PTO Today Blog

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

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Do you have 5 minutes in the next two weeks? If so, then I have a recommendation for one of the simplest and most helpful ways to serve your parents just before school starts back up.

Get your school's school supply lists posted to TeacherLists.com.

Are parents ever frustrated by not finding the lists or not having the lists when they are in the store? Have you ever tried reading a list on your smartphone while in store aisles? Getting your school’s lists on TeacherLists makes all that so much better.

All the lists are in one place and are easily readable on a smartphone. They’re even automatically available on Amazon.com after you post them to TeacherLists. It’s very cool.

Best of all? All you have to do is submit your lists in any format—and we’ll get them posted for you on TeacherLists.com in less than 24 hours.

Your school’s parents really will love it.

Enjoy!

Posted in Bright Ideas

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If you’re a new PTO president, chances are you’ve had a few moments of doubt lately, asking yourself if you can really do this job.

Sure you can. 

It’s common to think a PTO president is a certain type—an outgoing, confident, high-energy dynamo. You may even be replacing someone exactly like that. But there’s no rule that says you must become that person. In fact, you’ll put a great deal of stress on yourself if you try to play to a stereotype. Our best advice: Be yourself. It might sound a little trite, but it works. 

There are many successful PTO presidents who are quiet, reserved, and even shy. Leaders aren’t supposed to entertain; they are supposed to inspire, and there’s no one way to encourage and motivate people.

Often, the big bugaboo for low-key leaders is public speaking. Two things: Don’t expect you’ll be perfect the first time out and, if you do need help, we have a good article with lots of public speaking tips

Remember to play to your strengths. Perhaps you won’t deliver a memorable speech at the first PTO meeting. But you may be a great listener who will warmly welcome new parents to the meeting. And there’s a good argument to be made that the warm welcome will do more for parent involvement than a show-stopper speech. 

On a recent Facebook thread, we had some inspirational comments from leaders who shared about their nerves and uncertainty about being PTO leaders. One woman said she is a “quiet person who doesn’t like to speak in front of large groups.’’ She said English is not her native language and that the first time she spoke at a meeting, her voice was “shaking so bad that everyone noticed it.’’ But she hung in there and is currently the PTA president at a school with 1,000 students.

You can do this, too! And for a little more motivation from peers, check out our blog of inspirational quotes

Good luck! 
Posted in Parent Involvement

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Right about now, PTO leaders are getting excited about upcoming programs and events, and they want to get moving on soliciting the volunteers and funds they need to make their plans happen. While it’s good to be gung ho, you also want to avoid starting the year by just asking what parents can do for you. Make sure you let parents know how your group can help them, too. 

In other words, be a resource right out of the gate. Parents, especially those new to your school, need information about the school and community, and your group’s in a good position to lend them a hand. For example, if you are hosting a back-to-school parent coffee or boohoo-yahoo breakfast, be willing to share helpful inside information, like how to avoid traffic at drop-off and pickup times, the location of food pantry collection bins, what clothes work best for kids on gym days, and the best way to communicate with the school secretary. 

Also, new families will appreciate community information, like the locations of local playgrounds, the name of the most helpful person in your town’s recreation department, and any online resources, like virtual community yard sales. 

The more you can do to assist parents in getting their families off to a good start this school year, the more they’ll appreciate your group. This goes a long way toward building a true sense of community at your school. 

We recommend sharing printables, checklists, and articles from our sister site, SchoolFamily.com, to help parents with a variety of home and school issues. 

Here’s a sample of some SchoolFamily.com resources: 

Uncommon Homework Advice

Resolving Student-Teacher Conflicts

Get Ready for School Checklist 

Screen Time Tracker

12 Educational Apps for Kids

Posted in Parent Involvement

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I frequently advise PTOs to brag more about their group and to make communication and public relations a priority. PTOs and PTAs benefit greatly when parents and school staff are reminded of their good work, and when the PTO voice comes across as positive and welcoming.

If you want to make a difference, you need help and support. And you get a lot more of both when your school community has a warm feeling about your group. If you don't set that tone, no one else will.

How you communicate, what you say, your tone—these are all part of the strategy. I'd recommend asking one of your best volunteers to make this her priority.

Here are three tools for your group that can help you communicate the right way:

6 Ways To Improve Communication

Parent Express Email

Communications File Exchange

Good luck!

