PTO Today

Helping Parent Leaders Make Schools Great

PTO Today Blog

Ideas, news, opinions and tips about what’s happening in the parent group world

PTOs and PTAs Come Alive on Social Channels

August 21st, 2014 by

If you still aren’t sure whether social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are catching on with parent groups, then take a look at what’s happening this back-to-school season!

We are seeing great social activity with photos of open houses and first-day-of-school moments, event invitations, teacher gifts, and volunteer thank-yous. Using photos and images, PTOs and PTAs are better able to convey their personalities, showcase their achievements, and tell their community’s story.

Case in point: To update families about its orientation and mini book fair, Durbin Creek Elementary PTO published a photo album (right) on Facebook that showed its volunteers in action.

If you are looking for ideas on how to take your Facebook activity to the next level, check out our Back-to-School Social Media Tips, a free download on our File Exchange.

We also have a quick guide for getting started on social media that is helpful for folks new to social networking. It’s also a free File Exchange download.

Oh, and please join us on the PTO Today Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest channels. We have a really lively and helpful social community! You’ll find great tips and ideas from PTO and PTA leaders across the country.


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15 Years’ Worth of Great Ideas

August 20th, 2014 by

Back in June, we celebrated our 15th anniversary. Reaching that kind of milestone during the same time we were poring over our Parent Group of the Year entries really made us think about all the great work we’ve heard about over the years.

And part of that great work includes lots of really cool ideas. We picked 15 that we really loved for our August cover story, 15 Ideas From 15 Years. As you’re gearing up for back to school (or even if you’re already back), take a look and see. You’re sure to find one you want to try, or that inspires you to come up with your own really great idea.

And about those Parent Group of the Year entries — as always, they were amazing. We’ll be publishing the winners’ stories in our September issue and on soon — stay tuned.

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Bake Sales and Food Fundraisers Are Not Dead

August 19th, 2014 by

Lots of folks are wondering if the new USDA guidelines on nutritional standards for snacks sold in schools have essentially killed food fundraisers and bake sales, long a mainstay for PTOs and PTAs.

This is not the case.

Acknowledging there has been confusion around these new guidelines, which go into effect this school year, the USDA just issued a statement to set the record straight, saying it is “not imposing federal restrictions on bake sales or fundraisers,’’ and “states are free to allow fundraisers and bake sales that don’t meet the new standards during the school day if they choose.’’

Bottom line: Your group should check on the state level to find out what rules apply in your community. But there are no new federal rules.

Even if your community has adopted the federal guidelines, the USDA points out that it has always stated the restrictions apply to sales during the school day only. This means your group could hold food fundraisers or bake sales after school and during weekend events.

In early 2014, we published How Will Changing Food Rules Affect PTOs?, which examined how the USDA nutritional guidelines would impact parent groups. The guidelines stemmed from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which included Smart Snacks in School standards that would restrict sales of food in school cafeterias and vending machines. It requires that all snacks sold for consumption during the school day contain fruits, vegetables, lean protein, or whole grains, and have limited sugar, fat, and salt.

In its statement, the USDA said it never intended to regulate fundraisers or bake sales at the federal level, calling them “time-honored traditions.’’

If you would like more information from the USDA, you can read its statement here.

And, here’s a link to the USDA fact sheet on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

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Back-to-School Basics: Sincerity Will Attract Volunteers

August 19th, 2014 by

I’m all for snarky when chitchatting with friends, but it’s not the best style for a PTO leader.

Sometimes, we can forget that when we discuss all of the challenges, like the lack of volunteers, we can lose the very parents we are hoping will join us. I remember a few cranky moments (due to work overload!) when I was new PTO leader, and looking back, I know it didn’t help.

So when you’re promoting your group this year, such as speaking at an open house event, interacting with parents, or communicating in your first newsletter, try to be as optimistic and positive as you can. Some people worry they can’t do that. They aren’t bubbly by nature and feel that everyone will see right through a Miss Sunshine act.

But you can upbeat without it being forced. Just focus on what’s good about your group. Tell people about the great stuff your group did last year and what you hope to do this year. They’ll see the passionate and dedicated volunteer you really are.  And they will be much more likely to want to be part of your group.

Here’s some help for keeping things positive:

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When Your PTO Is Missing the “T”

August 14th, 2014 by

My best advice about getting teachers involved in your PTO or PTA? Don’t worry about it so much. You can do great work for your school even if teachers aren’t members and aren’t at all your meetings and events.

The fact is that our groups are really “parent groups,” not “parent-teacher groups,” despite the acronyms. And all the time spent trying to get teachers to join or attend or lamenting that teachers aren’t joining or attending is time not spent on doing great parent work for the kids and for the school.

I love when teachers get involved, and it certainly serves a group well to have a couple of teachers, at least, who have the time and interest to connect well with your group so that teachers’ and parents’ efforts can be aligned. But I’d much rather my school have 20 great teachers who aren’t that involved with the PTO than 20 just-OK teachers who attend every PTO event.

The best schools have a bunch of distinct talent pools — like teachers and administrators and staff specialists and parents — each working toward the same, connected goals. That’s what you’re after.

Here are some other resources:

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Back-to-School Basics: Be Organized and in Control

August 12th, 2014 by

Be Organized and in ControlWith the start of the school year upon us, or at most just around the corner, all those last details can make a manageable situation seem overwhelming. Relax, and take a deep breath! You can take back control and have a great (and stress-free) beginning of the year.

