they are required. Reach out to teachers over the summer. Find out what they need each year to get started off right. You might be surprised at how much the PTA can assist.
You should also begin building relationships with administrators. Since the PTA is run by volunteer members, you will want to get into administrator and office staff’s good graces. A happy school secretary can be your best friend. An unhappy one can make your school year miserable. Get to know school leaders and forge healthy, beneficial relationships between them and the PTA.
Start Recruiting Early for the New School Year
Since many of your school events are planned before the school year even begins, you need to have a large organization before the year starts. Some of those members will lose interest as the year progresses, and others will move. You will want to recruit early to over plan for people in case some do not or cannot participate come time for the events.
Talk to New Recruits
Parents new to the community or school may not know what they can do to help the school. Even parents who have been around a while can feel that they aren’t valued members of the PTO or school. By talking to them shortly after making a commitment to the PTO, you ensure that you noticed their desire to make a positive difference in their child’s school. Find out what they do, potential areas of expertise, and potential participation challenges.
It’s an age-old joke to talk about the number of committees in a school or PTO, but the fact is that too many cooks really do spoil the pot, and we need to make sure that there are people getting things done. First, the board needs to decide which committees need to be developed. Next, you need to know how many members are needed at a minimum. After that, you need a way to assign people to committees. You will get more participation if the members feel they are on committees that meet their goals and abilities. One way to do this is to ask the members to rank the committees in order of preference. Then, assign committees by trying to give everyone some in their top two or three, but make sure that they understand that they may not get everything they want. Don’t try to please everyone. It will never happen. Do the best you can in the fairest manner.
Don’t Worry About Completely Filling Committees Before School Begins
You will have more committee members join after school starts. I promise. While you spend time during the summer recruiting through social media, phone calls, and outreach, you will not reach all parents who might join. Open house and early notes home are a great way to catch the rest of them.
Include Teachers and Administrators on Committees
This school year have a staff or faculty advisor for each committee if possible. Making these connections can help parents open avenues of communication and find out what the school needs most. Sometimes PTOs wind up doing things around the school that benefits a select few because they are the most vocal. Make sure that everyone gets a voice by encouraging all faculty, staff, and administration participation.
Don’t Forget Your Non-Native Speakers
Spanish, French, or Urdu-speaking parents can still be active with the PTA. As a matter of fact, they can sometimes be one of your best resources. They can help you translate and reach more parents in these populations. The parents of these students often want to help, but communication barriers are sometimes deterrents. Luckily, many parents are fluent in both English and the second language, so building these relationships can help more students than you have ever been able to before.
Don’t Forget Parents of Disabled Students
It may seem odd to include this for your new year’s organization, but parents of children in the self-contained or special education classrooms are often left out of the conversation. These children are othered in the school which makes the parents feel forgotten too. Neither of these needs to be the case. Many schools are pushing for integration rather than just inclusion, and it would benefit the PTA to do the same with these parents. These parents have often had to figure out how to get things done with limited tools and funding. They can be warriors and creative problem solvers. Don’t leave them out!
Your people are your best resource for making the new year great. Organize the people, and the rest will come naturally. Start outreach during the summer and continue into the beginning of the school year. Plan committees, but don’t fill them until you have exhausted all of your options for gaining new recruits. Make those new recruits feel useful and valuable. In turn, they will help make this the best year yet.