Posted in Parent Involvement

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We asked our community members to share their best advice for new leaders who may be nervous about running a PTO or PTA, and here’s what they had to say:

Ask for help and don't take on too much. Pound the pavement asking for help. Say hi and introduce yourself to many people. - Christine H. 

You’re already doing more then others by stepping up and taking an active role. You will do just fine. - Rose Mary C. 

Do your best, you won't make everyone happy! - Trinette J. 

My best resource was the prior officers and the school staff, and we are constantly asking for help from our members. - Jill T. 

Be positive and listen to others’ ideas as well as coming up with your own. Spend time getting to know your other board members; it’s a big help when you’re all on the same page. - Kerry B. 

You are enough. Don't compare yourself to previous leaders, because we all bring our own strengths and weaknesses. I am a completely shy, quiet, and awkward person. I was president for four years. They even asked me to come back. My strength is empathy and positivity. - Erika M. 

Make personal connections to as many people within the school as you can (families and staff). It is so much easier to recruit help as a friend rather than as a faceless entity. - Jill R. 

Don't apologize for being new and not knowing how to do something. An attitude of "we'll figure this out together" goes a long way!  - Kathy H. 

Make a list of stuff you really want to do and talk to your board to see how much support you have. Try to keep an open and friendly relationship with the administration. Secretaries and janitorial staff are great resources.  - Mel B. 

Be yourself, follow your gut and go get 'em! - Dawn B.

Encourage the whole board to reach out and meet as many new parents as possible. - Holly G. 

Ask for one hour of help, instead of broad requests. Thank your people over and over.   - Maggie M.

Just do what you can do. Without lots of help, you can still be efficient and make good things happen. But if you can't do something, take it off the list. Have a great year! - Sheri T. 

If you don't believe in yourself no one will believe in you! Stand your ground but don't come across as aggressive. - Nicole P.

Accept all forms of help. Not all parents can make meetings, but some are excellent at crafts or computers or business relationships, so make connections with them. - Samantha K.

 Do your best and don't let anyone try and bring you down. You are doing this for the kids! It’s very rewarding to know that what you are doing is making memories these kids will remember! Good luck! - Melissa D.

 Have a good open relationship with your school principal; after all the PTO is there to support the school as they educate our children. - Kim N.

Remember that you joined the PTA to help out your own kids and their school, not to make an impression on other moms. - Laura O. 

The entire gig is kind of like planning a wedding—it all ends up coming together and the things that don't "go according to plan" will only be noticed by you, so don't sweat it! - Jenette K. 

Be positive, listen, be open to new ideas, delegate, include the rest of your board with decisions, provide support when needed to chairs, and most of all, remember communication is key!! - Josephine M. 

Always try to base your decisions on what is best for the students, and find ways to inspire new leaders! Enjoy it! You got this! - Kimberly S.
Look at old binders kept by the PTO treasurer to get an idea of what has been done. Meeting minutes and agendas also can be very helpful to learn what has been important to the group in the past. - Paige H.

Relax! You are a volunteer with a huge heart! That will make you a success! Smile and shine on! - Kindra P.
Delegate, follow up, reach out to other PTA presidents and ask for help. - Kristina P. 

Take every challenge one at a time and take them head on! If you start thinking of the hundreds of things that need to be done, you'll go crazy - Kelley H. 

Stay organized! Enjoy your time! Make friends! Always show compassion! Be respectful! Have fun! - Elisabeth H.
Posted in Parent Involvement
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In my neck of the woods, we have a lot of summer left. But I know some of you will be starting school pretty soon. And I also know that even those of you who have a longer summer are already thinking about getting back into the swing of things in the fall.

No worries—we have you covered. We just published an article called “Back-to-School Ideas for PTO Officers” that’s loaded with 31 great tips on organization, communication, and more. Our File Exchange has tons of printables like membership cards, flyers for back-to-school events, and this cool “Teacher Survival Kit.” Scroll down the page for some “older” favorites too, like our "10 Reasons To Get Involved at School" flyer.

As well, check our ptotoday.com homepage often as we’re busy updating it with new back-to-school tips and ideas. Whether you’re in the throes of planning or still enjoying your time off, our resources can help make sure you have a great start. Good luck!

Posted in Back to School
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If you are a new PTO president, you may be getting nervous about that first meeting of the year. It is a biggie, and of course you want to make a good first impression. But you aren’t about to deliver a State of the Union address. Try to relax, and remember these five tips: 

1. Tell people who you are. Start the meeting by sharing some of your background or telling folks why you wanted to be president (two minutes, tops), and then ask your board members to do the same. Ask attendees to introduce themselves, as well. It may take time to give everyone a chance to speak, but it’s worth it. It helps parents to know who is who on the board and who the other parents are. Name tags can really help, too. 

