PTO Today Blog

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

It happens every year, and today was the day. The last of the PTO Today Expo materials were shipped back to our headquarters in Wrentham, Mass., and we feel a little melancholy. Guess we are missing the excitement of the shows and connecting with you all in person! 

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Each year, the PTO Today Expos give us an awesome opportunity: To meet hundreds of leaders in person and have great conversations with you. We want to thank every leader who attended our shows. From Marlborough, Mass., to Pasadena, Calif., you were all terrific! You inspire us to work harder and come up with new and better ways to help you do your jobs. 

We loved meeting leaders like Cass Becker, the PTO president at Riverwood Elementary in McHenry, Ill., whose enthusiasm is contagious. Cass was gracious enough to chat on camera at the Expo Photo Booth in Oakbrook: 

 

And a special shout-out to all the folks who drove for hours to get to an Expo (that means you, Wendy and Jim Weagle from Groveton Elementary in Groveton, N.H.), to those who shared their stories, told us jokes, gave us honest feedback on our products and services, and delighted us with their snazzy spiritwear! 

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We’ve already had our first post-Expo meeting to start planning great things for 2016! Let us know what you’d like to see at our next Expo season in the comments section of this blog. 

We’ll leave you (for now) with this fun video, a one-minute look at PTO Today Expo 2015! 

 

Posted in PTO Today Expo
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It’s amazing to think we are getting ready to close out another year at our PTA! Over the years, I’ve found that making a few administrative tasks a top priority now makes life much easier when school starts up again. Here’s what we’re working on:

Boosting involvement. Right now, we are reaching out to current committee chairs and volunteers to see what they are interested in doing next year. We’re also focusing on new parents. We just hosted a morning PTA Volunteer Q&A meeting at a local coffee shop and had a great turnout! We met many new faces and filled half our volunteer slate in two hours!

We also asked outgoing committee chairs to provide a quick description of their position, so we could share this with prospective members quickly on email. While this is another "ask" at the end of a busy school year, we found that committee chairs who were "graduating out" were happy to share their wisdom gained over the past few years. 

Finalizing the budget. We’re wrapping up the budget and making sure all committee reports are in with final numbers. We’re also getting feedback from school leaders and volunteers to review what worked for specific events so we can make improvements or adjustments in next year’s budget. One tip to share: We make notes throughout the year, especially concerning unexpected expenses, like the cost of mailing 300 gift cards or unexpected lunches for visiting students. Having those notes now makes a huge difference!

Making a 2015-16 plan. While we are still in parent group mode, we will be meeting with the principal and teachers who were involved in the PTA to discuss objectives or plans for next year. For example, our PTA sponsored two assemblies for boys and girls focused on self-respect and anti-bullying. We'd like to start an after-school club next year using the curriculum developed by one of the groups that put on the assembly. So, we sent out a fundraising survey to see whether our members were interested in supporting this program, and we think it’s important to get input from the principal and teachers, as well. 

Squaring away the schedule. To help us set our calendar for the next school year, we recently met with parent group presidents from four local PTAs, and we reviewed our schedules to avoid conflicts. We have three elementary PTAs which feed into our middle school group, so it's important to make sure we aren't double-scheduling parents who may want to attend both. We followed up the discussion with an email of each group's meeting dates.  

Lastly, I’d like to share a piece of advice. If you’re a parent group leader, make sure you take a moment to remember that you did your best. I know we will! You and your team of volunteers accomplished more than you may realize right now! 

Here’s to a great 2015-16!

Posted in Running Your Group

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No doubt, your group does some very cool stuff. And I hope you look for for the recognition you deserve. That's what our annual Parent Group of the Year search is all about.

The deadline for entries is June 1. When you submit your story, please keep these in mind:

1. Your group doesn't have to be the greatest, most organized PTO or PTA on earth to earn accolades. Tons of our Parent Group of the Year winners have been from very typical groups with all of the typical challenges you likely face. But everyone has a success or story that fits. We'd love for you to enter the search.

2. There are real benefits to entering. Besides the chance to win great prizes and publicity, there’s something really positive that happens when leaders take the time to remember accomplishments, no matter how big or small. After a long year, your accomplishments merit attention way more than any of your misses. It does wonders for motivation.

