PTO Today Blog

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

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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

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Here's a spring resolution for you: Can you add a little something to make your spring event, and any events remaining this year, more memorable for your kids, parents, and teachers? Quality events attract more attendees, and in the long run they also attract more (and better) volunteers. People—especially the best potential volunteers—like to be associated with success and quality. They shy away from the opposite.

Some simple ideas (though I know you can think of your own):

1. Don't charge (or charge less).

2. Bring in the fire department or police department with their cars or trucks and personalities.

3. Invest in the most talented, most fun DJ around (even if you have to hurt the feelings of the dad with the great CD collection).

4. Food trucks getting popular? Bring a couple to your next event.

You get the idea. We have even more thoughts on this topic in a great new article called “Tips for Favorite Spring Events.”

Posted in Family Events

We’re thinking there aren’t many PTO or PTA leaders lounging around these days. With teacher appreciation, spring carnivals, field trips, field days, auctions, and talent shows on the agenda (and let’s not forget end-of-the-year celebrations), you’re looking at very little downtime.

So we’re guessing the last thing you may want to hear about now is the kickoff to the 2015-16 school year. But trust us. If you get a few things going now, you will be so much happier come August.

Here are three back-to-school to dos for the spring:

1. Welcome packet: When a group provides a welcome packet at the start of the school year, parents really appreciate it. You’ll save them lots of time and they’ll see your group as a resource, too. Don’t worry, we aren’t saying you should complete the packet now! There’ll be time for that this summer. But what you should do now is find a parent who is willing to be the point person on this project; you want to avoid trying to find someone during the summer. Our article “How To Create a Welcome Packet” will come in handy.

2. Back-to-school event: Now’s a good time to sign up for our free Back2School program. Participating groups get copies of our 2015 issue of Jump In! magazine for parents, a colorful involvement banner to hang at their event, customizable printables, and more. A select number of groups also will receive parent gift packs with samples and special offers from family-friendly brands like Tom's of Maine. With these resources, your group will put on a polished event that helps you make a great first impression with parents. You don’t need to plan out your whole event this spring. But if you take a moment to do our free sign-up now, you’ll save your group lots of time when school starts.

3. Teacher breakfast: Many groups try to do a breakfast for teachers and staff during the first week back to school. Again, you don’t need to plan this one to the last detail, but definitely find a volunteer who will run this. Did you do a breakfast this year? Circle back to the list of volunteers and see if someone may be willing to step up. This person will want to secure at least a few emails or phone numbers of parents willing to help before everyone disappears for the summer.

Posted in Back to School

With PTO and PTA board elections coming soon, some groups may find they have no names to put on a ballot. Don't worry. This happens. Craig Bystrynski, our Editor in Chief, will walk you through a few short-term options. Remember, it's way too soon to give up!

Posted in Running Your Group

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Need an idea for your teacher appreciation celebration? Well, we have 50 of them! You are bound to find something on our list that you’d like to try this year! We’ve included ideas from several of our most popular teacher appreciation articles, the PTO Today File Exchange, and the PTO Today Pinterest page.

1. Borrow a cart from the school, drape in it a pretty table cloth, and load it up with cookies and other treats. Take it around the school, stopping at each teacher’s classroom and offering items from the snack cart. 

2. Print our teacher appreciation word cloud poster—it includes words that perfectly describe teachers. Hang it in the teachers lounge.

3. Tuck a muffin (or other breakfast treat) and a piece of fruit in a paper lunch bag decorated with a cheery ribbon. Have a volunteer hand these “to-go” breakfasts to teachers as they arrive at school.

4. Give a little popcorn treat to each teacher with a gift tag that says “For a very POPular teacher!” 

5. Hold an awards ceremony for teachers where each one is recognized for being a caring individual. Hand out certificates made and signed by the children. 

6. Make a superhero cape for each teacher. If possible, use the school colors! 

7.  Put together a bouquet of flowers in a simple vase with a note reading “Thanks for helping me bloom!” Leave on teachers’ desks.

