PTO Today Blog

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

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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

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If yours is like most parent groups I know, then I bet you don't brag about your accomplishments nearly enough.

I bet your school’s parents know when fundraising sales week is and when you need volunteers. But if those are the loudest messages you send, is it any wonder that parents think of your group as mainly just wanting their money and time?

If you don't change that narrative, no one else will. When PTOs brag, they aren't being cocky or arrogant; they're telling a positive story that helps them do their essential work better. Future volunteers are attracted to success and successful groups, but they won't know how successful you are if you don't tell them. Repeatedly. 

Did you supply something for the school? Get the photos on Facebook. Did you get a nice thank-you from a teacher or student? Copy it to everyone. Are you submitting pictures of your fun events to the local paper? Local papers love that stuff!

Marketing your parent group is a legitimate (essential) function of your group. Keep doing your great work, and make sure the whole world knows about it. 

Posted in Bright Ideas
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Teacher appreciation is one our favorite times of year! We love seeing what parent groups do to celebrate teachers. This year, Teacher Appreciation Week runs from Monday, May 4, through Friday, May 8; Tuesday, May 5, is Teacher Appreciation Day. 

We have lots of articles that will help you with planning and organizing this event: 

Teacher Appreciation Resources List: This list will help you navigate through the resources on our site, from gift and event ideas to volunteer sign-up sheets and invitations.

Teacher Appreciation Ideas They’ll Love: You’ll find fun ideas, from small gifts to big events, that we’ve compiled from parent groups across the country. 

Creative Twists on Teacher Appreciation: In this article, you’ll get tips for changing up some traditional appreciation ideas without spending a lot of money. 

9 Ways To Celebrate: There are many ways to show appreciation. In this article, you’ll find ideas such as providing meals on conferences days or helping to clean up at the end of the school year. 

Teacher Appreciation Done Right: This article tells us how teacher appreciation really can be celebrated throughout the year. You’ll find some fun ideas that you could implement now, like creating a “bravo board” at the front of the school to highlight teachers using photos, personal information, and perhaps a quote from them about why they love your school.

Last-Minute Teacher Appreciation Ideas: The ideas included in this article are quick-turnaround suggestions, which busy parents can make use of at any time during teacher appreciation season! 

Many PTO leaders at today's PTO Today Expo in Marlboro, Mass., said they continue to struggle with parent involvement. Some leaders also shared parent involvement tips that have worked for their groups that we wanted to share here. Check out the advice from Carolyn Allard, PTO president, and Tanya Gay, PTO secretary from the Streiber Memorial School in Chicopee, Mass. 

We have lots of parent involvement tips that you may find helpful, including: 

9 Simple Involvement Builders

Make the Case for Parent Involvement 

Secrets That Build Parent Involvement 

4 Volunteer Recruitment Tips 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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There’s a day for just about everything, and today is National Get Over It Day. This made me think of my days as a PTO leader and how there were times when I would have loved to have told some particularly difficult people to just get over it and move on. And picture that said through seriously clenched teeth!

It’s likely that most of you have felt the same way at some point in your time as a volunteer. There’s no escaping it—there will always be a few parents in a school community who complain too much, one-up other parents too often, always have a better idea (but no desire to actually implement it), are just plain sour about everything, and in general, bring a negative energy to the parent group. 

As much as we wish these folks would just get over it (or go away), they often don’t. But they don’t have to get you down, and they definitely don’t have to define your group. We have lots of resources to help you handle them: 

How To Deal With Difficult People: This article suggests that if you have a one-on-one conversation with a parent who’s being cranky and acknowledge that she’s upset (you don’t need to agree with her), you may come to understand why that person is being so difficult. You may even be able to work out a solution with her. 

Responding to Criticism: Ever have a parent nearly ruin a meeting because he seems to be spoiling for a fight? It’s best to resist the urge to toss back a verbal barb. This article gives you tips on how table your emotions. Often, when you don’t take complaints personally, you’ll feel less threatened by them and more able to respond. 

How To React to Critics: Written by PTO Today founder Tim Sullivan, this article suggests that when you have a complainer on your hands, smile right back at this person and say thanks for the feedback. When appropriate, ask her if she’d like to join the planning committee for the event or program they critiqued.

Manage Personality Conflicts: This article provides tips on how to identify personality types and match people to jobs and partners that best suit them. The idea is to prevent problems before they start. 

Keeping the Peace in Your PTO: This article expands on the idea that leaders can help prevent problems before they start. It suggests leaders communicate often with parents so they don’t feel out of the loop. Often, speculation and negative feelings will crop up when parents don’t know what’s going on. This doesn’t always prevent those parents (you know who they are) who claim they never got the email. But it’s still worth a try. 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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We so often think of PTOs and PTAs as fundraisers or teacher-appreciators. But my favorite description of PTOs and PTAs is simply: glue.

