The holiday break is almost upon us. The last thing we want to suggest is more work for anyone, but there are a few very easy things you can do right now that will make January a little less hectic.
PTO Today Blog
Ideas, news, opinions and tips about what’s happening in the parent group world
The holiday break is almost upon us. The last thing we want to suggest is more work for anyone, but there are a few very easy things you can do right now that will make January a little less hectic.
We love dads here at PTO Today, especially involved school dads. And this week I have a few simple tips and links and programs to help you connect with more dads at your school.
We recently asked our Facebook friends to share community service ideas that promote kindness and the spirit of giving. We had the opportunity to give away 10 copies of the best-selling book Wonder by R.J. Palacio, and so we are sharing them with the community members who posted our favorite ideas. Here’s a summary of those ideas:
How do you plan to say thanks to your volunteers this holiday season? We have two very simple no-cost suggestions that will make your volunteers happy and pay dividends for your group.
This week I'm going for the practical. If your group is planning an upcoming auction, we have some great resources that you have to share with your planning team:
If you are a room parent, you likely are feeling a tad bit overloaded right about now. The holiday season can do that to you.
This parent involvement stuff isn't always easy, but sometimes groups miss out on the simple, foundational steps that make a big difference long-term. Has your group taken care of these fundamentals?
1. Communication. Do you have an updated email list of parents and a way to communicate regularly with your parent community? There are many options for this basic, including PTO Today's free Parent Express Email tool.
2. Insurance. Protecting your leaders, your group, and your assets is also a basic. You have homeowner's and auto and health insurance, right? PTO Insurance is likewise a necessity. Read more about our PTO and PTA insurance options.
3. Clear, organized books. Long-term success depends on the whole school trusting that your group is taking care of its funds -- the funds parents provide -- well. Who is counting cash? Who has a look at your books? Read "5 Smart Financial Controls" for some great information.
4. A sense of humor and fun. Keep things as light as you can and don't take yourself too seriously. Yes, I realize I'm talking about fun right after insurance and finances. But you can do the basics well and still be a warm, lighthearted group. Fun makes life way more gratifying for existing volunteers and makes it way more likely that you'll attract new ones. And finding someone to take your job is what it's all about, right?
We recently asked our community to share ideas for anti-bullying programs and we were blown away by the response. One thing is for sure: Stomping out bullying is clearly a priority for parent groups. As a thanks for all the great ideas, we're giving away 10 copies of the new anti-bullying book from Random House, Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean, by actress Jane Lynch. It wasn’t easy to select just 10 favorites—there were so many wonderful ideas! But here is our list, and if you’d like to see dozens more ideas, check out the antibullying thread on our Facebook page. Thanks again to everyone who contributed!
Playground peacemakers: Ask older students at your elementary school to casually patrol the playground while younger students are at recess. Encourage them to reach out to students who may be playing alone or to let teachers know about a student who seems to be struggling. With guidance, older students can help younger students resolve simple disputes. -Christina Gaudenzi Cistaro
Tree notes: If your school has a large tree near its entrance, adorn it with anti-bullying messages. If the notes are abundant, it will become a conversation piece and keep students talking about anti-bullying. -Yaritza A. Cortes
Superheroes: Use a theme for an anti-bullying program. For example, the Pillager PTO ran a campaign called Superhero: Stop Bullying that included a poster and essay contest. Each participant received a button with the Superhero: Stop Bullying slogan. Essays and posters were displayed at school to promote awareness and photos of prizewinning entries were published in the local newspaper. -Misty Cremers
Build strength and confidence: Create a program focused on fitness and athletics, two areas where kids are often bullied. A fun-in-fitness program can bring together kids who are bullied to work with students who can mentor. Together, the kids work on basic skills and teamwork. Not only does it send a message about healthy habits, but it can also boost confidence and self-worth. -Jennifer Russo Crawford