8. Assemble a small set of gifts, all yellow, with a “You are our sunshine” message. Ideas include: a yellow candle, pencils, pens, and markers, candies, and hand sanitizer.

9. Present teachers with the candy poem, one of our most popular ideas. Get our free full-color printable which includes pictures of the candy bars you can use. 

10. Create a brag book for each teacher. Fill it with notes and photos from students and parents. 

11. Dazzle them with sidewalk art. Using chalk, write thank-you notes on the sidewalks leading to the school as a kickoff to teacher appreciation week. 

12. Purchase a coffee pot, along with coffee cups and selected coffees, for the teachers lounge. 

13. Set up an Appreciation Station with a table in the hallway. Provide paper, pencils, and crayons. Encourage students to stop by to write a thank-you to their teacher. Teachers can pick up their notes during the day. 

14. Ask students to write thank-you messages on poster board (perhaps one for each class) and display around the school. 

15. Give teachers a collection of highlighters (arranged in a decorated mason jar) with a note saying “You’ve been the highlight of my year.” 

16. Create a collection of recipes used for a teachers luncheon and give to teachers at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week. 

17. Give stadium seats to teachers to use for sitting on the floor with students. 

18. Give the gift of love notes. Download our free “I love my teacher because…” notes that students can fill out and give to teachers. 

19. Present teachers with hand calculators with gift cards that read “According to our calculations, you’re a great teacher!”

20. Create teacher goody bags that include classroom must-haves like sticky notes, glue sticks, and hand sanitizer. Download our instructions to assemble the goody bags along with printable gift cards. 

21. Make a large happy-hands tree (a great display for a classroom door). Student handprints can be added as leaves on the tree. 

22. Make a summer relaxation tote for teachers using a beach bag and filled with fun summer items, like magazines, sunglasses, and sunscreen. 

23. Create a salad bar in the teachers lounge with lettuce, vegetables, and all the fixings. Add homemade bread as a side dish. 

24. Set up a breakfast bar one morning during Teacher Appreciation Week. Include bagels and a selection of cream cheeses along with muffins, fruit, and yogurts. 

25. Free pizza! Give each teacher a gift card to a local pizza shop. Stop by the restaurant and ask for free small pizza boxes. Put a gift card in each box and present to teachers!

26. Bundle up the ingredients for s’mores—a box of graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate—and present with a card that reads “Wishing you s’more and s’more fun this summer!” 

27. Set up a chocolate fountain in the teachers lounge with fruit and small chunks of pound cake for dipping. 

28. Get a collection of gift cards from local retailers and do a daily raffle, announcing a few winners each day throughout Teacher Appreciation Week. 

29. Give teachers extended lunch times during Teacher Appreciation Week. Parents can cover recess so teachers can have a longer lunch. 

30. Try a Valet Day—get parent volunteer to run errands for teachers while they are in the classroom. 

31. When planning a teacher appreciation lunch, keep in mind that some teachers may have dietary restrictions. Add gluten-free or vegetarian options to your luncheon. 

32. Give teachers a package of scissors for the classroom with a note that reads “You’re a cut above the rest.’’ 

33. Do a “rock star” theme for a teacher luncheon. Design an invitation as a CD or album cover. 

34. Give teachers an applause parade! Have students line the hallway in the morning and clap as teachers arrive. 

35. Try a soup bar at a luncheon. Serve about 10 soups in slow cookers. Add fresh bread as a side dish. 

36. Provide a gift for summer, like an orange beach towel or a orange mini fan, and use our gift tag that says “Orange you glad it’s almost summer?”

37. Attach handwritten notes to teachers from students to plastic pinwheels. Place pinwheels in the ground in the schoolyard with a sign reading “You blow us away!” Teachers can stroll through the pinwheel garden and read the notes. 

38. Provide neck and back messages for teachers as a special event during Teacher Appreciation Week. Set up the teachers lounge as a mini spa with dimmed lights, soft music, and scented candles. 

39. Go with an unexpected theme to transform the teachers lounge or multipurpose room at your school, such as a roadhouse with a stage, a pirate ship, or a beach (complete with real sand!).