2. Use an agenda. If parents care enough to show up to your meeting, show respect for their time by having a list of items to discuss. No one wants to listen to someone who’s winging it. Parents want the meeting to have a purpose and they want you to have a plan. Also, the agenda will come in handy should you get nervous and forget what you wanted to talk about. What’s more, the agenda is a great way to halt a conversation that’s gone off track. Need help? Try our customizable agenda template

3. Be welcoming. What you want to avoid is giving parents the idea that the board is a separate and superior group within the PTO. Simple gestures at your first meeting can make a big difference. For example, don't put the board at a table in front of the room. Have board members sit at various spots around the room so they can talk to parents before the meeting begins. Parents will see your group as a team.

4. Tell parents about your group. Give a quick overview of the PTO mission, recent accomplishments, and top goals for the year. It’s important to remember that parents, especially new members, don’t always understand the purpose of a PTO. Just five minutes explaining the big picture will help parents better understand the reasons for the various events and fundraising efforts. This information may help them decide to volunteer. 

5. Don’t take yourself too seriously. In other words, do your best to relax and be yourself. Yes, the work of PTOs and PTAs is important, but you don’t preside over a corporate board. The more genuine you appear, the more attendees will relax as well. If parents leave your meeting having enjoyed themselves, chances are they’ll come back. 

For additional resources, go to our new Meeting Resources List. It’s a collection of resources and tips that can help you have successful meeting all year long. 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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What's your “dad” plan for next year? You do have a dad plan, don't you?

If you're really looking to transform involvement at your school, start thinking now about ways you can engage fathers. Dads are likely your largest subset of less-involved parents, and they bring great energy and different talents and perspectives.

I really like this story called “A Place for Dads” that profiles three organizations that work in different ways to make it easier for dads to get involved in schools. Another great example, this one from our annual Parent Group of the Year search: Each year, the John Hanson Montessori School PTSA holds a Men Make a Difference Day to promote male involvement. At this year’s event, the attendees (around 100) were greeted by boy middle schoolers and treated to a catered breakfast. After the program, the men went to their students’ classes for story time and presentations. Good stuff!

Those are just some of the many ways dads can be part of your school community. Just remember: Dads are different. If you want success with fathers, you need to recruit and plan differently than you do with moms. We have tons more ideas on dad involvement.

From this dad to those in your group—good luck!

Posted in Parent Involvement

Most reality shows are built upon competition and conflict. Successful parent groups, however, are not. Last night’s episode of the Bravo reality show Mother Funders, which follows a Georgia PTO, provided all the infighting you’d expect from the Real Housewives of Atlanta and very little that resembled actual PTO work.

That’s the main complaint we hear about the show from our readers: It paints parent groups in a bad light.

Here’s a brief rundown of things that happened on last night’s show that are not a realistic depiction of the parent groups we know.

  1. Volunteer Amber C. was thrown out of a meeting, then the vice president walked out in protest. In real life, we’re thrilled to have volunteers show up, and no one leaves a meeting that fast unless they get an urgent text from their child.
  2. The board voted to remove volunteer coordinator Robin from probation. PTO probation is a clever plot device, but we’ve never heard of it happening in real life.
  3. President Carla required the leaders to complete a self-evaluation and to videotape their responses. That works great for reality TV, but in real life, you can’t go around treating volunteers like they’re your employees.
  4. Although Robin is off probation, she and Carla continue to butt heads at the next meeting. Sure, disagreements among PTO leaders happen sometimes. But really, we’re all too busy taking care of business to make a scene like these two women do.

Toward the end of the episode, board member Amber B. asks the question that has been on my mind each time I’ve watched the show. “Why is it that we can never just have a simple meeting? Here we are, back to the Robin and Carla show.” That’s a formula for reality TV success, but not for a successful PTO.

Posted in Fundraising

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Spending nearly 10 years on a PTO provided me with many wonderful experiences and taught many me valuable life lessons. So if you’re in the PTO trenches right now, consider this: You’re honing some great skills that will come in handy long after you’ve retired as a school volunteer. 