I strongly encourage you to take this opportunity now to brag a little (or a lot) about your group’s accomplishments this year. You deserve to.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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If you’ve just been elected president of your parent group, you are probably excited and a little stressed. Now that it’s official, you may have a few doubts that you can do a job. But we have good news: You are likely better prepared than you think you are, and we are here to help with tons of resources for new presidents! 

So, take a deep breath and consider taking care of these five tasks:

1. Connect with the outgoing president. Remember it’s the end of the school year and she’s probably very busy. So if she doesn’t have much time for you, don’t take it personally. Just make sure you take care of the must-do items, like getting your name on the bank account. Also, ask if there are any pending contracts for fall fundraisers that need to be processed. 

2. Ask the outgoing president and other departing board members to meet with you and your new team when school wraps up. Prepare a list of questions—and don’t worry about sounding silly. Ask really basic questions, like what the group should and shouldn’t spend money on. For instance, does the group have a policy for helping families in emergency situations, such as when a parent is hospitalized? You’d be surprised how often this situation can come up and how difficult it can be to respond if there’s no policy in place. 

3. Request that the outgoing team share the documents they have. Be specific. Ask for volunteer contact information, copies of flyers and letters, vendor contacts, and basic instructions on how to run an event and manage a team of volunteers. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll be taking over for an organized group that will hand you binders with information on each program. But it isn’t uncommon to take the reins from a group that doesn’t want to share much (or doesn’t have much to share). If that’s the case, don’t panic. We have what you need. 

Say, for example, you have no idea what kind of family event you should do to kick off the 2015-16 school year. Do a search on “family event” on ptotoday.com and the first article that pops up is 20 Fun Family Events. Chances are, you’ll find an idea in there. 

You can then use our File Exchange to find free customizable documents that you can use to create flyers, letters to parents, requests for donations, and thank-you notes. 

We even have a Clip Art Gallery with hundreds of images you can download and use for free! 

4. Ask your new team to meet in early summer so you can spend a little time together. Start building relationships. Talk about the big-picture issues, like what you want your group to achieve in the next school year. Take the time to review any immediate business items. For example, did the old group have a welcome packet for new families? If not, you can make that a summer project with the help of our article “How To Create a Welcome Packet.’’ 

5. Meet with the principal before the school year ends. Keep this meeting light. Don’t start by asking the principal what you need from her; rather, find out what she thinks of your group and what she sees as the role of the PTO at your school. If you aren’t sure how to make that first connection with the principal, read “Make the Principal Your Partner.” 

Oh, and don't forget to breathe! 

Posted in Running Your Group

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Thanks to everyone who participated in our Live Q&A session on Facebook last night. Our topic was elections and transitions, and we had a great discussion that covered everything from how to get a parent to take a board position to how to help new board members learn the ropes.

Here are the highlights:

If you are looking for parents to fill an officer’s role, ask the teachers for candidates. They typically know of some parents who have what it takes! 

Reach out to kindergarten parents. They are often more motivated and enthusiastic than parents who are wrapping up their time at the elementary school.

If possible, set up a meeting now so current board members can talk with those just elected. You don’t want everyone escaping for the summer and leaving the new board on its own.

Sometimes, outgoing board members won’t be or can’t be helpful, so try thinking about transition throughout the year. One community member says her group set up a Dropbox account where it loads copies of flyers and other documentation about events as they occur. That way, new volunteers have access to information when they take over.

See whether there’s a way to bring on a copresident or president-in-training. Some groups have a formal process for this. You can try it in a more casual way, as well, enabling a board member to shadow the president from time to time so he can learn the job before he takes over.

If you can’t fill all board positions, seek out parents who can help runs certain projects. As one community member said, break things into smaller chunks so responsibilities seem less overwhelming. 

Seek out parents who seem really outgoing and friendly. Ask those parents to ask their networks of parents whether anyone is interested in an officer or committee chair position. 

Target those volunteers who are always helping at events and reach out to them directly. Try a sincere, one-on-one conversation and let them know why you think they would be a great asset to your group. 