40. Give teachers a potluck luncheon with contributions from parents. (This will keep costs down, too.) 

41. Ask local businesses to support your teacher appreciation effort. Can they contribute gift cards? Or perhaps a local restaurant can donate food for one of your events. 

42. Hold a car wash in the parking lot. Spruce up teachers’ cars during the school day. 

43. Set up a “bravo board” on a school bulletin board. Post notes and photos of teachers in action. 

44. Give teachers a gift card in a cute gift card holder with a note saying you were going to give them something homemade and special (like a self-portrait made with raisins!) but decided on a gift card instead.  

45. Try a modest makeover for the teachers lounge with new pillows, coffee cups, and a table centerpiece, and new hand soap and hand towels for the teachers bathroom. 

46. Ask parents to donate services, such as hair styling or manicures, as special gifts during Teacher Appreciation Week.

47. Purchase inexpensive plastic lawn flamingos and place them around the school. Create a large sign for the school that says “Our teachers rock the flock.”

48. Purchase a small plant for each teacher and attach a gift card that reads “Teachers plant the seeds of knowledge." 

49. Do a tea time in the teachers lounge with a selection of hot and cold teas, finger sandwiches, and scones. 

50. Collect classroom supplies from parents and display them on tables. Invite teachers to come “shop” for what they need. 

For more information about teacher appreciation, you may want to read: 

Creative Twists on Teacher Appreciation 

Teacher Appreciation Ideas From the Trenches 

More Easy Teacher Appreciation Ideas 

Teacher Appreciation Ideas They’ll Love 

Better Ways To Say Thanks 

Teacher Appreciation on $100 or less 

9 Quick and Easy Teacher Appreciation Gifts 

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Around here, we love Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s one of our favorite times of year, in fact. It’s in a month, from May 4-8, and lots of PTOs and PTAs go all out coming up with cool ways to show their teachers they think they’re the best. We have a wealth of Teacher Appreciation resources that I’m pretty sure is second to none.

Believe me, I’m all for that. Teachers are some of the most hardworking folks out there, and they certainly deserve the effort. And it’s one of the things that parent groups do best, coordinating just the right volunteers to do something really special.

I’d just like to add that while it’s good and important to acknowledge your teachers in May, don’t forget about the rest of the year. How about a luncheon in December when teachers, like you, could really use a break from the holiday craziness? How about coordinating dinners, even just a few pizzas, during parent-teacher conference time? Even a cup of coffee the next time you stop for one yourself on your way to school is pretty much guaranteed to bring a smile.

Like I said, we have lots of resources, too many to list here. But when you have time, take a look at our new slideshow called “9 Quick and Easy Teacher Appreciation Gifts,” and our popular Teacher Appreciation Resources List. You’ll get lots of great ideas to use next month—and the whole year through.

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People have asked me if you need to be an accountant to be PTO treasurer. The simple answer is no. Sure, it’s helpful, but it isn’t necessary. I do happen to be an accountant, and over the years I’ve been involved with many parent groups. I have probably reviewed the financial reports prepared by at least two dozen treasurers. I would estimate that about two-thirds of those treasurers had no bookkeeping or accounting training, and almost all of them kept the books just as well as people who did.

So if you’re thinking about becoming your PTO’s treasurer, I’d suggest asking yourself these three questions. If you can answer yes to all three, you could be a great candidate.

1. Are you comfortable with computers? You don’t have to be highly advanced with Excel spreadsheets, but you do need to be comfortable with computers. Several companies sell software that practically keeps the books for you and issues the reports you need. You just have to enter payments and deposits like you would do with your checkbook at home. A few years ago, I was on an audit committee where we were handed a stack of loose-leaf papers with all the transactions handwritten. The treasurer was frustrated because it took her so long to pull a report together every month—and it took us forever to get the audit done. Using a computer would have saved many hours of unnecessary effort.