Message in a locker: Work with middle school students to write positive and inspirational notes to classmates. Students then slip notes into lockers without being seen. Classmates later find a surprise note that boosts their spirits. It’s the act of writing the note as much as receiving one that improves students’ attitude toward others. -Jenny Jaydena Duncan
Lunch friends: Try to mix things up at lunch. Select a group of students, such as the National Honor Society members, to sit with different groups of younger students on a regular basis. Students will get to know other students who they wouldn’t typically meet. -Tina Cooper
Random notes: Create a Random Acts of Kindness board. Start off with a bulletin board with a plain black background. Explain to students the idea behind random acts of kindness. Provide colorful sticky notes to teachers and ask them to write down a note about an act of kindness they observe. Soon, the plain, black bulletin board will be a rainbow of colors and each note will provide an idea for another act of kindness. -Francesca Corona
Buddy club: Set up a buddy club made up of a handful of reliable students who can reach out to students who may be new to the school or may be having trouble making friends. -Mandy Sargeon
Daily reminder: Ask children to participate in the morning announcements at school so they can share a daily message about anti-bullying. One option is to repeat a motto each day, such as “Treat people the way you want to be treated and make it a great day!” -Shuyue Velasquez
Kind words all year long: Start by having each student pull a name of a classmate from a hat. Each student keeps an eye on their new “friend.’’ At the end of the week, students compose a note with compliments or nice thoughts and deliver it to their friend. The process is repeated throughout the school year and at year’s end, each student has a ring of index cards full of inspirational notes. -Amy Fioretti Harvey
My favorite message every year. Thanksgiving. I get to thank the people who spend all year serving others and thanking others but who don't get thanked nearly enough themselves.
If you run a school auction, you know they can be a lot of work. But they can also be extremely rewarding, both financially and in terms of building a community.
Also, some community members go out of their way to boost others up. As one community member said recently on the thread, “Please don't get to discouraged about no's. My typical expectations for receiving donations from companies is 15% to 20% for local businesses, 10% for businesses in your state, and 5% for national corporations. There are just so many nonprofits that are asking for donations that they can't give to everyone.”
Last week we talked about avoiding a clique reputation, which got me thinking a bit about another cause of cliquishness -- PTOs and PTAs that protect their financials and decisions like the CIA would.
There really should be nothing off-limits to your school community when it comes to information about your group. What are you really trying to protect? Yes, minutes should be brief and factual and financial reports should be buttoned up. But if someone has questions or wants more info, provide it. How much did your fundraiser cost? How much did you collect in dues? If you’re a PTA, how many dollars did you send out to state and national PTA? Those are all perfectly fair questions, and if you're secretive or protective, then the assumption is that your PTO or PTA is a bunch of insiders running their own closed group.
And that's exactly what you don't want.
On the financial side, our Finance Manager software is a great tool for making sure your financials are well-tracked and easy to share. I highly recommend taking a look.
Don't be afraid of sunlight on your group. Being open sends just the right message when it comes to building engagement with all parties at your school.
· Elf for a day. Parents donate time to help in the classroom.
This week we asked our Facebook friends for teacher gift ideas for the holidays. Many of you, including a few teachers, said gift cards are the go-to holiday gift. It’s true, you really can’t go wrong with a gift card. But if it’s not your style, here are some additional gift ideas to consider:
· A day of gift wrapping. Teachers can bring various gifts to school, PTO wraps them for free.
· A big box of K-cups for the teachers to share.
· Games for the classroom.
· Art supplies, like paints and brushes, and Play-Doh for the classroom.
· Ask teachers if there are nonprofits or causes they like to support and make a donation in their name.
· A week of meals donated by class parents.
· A staff lunch.
· Traditional baked goods, like a container of homemade cookies
· A basket filled with smaller classroom supplies like pencils, erasers, and crayons.
· A roll of wrapping paper and tape for the holidays.
· Books for the classroom.
· Custom clipboards with teachers’ names.
· A bottle of wine.
· A simple thank-you!
For more ideas, read ”For Teacher Appreciation During the Holidays, Don’t Rush It on the PTO Today blog.