Here are just a few that come to mind: 

1. Putting difficult people in their place. If you’ve ever had an unreasonable parent on your hands—you know the one who blasts you for serving bagels instead of doughnuts at a breakfast event—you are actually lucky. Seriously. Learning to control your response and understand that this person probably isn’t deliberately difficult (but more likely has an unrelated problem) is a helpful lesson. You’ll make use of this in a variety of situations, from negotiating with a tricky coworker to ignoring the guy who cuts in line at the deli. 

2. Letting go of perfection. Most of us learn quickly that nothing is ever perfect when we become parents, but a stint on a PTO will confirm it. No matter how much time and sheer grit you put into an event or program, something will go wrong. When we accept this, such as when we see the ice cream social was a huge hit even though someone forgot the sprinkles, everything gets a little easier. 

3. Being prepared. If you’ve managed PTO events, then you know there’s no such thing as “too soon.’’ So, yes, it’s aggravating to run around taking care of all the small stuff ahead of time, like buying and storing all the nonperishables weeks before an event. But isn’t it awesome on the day of the event when you don’t have to worry about the little details? When you’re juggling multiple projects at the office and at home, you’ll appreciate this skill. (Hey, it’s how I learned to set the Thanksgiving table the weekend before the actual holiday.)

4. Knowing how to schedule—and reschedule. Ever had the job of scheduling volunteers for an event that requires many helpers, like a book fair or field day? Then you know what it’s like to accommodate everyone’s needs to create a complex calendar, only to redo it when a few parents have “something come up.’’ The patience and perseverance you acquire from this experience will pay off when you’re scheduling work meetings and keeping track of your kids. 

5. Understanding the need to focus. PTO work can be demanding, and you can get pulled in many directions. I worked with some great PTO presidents who taught me to stay focused on the kids and doing work that helped create a school community. That kind of focus, especially in today’s world where we are constantly bombarded with information and competing demands, will serve you well and keep you zeroed in on the things in life that truly matter.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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When it comes to planning events, the advice I give most often is to think big. Planning and executing a big, successful family event is a surefire way to get everyone talking. And in my experience, parents who have attended an event like that are more likely to eventually volunteer or support a fundraiser.

But as we’re getting into July and leaders are starting to think more about the fall, I’m going to give the opposite advice, at the same time: Think small. You hear a lot about events like doughnuts with dad and muffins with mom, but have you ever actually held one? And what about a welcome event on the first day of school just for kindergarten parents? Sometimes called boohoo/yahoo breakfasts (because sending a little one off to school makes some people cry and others rejoice), these breakfast events are easy to pull together, and they let new parents know that they’re in good company. We even have a new article called “Plan a Boohoo/Yahoo Breakfast” with great tips on pulling off a successful event.

There’s no question that schools feel a lot of pride when they can execute big events with all the bells and whistles. But make some room on your calendar for the small ones, too. They can have an outsize effect on your efforts to build community and involvement. 

Posted in Tim's Tip

Market Day, the groceries fundraiser company that’s been around since the 1970s, was bought by World’s Finest Chocolate this week. 

While it’s unclear what the future is for the Market Day program, World's Finest Chocolate, a Chicago-based chocolate manufacturing and fundraising company, noted in a press release today that it is committed to serving the fundraising needs of Market Day customers. In addition, “World’s Finest will be evaluating which Market Day products and programs they will continue to offer.”

The news release, posted this morning on the World’s Finest Chocolate Facebook page, stated that the company will acquire the Market Day fundraising brand and will be keeping at least 50 Market Day employees. It noted that Market Day customers will be contacted by World’s Finest Chocolate to discuss offerings for next school year.

Market Day posted a message to customers on Facebook about its exit from the fundraising industry: 

“Our heartfelt thanks go to all of our Market Day supporters over the years. We appreciate your thoughts and kind words of nostalgia. Because of you, Market Day has been able to help fund important educational resources for kids and communities for nearly 40 years. We wish you all the best!” 

In turn, it received heaps of praise from longtime loyal customers like this post: 

“I have been buying Market Day almost every single month since my daughter was in Kindergarten and she is now in college. I was devastated when I received your email yesterday. Wish I had known last month so that I could have stocked up a bit more.” 

Posted in Fundraising

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Summer is a great time to work on parent involvement, but it’s important to avoid the hard sell or specific requests for volunteers. Instead, let parents know about your group and its fun activities, as well as the resources you can offer them.