First, try to get everything you still need to do down on one list. This can be done electronically or on paper, or even a mix of both. Don’t be daunted if it ends up being a long list—instead, let it ease your anxiety because you won’t be struggling to remember what you need to do. Plus, there is nothing more satisfying than crossing things off that list!

Find a few tasks that can be done (relatively) quickly and easily. Fill out the forms to reserve school space for your group’s meetings for the entire school year, for example. Send updates to the webmaster so your website is ready to go.

Don’t try to power through everything on the list at once; break it up into a few things you can tackle each day. If you need help, have a quick, last-minute meeting with the rest of the board and see whether there are tasks that can be shared among the group. Divide and conquer, and you’ll soon be ready to go.

Here are a few of our favorite resources for back-to-school planning and organization:

Have a great beginning of the school year!

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How Your Group Can Make a Great First Impression

August 6th, 2014 by

Parent Groups Make Great Welcome Wagons!Recently I talked about your open house speech and how to set the right tone, but I actually think it’s even better if you set that “first impression tone” even earlier with a welcome event of some sort that is purely social and fun.

There are a ton of new families about to enter your school, and they are anxious and unsure and probably feeling quite disconnected. But likely there are some great future volunteer candidates. Your group can do a great service to your school and for all those families by being the “welcome wagon” of sorts to new folks.

At my kids’ school, we started an annual new families ice cream social at a local park. We have tons of similar ideas in this fun back-to-school events article. The key is extending that hand in friendship and service. So many important family questions (how does school pickup really work?) aren’t covered in the school manual.

Great bonus: those parents who attend and are served and welcomed? They are way more likely to become fans of your PTO than parents who are only hit up for money. Good luck!

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Back-to-School Basics: Does Your School Need Room Parents?

August 5th, 2014 by

Room ParentsAs the school year starts, you might be in the position of helping recruit people for different jobs both in your parent group and elsewhere in the school. A particular area of need every year is for room parents.

Last year at this time, I talked about the experience in the article “What Does a Room Parent Do?” My purpose in writing the article was to dispel the idea, especially for parents new to the school, that being a room parent is overwhelming. Sometimes it seems like a job that’s gotten a bad rap, but having done it for six years, I can honestly say that it rarely felt like too much. It was a great way to provide necessary help to my son’s teachers while getting an up-close glimpse of his life at school.

What’s more, being a room parent is a natural fit for PTO folks, who are used to being a day-to-day part of their kids’ schools, working with administrators, and organizing both small and large-scale events and programs. But the reality is, not everyone feels cut out for the collaborative nature of PTO involvement. Being a room parent is another way for those moms and dads to be involved.

This past year as room parent marked my last—my younger child is entering middle school—and I know I’m going to miss the connection to his new teachers. As I’m looking for new ways to get involved, let the parents at your school know what a valuable and worthwhile experience they’ll have as room parent. In addition to my article, point them to our Room Parents File Exchange, which offers resources like a downloadable room parent handbook, room parent intro letter and info request, and classroom party sign-up sheets.

Good luck!

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Win $4,000 for Your School From Frigo Cheese Heads Snack Cheese

August 5th, 2014 by

Build a Bright Future PromotionWe know PTO and PTA leaders are always on the lookout for ways to help their schools. So, we’ve got a good one for you: Tell your community of parents and teachers about the Build a Bright Future Promotion from Frigo® Cheese Heads® Snack Cheese. The contest entry period runs now through Sept. 30, 2014, and five schools will be awarded a $4,000 prize to be used toward the purchase of an enhancement for the school that could be anything from sports equipment and outdoor learning supplies to computers, easels, or enrichment programs.

Parents, teachers, and adults over 21 years old can nominate a school and explain how it would benefit from the $4,000 prize. Entries should be creative and be 50 to 200 words. Each nomination is counted as an entry to the contest. The idea is to make a proposal that would help students toward a brighter future by improving their current educational environment. The idea also should be feasible to implement with the $4,000 prize.

The nomination period ends Sept. 30. Judges will select 10 entries as finalists. The public will have an opportunity to vote on the finalists on Frigo Cheese Heads’ Facebook page from Oct. 13 through Oct. 31. Winners will be announced in mid-November. In addition to five schools winning $4,000, an additional five schools will win $1,000 prizes.

The Frigo Cheese Heads Build a Bright Future Promotion could be a great way to help get your school something it’s wanted or needed but has not been able to afford. So get the word out and encourage parents and teachers to help out! The more nominations a school gets, the better chance it has of winning! Good luck!

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Which Fundraiser Best Fits Your Group?

July 30th, 2014 by

Yes, there is a right fundraiser for every group. And there are great fundraisers for one group that aren’t a fit for another. Sometimes, your fundraising struggle isn’t because of execution; rather, it’s because the fundraiser you picked was a bad fit in the first place.

The article “Which Fundraiser Is Right for You?” has comprehensive information on the many factors involved, but the key is to think about your group’s strengths, your relationship to your parent community, and even the demographics of your parent community.

Do you have an abundance of volunteers and a track record of successfully executing fairly complex offerings? If yes, then you can consider a big event for sure. Otherwise, a turnkey program (with a sales rep to help you and marketing materials already created) might be your best friend. That’s why the traditional “sales” fundraisers (gift wrap, candles, catalog sales, cookie dough, etc.) have worked so well for so long.

New online options? Those too aren’t (yet) right for everyone. Is your school community fairly tech-savvy? Are your parents mostly all on smartphones and tablets now? If not, then the time may not be right for you to go digital for your fundraising.

The worst result is to work really hard and not get rewarded with the funds you need for your important work. Some time spent early in the fundraising process to find the best fit for your group is the best way to avoid that end.

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