2. Are you organized? Are you the type of person who loses track of things, like receipts? Then the treasurer’s job probably isn’t the best choice for you. As treasurer, people will be coming at you from all sides with all kinds of paperwork—reimbursement requests, bills, tax notices, money to be deposited. It’s very important to get money in the bank right away, pay bills in a timely manner, and keep everything organized for the year-end financial review. I like to use binders—one for receipts and deposits, and one for monthly reports and stuff that gets carried forward from year to year. But I’ve also seen people use file folders—one for each month’s activity. Your system doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. But you do need some kind of system to be able to keep up. 

3. Can you balance a checkbook? Many people don’t even bother balancing a checkbook anymore, but most parent groups still use checks. So if you can balance your own, it shows that you are pretty good with numbers. I know of a situation where someone wrote a pretty large check that did not get cashed for several months. When the group was asked to commit to another large purchase, they thought they had more money than they did. It worked out OK in the end, but they ended the year with much less money than they had hoped.

Those are the three basics to know going in. It really helps when the person who held the job before you will likely give you some good guidance. There are lots of resources in the PTO Today community as well. A willingness to help combined with some common sense goes a long way!

Posted in Finance

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When planning a teacher appreciation luncheon, consider doing a themed event. Teachers will get a kick out of it, and you may find the planning and shopping is much easier when you have a theme.

We have several luncheon theme starter packs  that you can download for free. Each includes templates for an invitation, letter, and flyer, as well as a printable table tent. 

Red Carpet Theme 

Every teacher deserves the movie star treatment! 

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Fiesta Theme 

Serve up spicy treats with a Mexican fiesta! 

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Western Theme

Howdy, partners! We’re serving up some home cooking! 

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Luau Theme 

Aloha! Come enjoy tropical treats! 

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Posted in Uncategorized

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We had a fun time during recent our Parent Involvement Live Q&A on Facebook! Thank you to all the parents who shared great ideas! Your contributions were terrific and we are sure they’ll help many PTO and PTA leaders. 

Here’s a mashup of the highlights: 

1. General tips to build involvement: 

Parent involvement is about building relationships. If you want parents to connect with your group, don’t just ask for money and time, but give something back to them like  resources and support. 

Try a push for volunteers in the fall and then do another in the spring. The spring push will be a shorter list, so it may catch parents’ attention by appearing less overwhelming.

Post an event schedule at the beginning of the year and then remind parents of upcoming events every month. This helps folks remember to put events on their calendars. 

Our free 2-Hour Power volunteer pledge program got a good response from the group. One parent said she uses the pledge and combines it with free admission to an event as a way to appeal to parents. 

Try a “help wanted” ad in an upcoming newsletter (or on Facebook) with specific requests for help, and include time slots. 

Have a room parent or class rep in place to help communicate the PTO or PTA messages to parents. 

Thank volunteers publicly with shout-outs on Facebook and in your newsletter. 

2. How can low-income schools and schools with diverse populations reach out to all families and encourage involvement? 

Get to know families and encourage parents from all cultures to join your group. As one parent points out, “The only way to truly represent your school community is for the leaders to come from various parts of the community.”

Go beyond traditional ways of communicating and be willing to get out of your comfort zone. Walk up to parents and introduce yourself at events, or any time you are at the school. 

Be willing to get your email out there to parents and encourage them to reach out to you with questions and feedback. 

Do a summary of your meeting minutes and post them on Facebook immediately following your meeting. 

A potluck dinner is one of the best ways to help bring together a diverse community. We actually did a really fun story about a potluck that may spark some ideas. (And if you are planning a potluck, we have a customizable potluck flyer you can use to get the word out.) 

Also, try going beyond just a potluck. Try hosting one at the same time as a fundraiser. Add no-cost games or activities to the evening. This way, you are welcoming all families (including those who can’t afford to contribute to your fundraiser but still want to be there.) do you want to add Family Potluck Flyer?

3. What do you do if you have a big event like a spring carnival fast approaching and you don’t have enough volunteers? 

Try reaching out to high school students. National Honor Society students often have community service hours to fulfill.

Use a volunteer coordinator to ask people to help out for specific time slots. 

Ask volunteers to help out for small chunks of time, and in exchange give them free tickets for the carnival. 