Posted in Running Your Group

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Our Parent Group of the Year search is under way, and we can’t wait to hear your stories! This year, we will be awarding a grand prize of $3,000 to one parent group, which our editors will select as Parent Group of the Year. We will also award eight $500 prizes to groups with outstanding stories in categories such as community service and family events.

Our Parent Group of the Year search is a great way to earn money for your school without a lot of work. Simply tell us your story in a format that works best for you, such as a Word document, video, collection of photos, or slideshow. The important thing is to include details about your program or programs so we can get a good sense of what it’s all about. 

When we wrap up our search, we announce the winners, share their stories, and share tips from all entries. This provides our entire community with lots of ideas to try at their schools. 

The search focuses on K-8 parent groups because that is our main audience, but high school groups may enter. 

The deadline for entries is June 1. When you submit your story, let us know which of the categories you are entering. (You can enter as many as you’d like). All groups are automatically considered for the $3,000 Parent Group of the Year award. 

The categories are: Outstanding Parent Group at a Small School, Outstanding Parent Group at a Private or Parochial School, Outstanding Focus on Academics and Enrichment, Outstanding Family Event, Outstanding Major Project or Program, Outstanding Outreach to a Diverse School Community, and Outstanding Community Service Project. In addition, we give a $500 Judges’ Choice Award for a group that has made an overall outstanding effort.

If you have additional questions on how to participate in our search,  check out our Frequently Asked Questions section on our Parent Group of the Year page. 

Go here to download our easy entry form.

Good luck, everyone! 

Posted in Contest or Grant
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Yes, we were glued to the TV for the sneak preview of Mother Funders, Bravo’s reality show about a PTO  based in Locust Grove, Ga. And yes, Andy Cohen and his Bravo formula sucked us in again. We will be watching episode #2 for sure.  Election drama. Fundraising drama. PTO probation? This group has us interested. Several related and unrelated observations from the preview episode:

1. Whoa—Carla is getting the villain treatment from the producers. Drama needs protagonists and antagonists, and it looks like—so far—Carla is being cast as the Queen Bee. Good to keep in mind that these shows film hundreds of hours for every 30-minute episode, allowing the producers to write/emphasize almost any story they want.

2. PTO probation? Carla replied on social media that probation is in the Locust Grove bylaws. I’ve never seen that, and I’ve certainly never seen it used. I’d like to hear more about the perceived upside to that type of discipline measure within a PTO, as I’m not seeing it. Parents and volunteers have ample choices for where to dedicate their time, talent, and treasure. 

3. At every school, there are volunteers who will stay involved with the PTO or PTA through almost anything because it is their passion or their legacy or they feel like it’s their responsibility. But the vast majority of parents and potential volunteers will fade away or stay away from a group that isn’t pleasant and welcoming and respectful of time. In the long run, strong fundraising results are not enough. The function of a PTO is so much more than that. Furthermore, even the fundraising results will actually suffer as more and more volunteers are run off or scared away in the first place. That’s my biggest worry for Locust Grove.

4. Looks like the producers are getting us ready for a contested election. How great is that? I can hear parent group leaders around the country saying: “Contested election? More than one person fighting for the job? Right about now I’d take a volunteer with a pulse for our vacant VP job.”

Love to hear your thoughts.  We’ve been discussing on Twitter and on our Facebook page, as well.

Posted in Just For Fun

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Amid all the activities and events and fundraisers and meetings, do you ever wonder how it's all being perceived? Are the parents with whom you are trying to connect and serve loving all your group's work?

My advice to you as this school year to a close: Just ask. 

We have a great new end-of-year parent survey template that you can customize and share with your parents. You can even use it with a free, online survey tool like SurveyMonkey.

Sometimes it’s hard to have your hard work critiqued—especially when it’s unpaid work and the folks doing the critiquing don’t do nearly as much work as you do—but the feedback you receive could be the most important guide to your activities next year. And it should help you connect with more parents for events and more potential volunteers.

You need to know what your school community loves, and also what drives them a little bit crazy about your group. That kind of honest feedback is the best way to make improvements year to year.