Here are a few soft-sell tips: 

1. Playground play dates. Host a get-together at a local playground. Send email invites to parents you know and ask them to forward the invite to their friends. Keep it casual. While the kids have fun, introduce yourself to new parents and check in with those you know. Share information about what your group did last year. And if you can, gather up emails while you’re there.

2. Minimal email contact. Send out one or two email updates during the summer. Go easy here. What you want to avoid is blasting people with emails during their down time. That’s a turnoff. Instead, update parents if there is news. For example, let parents know if you get the go-ahead from the principal on a fall carnival date or if there are changes to your meeting schedule for the year. 

3. Chance encounters. Take advantage when opportunity knocks. If you see a parent at the grocery store, mall, or beach, introduce yourself. Don’t ask her to volunteer unless she asks about opportunities to do so. Instead, let her know you are looking forward to seeing her next year. You’ll be a friendly face she remembers. 

And check out these articles to help build involvement for when the school year starts: 

Build Involvement From the Start

5 Ways To Build School Community 

Involvement Step by Step

Posted in Parent Involvement

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Gearing up for your first full year as a PTO or PTA leader (or planning a return to your position in the fall)? Good luck—you’re taking on a really worthwhile endeavor. Here’s what we know from those who have come before you:

1. Be considerate of the previous board’s feelings. You can and should make change, but it’s best to be tactful in your comments about how your group worked previously. No one intended to make mistakes—and remember, like you, they were unpaid volunteers giving their time (and some of their friends are likely still around...). Check out my article called “A Tale of Two Volunteers” for more on this.

2. Good planning can make all the difference for a smooth transition. So take advantage of the summer months to get ahead of things for the fall. We actually have a free Officer Transition Survival Kit that’s super helpful.

3. Finally, even if your predecessors didn’t do this, take a serious look at insurance for your group. It’s a small investment to protect your group’s assets and—perhaps more important—your new leaders. It’s a smart move.

Most of all—thank you for taking on this important work!

Posted in Tim's Tip
If you've had a chance to watch Mother Funders, Bravo's reality show about a PTO, then you know its portrayal of a parent group is way over the top, if not just plain wrong. Episode 2 aired last night and we were struck by the focus on money, which totally misses the point of what fundraising is all about. Here are our thoughts on Episode 2, and how you can best approach fundraising for your group:  

For more information on putting together a fundraising program that makes sense for your group, check out these resources: 

School Fundraising: How Much Is Too Much? 

Which Fundraiser Is Right For You? 

Testing Your Fundraising IQ

Posted in Fundraising

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Family nights are key to a successful school year, and we make it easy for groups to host them! What’s great about family nights is kids will have fun while learning and parents get a chance to meet. These events go a long way toward building parent involvement.

And now’s a great time to start scheduling them. You can preorder our free School Family Night kits now to get ready for the fall. The kits include step-by-step instructions on how to plan and run an event, a colorful banner you can use at your event, a flyer template, and lots of activity suggestions. Here’s what our lineup includes: 

Family Science Night: Our popular science night kit provides you with ideas and step-by-step instructions for many experiments designed for kids. And this year, we’ve added new experiments and activities. 

Family Movie Night: A favorite with groups, our movie night kit was just updated with new activity and snack ideas for current popular movies like Minions.

Family Reading Night: This kit is a hit with parents and teachers. It gives groups a nice way to help kids build their reading skills while having fun and listening to guest readers.  It works well with holiday themes; many groups do more than one a year. 

Internet Safety Night: This kit comes with a complete presentation that your group can use to run an information night for parents, and the 2015-16 kit will include updated research. An Internet Safety Night will help keep the conversation going about digital safety and responsibility at your school. 

Posted in Family Events

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As Father’s Day approaches, we’d like to give a shout-out to all the dads who volunteer, and offer some tips to groups who want to get more fathers involved. 

1. For starters, make a dad-specific pitch for volunteers at back-to-school time. Typically, groups send out messages to all parents and adults in an effort to be inclusive. But an occasional message targeted just at fathers is likely to catch their attention. We have a “dads wanted” flyer  you can download and customize for your group. 

2. Ask current dad volunteers to bring their friends to events. Motivated fathers can be your best recruiters. Once new men see other dads helping out, they may be more willing to pitch in. 

3. Don’t restrict dads to the heavy-lifting, traditional “man’’ jobs. Sure, many fathers like to play more active roles and are most comfortable running activities at field day or building the set for the talent show. But open up all options to dads and ask them what they’d like to do. 