4. What do you do about no-shows? 

You know those folks who promise to help out and then never come to the event? While the urge to call them out is understandable (and even justified), it’s better to publicly praise the folks who did help out. Maybe the no-shows will get the message.

Also, you can try a private, one-on-one conversation with someone if they’ve really let you down.  

5. How can we boost meeting attendance? 

We had lots of questions on how to build attendance and on how to schedule meetings to bring in the most people. Suggestions included alternating meeting times—holding a morning meeting one month and an evening meeting the next, with babysitting service provided at the evening meetings.

We also thought this was a cute idea for a meeting: Ask local businesses to provide prizes and do a drawing at each monthly meeting. Try a “lucky envelope” activity. Each person gets an envelope when they arrive at the meeting. At the end of the meeting, each person takes a turn opening their envelope. Every envelope contains an inspirational quote, which the person reads to the group. One “lucky” envelope also contains a gift card. 

6. What types of ideas work for a wide range of age groups (preK-8)? 

Go for a few schoolwide events each year, but also try to hold a few age-specific events, like a dance and activity night for the upper grades and a movie pajama night for the little ones. 

7. What can you do when you ask someone for help and the response is, “Sorry, too busy”? 

Try to avoid that in the first place. If possible, try to match up a volunteer job with a parent’s interests. 

8. What can you do for parents who work full-time or nights and just don’t have time to get involved? 

Look for jobs that can be scheduled at times convenient to parents, like copying flyers. A parent who works the night shift may be able to pop into school at drop-off time and do that job. Also, remember to schedule some events on weekends, not just on weeknights.

Posted in Parent Involvement
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Elections are coming, and sooner than you think. Here are a few keys to making sure you have a smooth election this year. 

1. Check with your current officers. Find out well in advance whether your current officers plan to run for reelection. It often takes time to recruit someone new, so it’s important not to get caught by surprise. 

2. Look to advance your top volunteers. People who already volunteer are the most likely candidates to take on more responsibility. Someone who helps run the talent show or organize fundraisers is more likely to say yes than someone who has worked the cleanup crew once. In addition, giving people increasing responsibility creates a more natural transition, and gives you a better idea of how they will fit on the board. 

3. Talk to people personally about running. It’s hard enough to get people to respond to a “volunteers wanted” notice for regular activities. It’s a real needle in a haystack to find someone who will respond to “president needed.” The best way to recruit officers is to talk to people individually, so you can explain what’s involved and answer the many questions they will have. 

4. Let them get a feel for the office. The biggest fear that people have about accepting a position is that they’re getting involved in a commitment of time or responsibility that they can’t handle. Be open to showing your candidates the inner workings of your group. Let them sit in on a board meeting. Show them how decisions are made, even if the process is messy. The more open you are and the more they know what to expect, the more likely you are to find a willing candidate.

Finally, don’t take elections for granted. Most years, you might have the same officers retaining their positions. But sometimes things don’t go as planned. Take some time to think ahead about elections. Your board positions are important—filling them with the right people, people who are prepared and committed to making your group successful, makes a big difference. 

Posted in Running Your Group

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There are certainly many dos and don’ts when it comes to managing volunteers, and frankly, some things volunteers really can’t stand. My own biggest pet peeve as a volunteer? Not being needed.

If you ask for my help, make sure you really have a job for me. I really hope we don't have five volunteers to man the admissions table when we only need two. When I do carve out the time to volunteer, I hope you use my time and talents really well, maybe even overuse them. But if you don't need me, like all busy parents, there are plenty of other things I could be doing.

These days time is our most valuable currency. I love it when organizations I support understand that and value my time as much or more as I do. When you're working on recruiting and keeping volunteers, I hope you'll keep these things in mind.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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In my first few years as a volunteer, our group had lots of energy to plan and create and glue and dazzle our teachers and staff. And we did…until we didn’t. One year we ended up with the same three volunteers hanging streamers in the teachers lounge on a Friday afternoon and while we all had the best of intentions, with a small crew and ambitious plans, the celebration lost a little of its sparkle. So we set out to get our groove back, and with a little planning, we made our teachers, staff, principal, and parent volunteers happy!