As you’re figuring out what worked this year (and what didn’t), you might also like these resources for reviewing your events and efforts:

Event Evaluation Form

Year-End PTO To Do List

Posted in Running Your Group

So Bravo is previewing a new PTO reality show this weekend.  If they're looking for drama, they’ve definitely found the right place!  We won’t miss an episode.

While I’m sure plenty of critics and observers will follow the new show, no one will cover the show like PTO Today!  Forgive us for the excitement, but it’s not every day we get the chance to play John Madden or Dick Vitale and provide expert color commentary on our chosen sport. 

A couple of early Hopes and Fears from our angle:

Hope: Passion and generosity will shine through. The PTO moms we know are in it for the right reasons and give willingly of their time and talents. That may not make for the best TV, but we hope that side of PTO and PTA work gets visibility.

Fear: The name and the preview suggest that this is a show almost exclusively about fundraising, even though PTOs and PTAs do so much more than that. And this one is about big-time fundraising ($100k+) to boot. One hundred thousand dollar budgets are pipe dreams for most PTOs.  Will "Mother Funders" only deepen the impression that parent groups are just about money? That’s the fear.

Hope: The show can find an audience. There’s something to be said about getting real with schools.  This work is not easy. And it can be filled with tough interpersonal skills. But the schools need this kind of involvement and help desperately

Fear:  TV ratings pressure will require the show to exaggerate every possible PTO and PTA stereotype.  Think: Harper Valley PTA on steroids. It’s what we're expecting, frankly, but the fear is that Andy Cohen and his minions will dial that all the way up to the ridiculous, which will only hurt the parent groups that are out there doing their jobs without TV cameras.

We'll be live tweeting this Sunday and certainly continuing the discussion here and on our Facebook channel. Love to have you join in. Stay tuned…

Posted in Just For Fun

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School stores are lots of fun for students, and they can help raise funds for your group. We recently had a great Facebook discussion on how to be successful with a school store, and we wanted to share some of the tips from our community members.

1. Hours: Picking the right time to be open for business is key. You’ll want to check with the principal and teachers to find out what makes sense for your school. Some principals may find a lunchtime school store works best, while others may find that disruptive and would prefer your group set it up as a before- or after-school activity. 

2. Frequency: Some leaders said they run their stores for a half hour once or twice a week. You may want to start slow, however, and run your store once or twice a month so you can gauge student interest. Once you get a good feel for demand, you can set an official schedule. 

3. Location: Here’s another matter to discuss with the principal. There may be a spot you could use on a permanent basis. If not, you can keep inventory and supplies in portable containers. Work with the principal to select a central area. Also, think about how to best display merchandise. You may need to purchase folding tables to set out items. 

4. Purchasing merchandise. There are two primary ways to do this, and it comes down to how much time you have and your personal preference. You can purchase online items like pens, pencils, and novelty items. Or, you can do your own shopping at local discount stores. A few folks report doing both; they buy basic school supplies online and shop locally for specialty items. One leader says she purchases items during holiday clearance sales for 70 percent to 90 percent off and tucks them away for the following year. 

5. Branding: Consider naming your school store, perhaps something clever tied to the school mascot. This will make it more fun for the kids. One leader reports that her school community is known as the Lafayette Tigers, so she named the store The Tiger’s Den. 

6. Advertising: Promote your store with flyers and emails so parents know the store hours, available items, and pricing. One group says a teacher wear a sandwich board promoting the school store at pickup and drop-off times. Also, to get more buy-in, let parents and students know how any profits from the store will be used. 

7. Pricing: Try to balance the goal of raising some money for your group and keeping prices realistic so kids can shop. To help keep prices low, ask community members and local stores to donate items.

8. Accommodating all kids: You’ll discover that some children won’t have money to purchase items. Some groups have had success using a point system in place of cash. Children can earn points by helping in the classroom. Talk to the teachers to see whether they can help with this. 

9. Remembering who your customers are: Kids are the ones buying, so try to stock merchandise that you know will appeal to them. Community members report that current popular items include mechanical pencils, novelty erasers, markers, Sharpies, earbuds, change purses, Pillow Pets, lunch boxes, notebooks, and “anything that makes noise.” 

Posted in How To...

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As PTOs and PTAs put on their teacher appreciation celebrations this week, they are doing a whole lot more than hosting luncheons and giving gifts.