The holidays are a natural time for parent groups to show teachers they care. But unlike Teacher Appreciation Week in May, when people’s personal calendars and schedules may be a bit clearer, the holidays are a time of busyness and stress for just about every facet of life.
If your group is planning holiday activities for the school’s kindergartners, it’s worth remembering one thing: The simpler, the better.
All students, but especially the youngest ones, are excited during the holidays. In fact, many children are so ramped up from the many parties and festivities they attend outside of school in December that the last thing they need is an elaborate school party.
We asked both our PTO Today and Homeroommom.com Facebook communities to share holiday ideas for kindergarten classrooms, and here’s what we found:
Party Ideas· Set up a party with activity stations. Teachers and volunteers can help direct the children from place to place and avoid overcrowding at one particular spot.
· Try uncomplicated activities like holiday bingo or a pin-the-red-nose-on-Rudolph game. One variation: Pin a carrot to a snowman’s nose.
· If children seem restless, help them blow off steam with an easy game like Simon Says.
· Hold a pajama party, inviting child to wear pajamas in school. They’ll have extra fun working on craft projects in their pj’s!
· Set up a party around a holiday or seasonal book. Serve cocoa and popcorn.
· Have a brave adult volunteer as the class snowman. Have children wrap the adult in toilet paper, and, voila! You have an indoor snowman! Take photos with the children and the snowman.
· Try a party-in-a-box. Ask parents to pack a simple box of treats for their child. Include a salty item, a sweet item, a beverage, and a little holiday treat. Parents can wrap the box itself as a gift to their child. Children enjoy their own treats at the holiday celebration.
· Remember that school parties usually don’t run longer than 45 minutes to an hour. So budget in time for activities, snack, and cleanup.
Craft Ideas· Make paper chains with construction paper strips in multiple colors.
· Paint simple ornaments. For materials, it can be as basic as construction paper or cardboard.
· Create snowflake ornaments from puzzle pieces. Hold together with glue.
· Use cut-out circles (from paper or cardboard) to assemble snowmen and decorate with crayons, felt pieces, and other items that can be attached with glue sticks.
· Have parents make small gingerbread houses that children can decorate in class. One option is to use individual-size milk cartons as the base and attach graham crackers to the carton using frosting to “build” the house.
· Create holiday “people” using toilet paper tubes as the body and decorate with construction paper pieces to make nutcrackers, snowmen, and reindeer.
There’s a chance your school won’t allow treats. With new USDA snack rules, PTOs and room parents are learning to do parties without snacks and sweets as the focal point. What we are hearing is if there are fun, age-appropriate activities, most kids won’t even notice that there are no munchies.
If food is allowed, try these ideas:· Provide plain sugar cookies, gingerbread cookies, or cupcakes and have children decorate with frosting and sprinkles.
· Bring in chunks of fruit and have children make fruit kebabs.
This post was written by Gwen Pescatore, a PTO president, mom of three, and comoderator of #PTchat.
A few years ago our board realized the same handful of people came to our parent group meetings at Knapp Elementary. But it wasn’t the head count that concerned us. We wanted to make sure our meetings were truly helpful, so we decided to evaluate our meeting content and make changes if necessary.
Our team looked at the information being shared and realized we were essentially reviewing what had happened in the month since the last meeting, giving parents information they had already heard about in conversations, in our newsletter, and on our social media sites. At the end of our meetings, families left knowing little more than when they arrived.
We decided we needed to give parents better reasons to show up. So we created a new meeting format. Each meeting runs about one hour and has four segments: tech training, educator’s voice, student’s voice, and PTO business. We also try to stay flexible. If we have a great student visitor on the schedule, we might not do tech training or an educator visit that evening. Here is the basic format:
- Tech training: This is a short overview or demonstration of something like Twitter to help parents get a basic understanding of online tools. It’s intended to give parents enough information that they’d be interested in exploring the technology on their own. These sessions can be led by a student, teacher, or parent.
- Educator’s voice: This is the “expert” piece and is designed to give useful information on a variety of education topics. We’ve hosted our teachers, educators from our community, and virtual visitors on Skype. Often the information shared is topical and may be a way to clarify a misconception. This segment has been generating lots of interest, and we feel we are becoming a true resource to our families.