For anyone stuck in the “now what?” spot, I wanted to share what our group learned. The key, we discovered, was to be creative and flexible. There isn’t a teacher appreciation rule book. Be willing to try new things, and, if something seems to have lost its sparkle, let it go. The trick is to find what works for everyone and be willing to change it as your school community changes. 

Here are a few ideas we considered and some we chose for our Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations:

Go big: Consider buying one item for the teachers and staff versus a small trinket for everyone’s mailbox. Our elementary PTA services two schools (an elementary and intermediate school with more than 160 teachers and staff). This large group made it tough to celebrate each individual. However, when we asked the principal and school secretary what the teachers would like, they said their microwave in the lounge needed replacing. So we bought them a new one, and the teachers were so appreciative!

Or go small: Think of small, inexpensive ways to celebrate. We had a volunteer who was especially astute with social media, and she set up a hashtag just for our Teacher Appreciation Week. We shared it (#Henkingteachersrock) with parents and kids and asked them to tweet how their teachers rocked throughout the week. It made the teachers smile and was a great way to keep the momentum going.

Involve the kids: When you involved the students, teacher appreciation can be much more meaningful to teachers. Have your child pick some flowers from your garden or make a homemade card for the teacher. This personal gesture means more than any gift. (Take it from me, the daughter of a teacher: When my mom retired she had a closet full of bath soaps and lotions received as gifts from students, but it was the handwritten notes and cards she appreciated most).

Timing is everything: While teacher appreciation celebrations typically fall during the first week of May, there’s no rule that says that’s the only time to celebrate. This year we realized the official Teacher Appreciation Week (May 4-8) falls during standardized testing week at our school. We knew it wasn’t a good week for extra activity in the building with a revised and shortened schedule, so we moved our celebration up a week. Thanks to our volunteer chair, who was flexible and a good advance planner, we found a solution that works for everyone.

Bring in new ideas: Recruiting new volunteers with fresh thinking always helps. When we had a new chair in charge of teacher appreciation, she came up with fun ideas that we hadn’t tried before, like a daily raffle for the teachers, which was announced schoolwide at the end of each day. We also raffled gift cards donated from local businesses and family donations. 

At the end of the day, all it takes to make a teacher feel special is show your thanks! We all love to be recognized. No matter how your group does this, your teachers will appreciate it. By being creative and flexible, you can make your Teacher Appreciation Week the best!

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Have you ever had one of those moments when you feel a little defeated and wonder why you give so much time and energy (and maybe even a few tears) to your PTO?

Then you need some inspiration—and we have it for you here. 

We asked our Facebook community to share their best PTO moments from this school year, and we received dozens of stories that serve as reminders of why the work you do is definitely worth it. Here is a summary of some of the stories shared. To read the complete collection of stories, head over to the Facebook discussion

Book fair hug: I worked at our book fair yesterday, first time ever on a cash register. At the end of my "shift" a 2nd grade boy I had never seen before came over, thanked me, and gave me huge hug. What's better than that? – Kerstie H. 

A pumpkin for every kid: Every year our PTO pays for our students to take a field trip to a local farm to pick pumpkins. Last year we had a horrible rain storm and had to cancel the trip. The farm agreed to let our PTO collect the pumpkins for the students. So we rented a U-Haul and managed to get together over 30 volunteers to help us. In less than three hours we picked over 600 pumpkins, enough for every student and staff! We unloaded them at the school that same day. The look on the faces of the students and staff as they walked in on Monday morning was amazing! – Kristen R. 

Inspiring a new reader: We just finished our readathon and we gave a book to every child. We happened to see one of our more troubled kids, a 2nd grade student, as he was getting out of a car at morning drop-off and he was struggling to keep his book opened as he was reading! – Cassandra M. 

Fancy that: Our students had Fancy Day as part of Spirit Week. They came dressed up to school in their fanciest duds and attended a Fancy Lunch. Parents and staff transformed the cafeteria with tablecloths, plates and plastic wear, flower vases, mini salt and pepper shakers, and their very own mini wine glasses (plastic of course) for their drinks. We had servers (parents) tending to each table. I heard from so many teachers say their kids thought this was the best day ever and to please do it again!  – Olga M. 