After all, teacher appreciation is often a communitywide experience as it brings together volunteers, parents, students, and administrators for the common cause of thanking teachers. These celebrations go a long way toward fostering a sense of unity. 

Here are just some of the ways Teacher Appreciation Week benefits a school community: 

Volunteers bond: For PTO or PTA volunteers (especially new recruits), working on teacher appreciation is a great way to feel part of the group. Friendships can grow as people toil away on something together, and a connected group of volunteers can accomplish big things!

Kids see the bigger picture: Often, students are asked to participate in teacher appreciation activities by writing thank-you notes or helping with decorations. They learn valuable lessons about being part of a community and showing appreciation for others.

Parents feel involved: Even if parents can’t be on site to help the parent group, many send in donations or try to offer support in other ways, like making centerpieces for the teacher luncheon. It helps parents feel like contributing members of the community.

Teachers feel special: Of course teachers love receiving the little gifts or enjoying a tasty catered lunch. During this week, they also are able to connect with parents and students on a more personal level and receive lots of well-deserved positive feedback. 

So, here’s to the PTO and PTA leaders who manage teacher appreciation events, and, in the process, build a sense of community! 

Have a great week, everyone! 

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This is the time of year when many current officers are looking to find either their own replacement, or more help for the leadership team next year. No one wants to be stuck doing the work of six people alone, and your group needs leadership to thrive.

But what do you do if no one is stepping up? This is one of the most frustrating challenges a group can have.

My tip: If you aren’t finding folks willing to take on the biggest jobs, you have to break things down into smaller chunks. And you very well may have to reduce the number of functions your group tackles until you can get that leadership vacuum filled. If one great prospective volunteer doesn’t want to be your new vice president, will she perhaps step up and cochair a major fall event? If no one is willing to be treasurer, can you find two volunteers who agree to share the job?

No new president? You may have to adjust the bylaws to allow leadership by a committee, at least until you can take on a more formal structure.

In the end you want to keep on doing as much good work as you can for the school, regardless of structure or titles. The bureaucracy can’t trump the good work.

And if you’ve had this trouble this year, now is the time start making some changes to your group to bring new faces in at beginner levels and to make the leadership jobs more attractive to those folks in the long-term. We have some great resources on developing new leaders:

Developing New PTO and PTA Leaders

Help Prepare New Officers for Success

Build a Strong Executive Board

Posted in Parent Involvement
One of the best ways to build involvement is to connect with parents at a back-to-school event. If you do a little planning for it now, you'll see a big payoff next year. So, take a few moments to sign up for our free Back2School program. You'll get tips, free printables like bookmarks and a colorful banner, and copies of our Jump In magazine for parents.It all helps your group put on a polished and welcoming back-to-school event. In this video, you'll get more info from Craig Bystrynski, our editor in chief, on why our Back2School program is a smart choice for parent groups! 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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Teacher appreciation shouldn’t be about spending money. For many groups, there isn’t enough in the budget to pay for all the programs they’d like to provide for the kids. If your group has a limited teacher appreciation budget, try not to sweat it. In fact, there are lots of ways you can say thanks without spending money. 

1. Applause parade. Have students line the hallway one morning during Teacher Appreciation Week and clap as the teachers enter the building. 

2. Class song. This requires a little rehearsal. Have a class parent work with students to sing a simple song like “You Are My Sunshine.” Rehearse during a recess time shortly before Teacher Appreciation Week. Set up a special surprise performance for the teacher during the week. 

3. Thank-you announcements. Have one or two children from each class join the morning announcements (perhaps do five to 10 classes each day) to say one nice thing about their teacher. 

4. Class cleanup. A class parent can oversee daily classroom cleanups with the children. This could be done after school, or the teacher may allow a few minutes before the end of the day or at the start of the day to help make this happen. 

5. Thank-you notes. Have the children each write a handwritten note about what makes their teacher special. 

6. Recess coverage. Work with the principal to set up recess coverage with a group of volunteers so teachers can take extended lunch breaks. 

7. Lounge cleanup. Bring in a few volunteers to clean the teachers lounge.

8. Social shout-out. Post a thank-you with photos on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to tell your teachers how much they mean to you. 