- Student voice: Parents love seeing students in action. Each month, we invite a few students to discuss or demonstrate what they're doing in classes and clubs. We’ve had everything from a demonstration on how to reduce energy usage to a song performed in American Sign Language from our Sign Language Club. These presentations help keep meetings more positive.
- PTO business: This one’s pretty self-explanatory. It’s usually our shortest segment and includes a quick review of old business as needed and announcements for upcoming events. Even though we keep it short, we try to get feedback on upcoming decisions and share how earlier feedback impacted current decisions and events.
For those interested in this type of format, we’d recommend that you keep it flexible and get a feel for what fits best with your community. Now that we are in our second year with this new approach, we can say that we do have new faces at our meetings. But more important, we believe our parents are connecting, learning new things, and getting great resources.
Last week I focused on the tendency of PTOs and PTAs to use "should" too much in their communications and how that message can have the opposite of its intended effect.
This week, I'm going to focus on actions instead of words -- specifically, two little habits that creep up even in the best groups and lead directly to the clique impression.
1. Pre-meeting mingles. Who do you hang with before your meetings or events officially start? I bet it's your fellow officers (who have likely become good friends or close acquaintances). It's understandable, but it sends an unsubtle message of outsider-ness to parents who aren't in the in crowd. (See Is Your PTO a Clique? ) Make it a point that officers must mingle with and welcome parent attendees before every event officially starts.
2. Do you really want help? It's great that you have a volunteer interest form and that you ask which parents would like to help. But do you use that information? Asking and then not following up is worse than not asking at all. Sure, when you need help fast it's easiest to call on a regular. But you send a message when you don't proactively make sure that every parent who expressed interest receives a follow-up call. Assign a volunteer whose only job is connecting with and helping new volunteers.
P.S. We're upgrading our website platform here at PTO Today. We're excited about the changes, but as we're upgrading you might notice some small glitches. Our staff is working hard to smooth out these changes, and we appreciate your patience as we work through them.
As we head into the winter holidays, the calendar will be getting busier—with school events and parent group activities, as well as family commitments. Before things get too out of control, take a few minutes to strategize and give yourself some tools to keep from getting burned out.
First off, keep those perfectionist tendencies in check. We’ve all gotten caught up in working on something until it’s absolutely perfect, and then the next thing you know, an hour (or more!) has gone by. It’s OK to make things “good enough” if it gives you more time to catch up with your kids, your household chores, or even your sleep.
Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. No one (except maybe yourself!) expects you to do everything on your own. You’ll have the most success if your requests are specific and take a defined amount of time. For example, you can ask someone to spend an hour putting together the holiday gifts for teachers or filling in at the holiday shop checkout line. Other sources of help include high schoolers who have community service hours to fulfill and community fraternal organizations whose members are often willing to assist.
Along the same lines, be realistic about what you have time to commit to. You’ll probably be getting multiple requests for help from others. Think in advance about what you might have time for—creating a consolidated calendar that shows all of your family commitments as well as your PTO responsibilities is a helpful first step. Set limits for yourself, and be willing to say no (especially if you are already overextended). If you’re not sure, or if you need to buy yourself a little time, a good response is “Let me think about it and I’ll let you know.”
And finally, once the new year is here, do your own review. How did the various projects go? What about volunteer participation? Did your family time suffer or were you able to balance your commitments? Thinking about these issues while they are still fresh in your mind and jotting down some notes will come in handy when it’s time to make plans for next year.
If your PTO is a 501c(3), your deadline to file your 990-N or 990-EZ form is fast approaching! For groups with a fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014, your deadline is Nov. 17.
The deadline is typically Nov. 15, but because that date falls on a Saturday this year, the IRS has extended the deadline to Monday, Nov. 17.
For groups whose fiscal year ends on July 31, your filing date is December 15.
To get step-by-step filing instructions, go to this IRS page.
Also we have a helpful article with tips on filing tax returns that you will find here.