Dance the night away: We held a Stand by Me Snowflake Ball recently. Girls attended with the special man in their life, including dads, grandfathers, or uncles. Everyone wore their Sunday best and looked beautiful. One eight-year-old girl attended with her 10-year-old brother. He was so sweet and he danced all night with her. At the end of the evening he approached me and said, “Thank you for a wonderful time, my family will be leaving now.” He stole my heart. – Ilie J. 

Running together: We held our first Fun Run in the fall to help raise some funds for a new playground. It was a huge success not only for the money raised, but how it brought our community together. Teachers and kids alike loved running the course at the school and many are asking if we are doing it again next year. Kids were holding lemonade stands to raise money some they were bringing in their piggy bank change. Everyone was invested in the effort and that made it more fun and exciting. – Liz N. 

Hello, how many pizzas do you need? We are having our fifth annual free pizza and bingo night in about two weeks and posted it in the school newsletter. We then received a call from our favorite local pizza shop and they offered to donate however many pizzas we needed. It is nice to see the whole community seeing what we do and knowing it makes a difference to a whole lot of kids and making sure we won't fail because of lack of pizza! – Katlin P. 

Best night of my life, ever! We are an entirely new board this year, and we are trying to bring back the spark and school spirit. My absolute favorite event this year was our first- ever dance. It was awesome to see the kids and families excited about it. Ticket sales nearly tripled the night of the event (luckily it was an outdoor event), and we saw many smiles! The cherry on top was hearing a little boy yell, “This was the best night of my life, ever!” – Nevarez D. 

My own posse: My best moment with the PTO this year was the success of our spring book fair. I formed a relationship with a group of kids who now wave, give me hugs, and smile at me when they see me in the halls at school. This was my first time chairing this huge event, and we sold $2000 more than all of our past spring fairs. Awesome! I started up a "junior crew" for the first time at our school and the experience was amazing. The children worked so hard making decorations, preparing materials, setting up, helping customers, and so much more. They even gave up their recess time to help! I make PTO a priority in my life—and this is why!  – Jessica H. 

Encouraging young artists: This week we have been working on art projects for our upcoming auction. We work with every student to make a classroom art project. I always make a point to let the students know what we are raising money for, this year telling them we are working towards new computer carts for each grade level, and seeing them get excited made all the hard work worth it! – Kelli K. 

Happy holidays: We are a Title 1 community (most of our students get free or reduced-price lunches) and with community donations we were able to gift 17 students with "$15 Santa bucks" this year for our Santa Shop. They were able to buy gifts for their families, and their smiles made my entire year ! – Renee V. 

Seriously, it’s free: We had our “give back” night a couple of weeks ago that featured Bingo for Books and all you can eat pizza. The parents were very shocked that everything was free! Everyone had a blast and the officers enjoyed planning it! – Holly M. 

We are Santa’s elves: Our PTO had a wrapping party where the parents came together and wrapped the personal Christmas presents the teachers brought in! We helped make Christmas a little less stressful for the teachers and gave them a little more time to do things like decorate cookies with their loved ones. – Kelly T. 

Honoring veterans: Our Veterans Day program and breakfast is our favorite event. It is great to able to give back to those who sacrificed so much for us. Our 3rd grade students perform and then the PTO provides a catered breakfast for the veterans and the students  who invited them. We also provide each veteran with a keepsake photo.  It is a very memorable event for all involved. – Sandra R.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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Lorraine Dierkes makes an excellent matchmaker. In the late 1990s, when she volunteered at her kids’ school, Sea Park Elementary in Satellite Beach, Fla., she learned that some families couldn’t afford for their kids to participate in academic activities. Field trips, music lessons, and other extras often fell by the wayside. Then there were the parents who were always happy to send a few extra dollars to help a needy child. Dierkes wondered whether there was  a way to connect these two sets of people.