9. May I carry your books? Line up a few student volunteers to carry the teacher’s books or school bag to her car after school. 

10. Kudos from the PTO leaders. Make a point to have your board members say thank-you to teachers. An in-person, sincerely expressed thanks could be the best gift of all. 

How do your teachers and parents deal with school supply lists each year? Is it an annual chore that has parents frustrated because lists aren't out, can't be found, or are impossible to read on a smartphone? Is it a pain for school staff to update, copy, and distribute lists to parents and retailers each year?

That's exactly why we've been working so hard on TeacherLists. Have you given it a look for your school yet? Schools (or school volunteers) are posting their 2015 school supply lists to TeacherLists.com and making back-to-school much simpler for all. Parents can find their lists easily on your school website, at TeacherLists and at select retailers (they can even read them right on a smartphone at the store), and the process is way easier for your school staff. You really need to check it out!

Three highlights:

1. Check out the new TeacherLists video (above) that explains how it’s making back-to-school

easier for all.

2. Get your school eligible for the Schools Work Smarter $5,000 Sweepstakes going on now.

3. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at PTO Today (or call at 800-644-3561 ext. 6) if we can be of any help in getting your school plugged in.

We can't wait to help!

Posted in Bright Ideas

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One of the best ways to hold on to volunteers is to tell them you appreciate their contributions. Right now, we’re guessing your volunteers are flat-out as they help you prep for Teacher Appreciation Week, which begins May 4, and all of the other year-end events. Wouldn’t it be great to do something special for them before you wrap up the year? 

Most volunteers don’t need giant gift baskets, trips to the spa, or other grand gestures. They simply want to be acknowledged for helping their school community. Here are some ideas to let them know they’ve made a difference. 

Go public: Get the word out about your volunteers so parents and teachers knows who’s been working on behalf of your community. Thank volunteers in newsletters, in emails, and on social channels like Facebook and Twitter. 

Also, try a creative twist, like making a giant thank-you note on a bulletin board in the school. Place the names (and photos, if you have them) of the volunteers and thank them for their contributions. 

Thank-you replay: If you aren’t sure you’ve already thanked someone, thank them again. Better to have thanked someone twice than not at all. 

Celebrate: Try to fit in a get-together before year’s end. It can be a simple lunch or a coffee-and-doughnuts morning at the school. Have a little fun and give out awards (paper certificates) for special achievements, like “Most Hours on the Cash Register at the Book Fair Without Losing it!”  Time permitting, make trophies to hand out as well. 

Easy gifts: Consider giving volunteers small gifts to say thanks. We have a new slideshow of inexpensive and easy gift ideas that you’ll find helpful. 

Look ahead: While year-end volunteer tributes are important, set a goal for next year to stay in touch with helpers throughout the year to let them know you value them. Our article, “A Culture of Volunteer Appreciation,” provides tips on how to let volunteers know they make a difference throughout the year. 

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Out there somewhere are parent group leaders who are starting to feel panic set in because they haven’t yet tackled one of the biggest projects of the year: teacher appreciation.

But let’s put some perspective on this: There’s still fourteen days until Teacher Appreciation Week begins. Find me a PTO or PTA leader who can’t accomplish a lot in two weeks! So, push away the panic and check out our teacher appreciation articles where you will find many ideas that easily can be done between now and May 4, the start of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Here are just a few of our many ideas:

 

1. Host a potluck lunch: Send out an email to parents today and ask them to donate their favorite dish for a teacher’s lunch. This will take some coordinating this week. Set up a drop-off time and location for donations. Purchase paper goods. Ask a local nursery to donate flowers or small plants to decorate the teachers lounge. 

2. Create a memory book: Ask the principal if you and a few volunteers can visit classrooms this week. You could each do several in a day. Stop in, ask the teacher to step out in the hall for a moment. Give the children a piece of card stock paper and ask them to write something special about their teacher. Collect the notes and paste them into a scrapbook with photos of students and the classroom. 

3. Special breakfast delivery: On one day during Teacher Appreciation Week, purchase fruit, bagels, white lunch bags, and several bouquets of flowers. Place a piece of fruit and a bagel in each bag, one for each teacher. Using tape, attach a single flower from the bouquets to each lunch bag. Display in the teachers lounge or deliver to classrooms. 

