Starting the school year right is important for our kids—and for parent group leaders, too. Maybe you’ve taken on a new volunteer role or are signed up for the same position again. Either way, you want to do your best.  Just as you help prepare your kids for the start of school with new school supplies, backpack, and shoes, consider what should be on your parent group list to give you a good start to the year.

Remember that taking on a new leadership position is like starting a new job in the sense that it can take a while to get used to the routine of your parent group and where you fit into it. No doubt you’ll be up and running in no time, thinking on your feet and making decisions that will help your school and students. But before you take your spot at the table, spend some time thinking about how you want to run your position. What have other parent group officers done that you liked? What would you like to do differently? Learning from fellow volunteers is the first step toward charting your own path to success in your PTO.

The following ideas were shared by parent group leaders. Use them to get yourself and your group in shape for a great school year.

Personal Organization

  1. Enter the contact information for your fellow officers (home and mobile numbers and email address) into your cell phone.

  2. Set up a contact group in your email to make it easy to message all the officers.

  3. Create a separate email group for all committee chairs for easier messaging throughout the year.

  4. Set up a file system or work space in your home for PTO materials. Determine what supplies you might need (an expandable binder, new notebook, carryall for PTA meetings, etc.) and purchase them.

  5. Organize an online calendar reminder for things you need to do every month, such as preparing for your regular meeting. One such tool is Wunderlist, an app to organize tasks and to dos, which makes planning ahead easier because items can be added from a phone or a computer.

  6. Enter all meeting and event dates into your calendar.

  7. Create a folder and subfolders on your computer for all parent group documents. Keep separate email folders, using filtering options, to help organize the various activities.

  8. Use a Web-based tool to make scheduling and organizing volunteers easier. The online app Doodle can simplify the process of finding a meeting time that works for many participants.

Communication

  1. Take some time before school starts to put an organizational system in place that works for you.

  2. Identify a newsletter editor or chair to handle communication.

  3. Decide on a schedule for announcements (every Monday or Friday, for example).

  4. Sign up with an email tool that makes it easier to send messages to large groups, such as PTO Today’s Parent Express Email.

  5. Design and save a template for your weekly messages. In most programs, you can schedule your emails in advance, set reminders, and include boilerplate copy that will run in every message.

  6. Download electronic copies of the past year’s meeting agendas and president’s letters (if applicable).

  7. Have a one-page calendar to note the major parent group and school events of the year.

  8. Share the full roster of contact information as well as the year’s calendar of activities with the board and committee chairs. This will help them feel connected and informed, and more likely to support one another’s events.

  9. Post the calendar of events on your website and share it at the first meeting.

  10. Ask the volunteer coordinator to send committee chairs a list of people willing to lend a hand at their events. This will give them a base of people to call upon before they start their search for volunteers.

  11. Use a Web-based tool to make scheduling and organizing volunteers easier. The online app Doodle can simplify the process of finding a meeting time that works for many participants.

  1. Develop a relationship with the front office staff. Thank them for their help last year and ask what you can do for them to help make this year run smoothly.

  2. Share the best way to communicate with each other (e.g. email, mobile or home phone, text messages, etc.).

  3. Exchange mobile numbers with key contacts at the school for after-hours communication.

  4. Schedule a time to introduce yourself to the teachers.

  5. Reach out to other parent group leaders in your district or at neighboring schools to make a connection and share questions and plans for the year.

  6. Set up a meeting with the principal as close to the start of the school year as possible.

  7. Network with committee chairs during summer. Walk-and-talks are a good way to catch up and work through issues.

Guiding Principles

  1. If you can answer a question or email right away, do it and avoid another thing on your to do list.

  2. Figure out your best communication style (email, text, phone, or in person) and stick with it for 80 percent of your communications.

  3. Even if you think you know the answers, ask others what they think. Respond to those who give you feedback to strengthen or modify your positions and ideas.

  4. Thank your volunteers—often.

  5. Regularly reflect and make sure you are enjoying yourself. Reward yourself with your treat of choice daily. You deserve it!