4. Schedule a Doughnuts With Dads event. It helps to get dads involved without asking them to do anything. Instead, they can kick back, meet other fathers, and enjoy time with their kids. 

5. Consider starting a dads club. One of our favorite dad stories is about a group of volunteers at Kermit King Elementary in Paso Robles, Calif. This Dads Club, which is part of the PTA, runs a campout on the school grounds on the last day of school. Fathers do it all—organizing, cooking, cleaning, running activities, playing sports, getting kids to sleep, and cleaning up. One of the organizers said the reason the club did the campout was simple. They just want to be part of their children’s educational experience. 

So here’s to all the dads who step up, and to recruiting more dads for the 2015-16 school year! Happy Father’s Day! 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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As we start thinking about next year, here's a challenge for you: How can your group serve your principal? How can you make your principal a hero?

It's easy when you're lucky enough to have that outgoing, engaging principal who supports all your work without fail. But it's perhaps even more important when you have a principal who isn't a natural at PR and connections. Schools work better on all levels when parents feel connected and welcome, and your group can be a huge part of that connection-making. 

And, frankly, if you do have that tough principal, the best way to break down the barriers for your group is to continually do more for her. Thank her (even if she might have been an obstacle), and include her in all of your wins as a group. That kind of service can do wonders for your group and for the camaraderie of your school as a whole.

Here’s one of my columns about putting yourself in the principal's shoes. We also have a new article called “Help Parents Connect With the Principal” that offers tips on how your group can facilitate connection and communication.

Posted in Tim's Tip

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Last night Bravo aired the first full episode of Mother Funders, a reality show centered on an elementary school PTO in Georgia. The show’s format will be familiar to anyone who’s watched the network’s Real Housewives series, with personality clashes escalating into big scenes with memorable one-liners.

In this episode we meet the PTO officers and learn that their goal for the year is to raise $100,000 for school technology. Most of the screen time focuses on preparations for the PTO’s $100 per plate pink pajama party fundraiser and simmering tensions between the president, Carla, and the volunteer coordinator, Robin. Even though Carla recruited Robin for the board, she’s placed Robin on “probation” for “going rogue,” or not falling in line with the president’s micromanaging ways. (PTO probation? That’s a new one.) The episode is full of conflicts, from Carla’s cringe-inducing lecture over the appearance of centerpieces to bickering over lanyards just minutes before the pajama party begins.

As a TV viewer I have to keep reminding myself that there are quite a few actual real housewives in Orange County and New Jersey and Atlanta who live much different lives than those of the Real Housewives of Bravo TV. So we have to be careful not to get too offended by the lack of reality when Bravo takes on the PTO challenge. A balanced president hosting a simple event with a mixture of willing volunteers and the occasional, normal disagreement might make for a successful PTO, but it sure would be one boring TV show.

We did notice that the producers started the show with a few caveats that weren’t in the preview episode a few weeks ago, noting, for example, that many schools have multiple fundraising organizations supporting the school. That’s actually pretty rare at the elementary level, and we’re guessing that the producer’s note is a small nod to the local controversy that has boiled since the preview episode’s first airing.

The school district did not authorize the show, and it looks like we are going to have a season of PTOdom without ever setting foot in the school and without ever interacting with the principal or school staff. We’re in; we’ll be watching. But that alone eliminates about 75 percent of the real PTO and PTA experience. Of course, we are watching Mother Funders from a PTO insider’s perspective, as well. The show may be good TV, but what can PTO and PTA leaders learn here?

Which brings us to our three observations from episode 1:

1. The focus on fundraising (and huge $$ goals) alone is a big mistake. We’re sure Carla has her heart in the right place trying to get a new computer lab for the school, but she’s missing the wider picture. A PTO is about making the school a great place for kids to learn, and that involves a lot more than shiny new computers. Families that are engaged are a huge part of it. The community that surrounds a building matters. Making sure that all families feel a part of the solution is important, and $100-per-plate PJ parties don’t help. PTOs make a mistake when they pigeonhole themselves as fundraising organizations.

2. PTOs are not a fiefdom. Can hard-charging leaders get more done? Sure. Can a boss with an iron fist lead his or her company to new heights? Yes. But Carla is the boss of exactly no one. Why are these Mother Funder moms sticking around while Carla criticizes them for not meeting her unrealistic expectations? It has to be because of the TV contracts, because every parent we know has tons of options for their limited time besides being chastised and embarrassed in their volunteer duties. And that’s why PTOs have to serve volunteers (as opposed to making volunteers into servants), and why tyrannical PTOs fail—volunteers have too many other options. Volunteers can stay home or they can put their talents to work for any one of hundreds of other good causes. There are only six volunteers featured at Carla’s episode 1 events and meetings. That’s not a coincidence. Want more? Check out this video on serving parents.