4. Car wash: Get a few helpers and offer to wash car windows for the teachers. Put a note in each teacher’s mailbox with an attached ribbon. The note can read, “We can clearly see we have the best staff around! If you would like your car windows washed tomorrow, please tie this ribbon to your car antenna.”

5. Little treats: Shop this week for inexpensive gifts that can easily be made special by adding our free gift tag templates. Also, the folks at our sister site, HomeroomMom.com, put together a photo collection of easy-to-make, inexpensive teacher gift ideas that may inspire you.

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Usually when we finish an event, we breathe one big sigh of relief and grab a cocktail or a well-deserved nap (or both). But my tip this week involves one key step before the event is officially in the rear view mirror—a post-event summary report.

Now is the time to remember the two or three best things you did, and the two or three biggest mistakes. Did you write down the cell number and email address of that great vendor? Do you remember now which job needed more help and which less?

This can definitely be quick and even informal, but it's such a valuable step. We have a helpful event and planning evaluation form. And if you have another system for recapping and reporting on events, please share it with our Facebook community.

Posted in Running Your Group

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Most parent group volunteers get really excited about teacher appreciation. We do, too—so much so that we’re now posting teacher appreciation ideas and tips every few days!

But sometimes excitement can turn into stress as PTO leaders, in an effort to do the very best for their teachers, take on projects that are just too much work or money. All that stress really isn’t worth it when you think most teachers really are happy with simple expressions of appreciation. 

So, a few tips to minimize stress: 

1. Try to avoid reinventing the wheel. Use our resources to help you save time. For example, if you are planning a teacher luncheon, considering using one of our free luncheon theme starter packs that include customizable templates for a flyer, invitations, letter, and table tent. 

2. Do something for teachers that doesn’t cost a penny. Try a gift of time such as coverage on the playground so teachers can have an extended lunch. There’s no expense for your group and the teachers will truly appreciate it. Use our free Get Out of Recess Duty cards to give this gift a special touch.  

3. When it comes to teacher appreciation gifts, there’s no rule that says PTO leaders need to be on par with Martha Stewart. You will find that most teachers will be thrilled with something simple like a mason jar tied with a pretty ribbon and filled with treats.

4. Homemade food is a good option. To save money, skip a catered lunch and try a potluck luncheon with donations from parents. To add a nice touch, collect recipes from parents and create a recipe book for the teachers. 

5. Try to remember that you should be having fun, too. During the appreciation festivities, make sure you pause long enough to give yourself a pat on the back for all the work you are doing, and to enjoy the kick the teachers get out of their well-deserved treats.

For more simple teacher appreciation ideas: 

50 Teacher Appreciation Ideas 

Creative Twists on Teacher Appreciation 

Teacher Appreciation Gift Tags

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Our Parent Group of the Year search is under way! You may wonder if your group has what it takes. Well, we think it does!

One group will be selected as the National Parent Group of the Year and will receive a $3,000 cash prize. In addition, we will select seven category winners, each of which will be awarded a $500 prize. The categories are: Outstanding Parent Group at a Small School, Outstanding Parent Group at a Private or Parochial School, Outstanding Focus on Academics and Enrichment, Outstanding Family Event, Outstanding Major Project or Program, Outstanding Outreach to a Diverse School Community, and Outstanding Community Service Project.

In addition, we will award a Judges’ Choice winner a $500 prize. This goes to a group that has made an outstanding effort in one or more categories.

We know this is a busy season, but take a little time to submit an entry—the reward could be big! You may think what your group does is routine, but chances are, it’s pretty awesome. So, don’t be shy when you tell us about your group’s accomplishments. You can enter as many categories as you’d like. It helps if you can send along photos or other visuals to tell your story, but that isn’t a requirement.

The search applies to all K-8 parent groups. 

Get your entry to us by June 1, 2015. If you have any questions, visit our Parent Group of the Year page. It includes a FAQ section that you may find helpful. 

We’re really looking forward to hearing all about your groups! Good luck! 

Posted in Parent Group News