Through the school PTO, she created a database of parents who wanted to help. Whenever a child required financial assistance, an email with the details—but keeping the child’s name and personal information anonymous—would be sent and invariably the need would be met. The program worked well enough at Sea Park, and Dierkes didn’t give it much thought beyond that. Several years later, the family moved to Palm Bay, Fla., and the principal  at Sunrise Elementary requested that Dierkes institute a similar program there. It was only after a few more years that Dierkes realized she might have something that could be scaled to other schools. The idea was the seed for the nonprofit foundation e-Angels.

At its most basic, e-Angels is an online portal that matches people in need with people who can give. Schools still serve as the go-between, forwarding requests to e-Angels, which then shares the need through email blasts and social media (Facebook has been a successful avenue). Donors can send money through PayPal or by check. Donations in kind for Florida schools have also worked well.

Dierkes is no stranger to nonprofits. As a teen, she volunteered at a home for the elderly, and more recently she has been active with the National Foster Parent Association, helping with training for foster parents (she has been a foster mom to 30 kids). She served as a PTO member for four-plus years and also volunteered with various districtwide school boards.

Her three children, Mary, Paul, and Tommy, are in their mid-20s now but still remember their mom’s contributions to the schools. Dierkes says that her time serving as PTO secretary, treasurer, and president afforded her a glimpse at a slice of life she might not otherwise have seen. “As a parent, you just don’t see how much poverty there is and how it can affect absolutely every facet of a child’s life,” she says. “Poverty has such a divisive nature to it, and it breaks your heart to see parents who can’t afford to give their children what they need.”

Dierkes plans on building e-Angels beyond  Florida. She has received feelers from Chattanooga, Tenn., and as far away as Bridgeport, Conn. She also hopes to bring in more corporate sponsors. When one school needed 150 backpacks, e-Angels put out a call through VolunteerMatch; Medidata, an international medical software company, came to the rescue. Each backpack came with a letter of encouragement from a company executive. Dierkes works at eBay, which has also been generous with its giving. People can also sign up to donate 10 percent of their eBay sales.

E-Angels has had many heartwarming successes, and Dierkes delights in all of them. For example, it arranged for the financing of cap and gown fees for a girl who was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Dierkes also remembers a 1st grader whose parents couldn’t afford to buy him new shoes. When e-Angels found him a pair that worked, he excitedly remarked, “My guinea pig in heaven must have told an angel I needed new shoes.”

Posted in Uncategorized

I'm going to be very direct this week: If we have a 2015 PTO Expo in your neck of the woods, I highly encourage you to get a friend and check our Expos out.

What's so great? I could go several directions here, but my favorite aspect of the Expos (and I see it every year) is the chance for volunteer parent leaders to be treated like the heroes you really are. It's your day, entirely built around your needs and filled with people with the same passion for serving that you have. That energy is palpable.

Of course, there's also the great ideas and the fun and the tons of freebies that will fill your trunk. Those aren't half-bad, either.

Check out our Expo video, and see what these parent group leaders had to say at our recent Massachusetts Expo. 

Can't wait to see you this spring!

Posted in PTO Today Expo
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Parent groups are often asked to help celebrate the graduating class of an elementary school. Some schools go all out with diploma ceremonies akin to a high school graduation, while others keep it simple and offer the students a small gift. We recently asked our community to share their graduation ideas and wanted to pass along their tips.  Also, you can go here to join the Facebook discussion on graduation ideas.

Celebrations 

5th grade dance with a DJ and snacks

Graduation ceremony followed by barbecue

Ceremony followed by movie with photos and video of students

End-of-year awards and certificates ceremony

All-day picnic

Off-site party with DJ, photo booth, and face-painting

A day at a local park with team games and snacks

Yearbook signing 

Student versus teacher outdoor volleyball tournament

Pool party with snacks

Boat cruise

Bagel breakfast at school 

Slideshow of baby pictures featuring the graduates

Gifts

Class memory book 

T-shirt printed with names of each graduate 

T-shirt designed by a student

Plain T-shirt signed by fellow students 

Class photo

Backpack with middle school logo 

Free yearbook 

Tote bag and beach towel

DVD with photos and video of students

Spiritwear item from middle school they will attend

Posted in Parent Involvement