3. Robin makes mistakes, too. It sure seems like Robin is getting the hero role here. Every TV show needs one. But she has multiple meetings with a planning committee and no one hears about the lanyards and name tags that will be handed out to every attendee? That’s a volunteer who’s trying to be difficult. In a volunteer world where everyone has limited time and is trying to do good work, one old mantra comes to mind: Lead, follow, or get out of the way! Don’t like Carla’s direction? Work to change that direction. But going rogue just to start trouble helps no one. I thought the lanyards were a nice touch, but that’s not the point. Robin has leadership talents and people skills. The lanyard trick and her resulting argument with Carla showed neither.

After one episode, will we keep watching? Definitely. We can’t help but think that there has to be more to Carla than the one-dimensional persona presented so far. Here’s hoping that we see more of that as the season progresses and that the dollars alone aren’t the only piece of the PTO story presented.

What did you think of Mother Funders? Let us know here in our comments section or on our Facebook page.

Photo by: NBCUniversal

Posted in Parent Group News

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Label collection programs, like Box Tops for Education and Labels for Education, can be a great way for parent groups to raise money. To be really successful, you need fun incentive programs that will motivate students and families. 

We asked our community what they’d recommend as successful incentives, and here’s what they shared: 

Michelle A.: Host a different contest each month to keep the collections interesting to kids. As examples, do a random drawing to award a prize one month and follow that by rewarding the student who brings in the most labels the next month. 

Casey C.: Try teaming up with another school in your community for a friendly competition. Whichever school brings in the most labels during a set period of time wins a prize. Consider having the winning school choose a “fun” activity for the principal, like riding a children’s tricycle!

Jennifer C.: Another spin on competitive collecting: Have classes within your school challenge each other. Winning class gets an ice cream or cupcake party. 

Stephanie V.: Do a promotion with prizes around the holidays. For example, do a Christmas-themed collection and give each child that brings in 50 box tops or more a chance to have a photo taken with Santa. 

Jennifer O.: Winning class from a collection drive gets a pajama party at school. 

Amy A.: Create (or buy) a trophy that is awarded the winning class each month. Then the traveling trophy is displayed in the winning classroom until the next collection period ends. AMY’S TROPHY IS ABOVE PHOTO 

Kimberly C.: Older children often aren’t impressed with pizza or ice cream parties. So, to motivate middle school kids, try a raffle. Set it up so for each 10 labels collected, a student receives one raffle ticket. Do monthly drawings with prizes like iTunes gift cards. 

Trish L.: Create a Treasure Chest. Stock up on mini prizes from companies like Oriental Trading and put them into a “treasure chest” box. The top 10 students from monthly drawings can pick an item from the box. As an added measure, announce the winners’ names during morning announcements. 

Melissa N.: Reward each child in a winning class a free book. 

Amy D.: Ask the teachers if they are willing to give their students a homework pass for a night if their students bring in the most box tops during a monthly collection. 

Tracy M.: Award winning classrooms with a popcorn or ice cream party and award the teacher of the winning class a gift card. 

Trena W.: Try schoolwide goals instead of naming one classroom each month as the winner. If the school meets its goal, do a dress-up day in which everyone participates. 

Denise L.: Winning class wins $50 to spend on a class party. 

Laura O.: Winning class gets extra recess time. 

Jennifer L.: Winning class plays a game, like kickball, with the teachers. 

Brooke W.: Use collection sheets and give kids a small reward for each sheet they turn in.

As well, several community members suggested that groups remember the basics, like sending home reminders to parents, to help make collection programs more successful. Here are a few other tips: 

Chart classroom and school success on a bulletin board in a highly trafficked area of the school. Students like seeing how much has been accomplished and how much needs to be done. 

Regularly post photos of winners on bulletin boards and on Facebook. 

Place collection boxes near the lunchroom and at the entrance of the school. 

Send home collection sheets or baggies to help make collecting as easy as possible.

For more help with label collection programs, check out our File Exchange. We have downloable collection sheets, certificates, letters, and flyers. 

Posted in Bright Ideas