What turns a big, cold brick building into a place where kids love to learn and teachers love to teach? It’s not the pay or the amenities; it’s the people, all connected around that big, cold brick building, making it warm and welcoming. Yes, I love gifted math teachers, but the magic really happens when that gifted math teacher practices her craft within a community of teachers, students, and parents working together.

Fostering that community through family events and teacher support and communications and collective effort is what the best PTOs and PTAs do. All of your other great results flow from that.

We have a great new article, 5 Ways To Build School Community, that can help you with this important goal. 

Good luck! 

Posted in Parent Involvement
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One of the big bugaboos of a school auction is the checkout process. After all the hard work groups put in to getting donations, organizing volunteers, and hosting the events, the last thing they need is to end their evenings on a sour note because parents have to wait forever to pay. 

Our Facebook community recently shared ideas on how they tackle auction checkout time so events end on an up note.

Mobile bidding: We are using mobile bidding this year. Bidders can check out on their phones and pay by credit card. Hope it cuts our lines in half. - Jo Ann C.

Designated checkout jobs: We have a tally person and then a few others assigned as cashiers. - Anna M.  

Staggered bid-closing times: We do the bigger ticket items at the silent auction and stagger the closing by color coding tables. - Kathi W. 

Occupy children while parents settle the bill: We have carnival games upstairs and the silent auction downstairs. The auction ends a half-hour before the carnival so the kids can keep playing while the parents wrap up their purchases. - Michelle P.

Separate checkout lines by function: We have two lines, with one person handling cash and checks (with a runner) and one person doing credit card purchases (also with a runner). We also have one central person assisting them using QuickBook software with all customer names preloaded. - Kimberly L. 

Real-time processing: We do a silent auction as part of a trivia night. We stagger the closing time for tables so that they don't all hit at once. We process the bids immediately so that winners can check out when their bidding time is over. - Rosemary S. 

Delayed pickup: We have a wonderful school secretary who doesn't mind people coming in the next week to pick up and pay for their items. So parents are able to leave the auction as needed instead of waiting until the end. - Kris P. 

Clear the room: All auction bidding ends at the same time. We kick everyone out, close the doors, and place winning-bidder numbers alongside corresponding item numbers on a giant sign. We then rearrange the tables as checkout tables. Then we hang the winners’ sign outside of the room, open the doors, and process everyone with two or three checkout lines. - Kris P. 

Posted in Uncategorized

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I remember clearly my reaction the first time someone pointed to me when the PTA president mentioned her term was up the next year. “No, I don’t have the time; I can’t fill her shoes,” was my thought. You see, I always was a little in awe of our leader. She was a poised presenter, comfortable around the school administrators, and in the know. I never thought I had what it took to be the president of our PTA. Until I was asked to do it. 

But before impulsively saying yes (or no), I spent some time thinking about this decision and if was the right thing to do.

First, I told my husband I was contemplating taking this on, and we discussed pros and cons. Second, I thought about what would or wouldn’t sway me to take the job. I decided there were two non-negotiables. One, I had to line up a successor so I wouldn’t “get stuck” in the job until my youngest graduated! Two, I wanted to make sure I had a solid executive board who had my back.  

Then I talked to our outgoing president. I asked many questions such as “How do you run a meeting?” “How often do you meet with the principal?” “Do you have to attend every event?” “How many hours a week do you spend on it?” and so on. She helped me realize that I could make the job my own. Her best advice to me was “You are a volunteer, so contribute as much of your own time as you have to give.” 

That was spot-on—there is no “right” way to lead. But still, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to do it all “wrong.” 

I also asked other parent group leaders (past or present) how they decided whether to run or not. After talking to these people, I developed the following list of questions to consider before taking a leadership position. Some are mine and some are theirs, and all hopefully are helpful:

1) What is the time commitment, and can I manage it? I already knew the monthly meeting dates and times, but needed to find out about the extra time required in addition to the meetings. The outgoing president was a big resource for me, as were the school principals and administrative assistants. I asked them how often we would talk a week or a month to plan the time needed.

2) What sorts of skills would I need? I asked about how the work was mainly done—was it in face-to-face meetings, on the phone, over email? I found out that having computer skills was a big plus, as our PTA was moving more and more to online communications.  

3) What are goals or big initiatives for the year? I had been attending the monthly meetings but wondered what happened behind the scenes—did our group have a large fundraising goal or need to have a large membership push? Knowing in advance to the extent possible what was expected helped me get prepared.

4) What strengths do I bring to the group? I know I’m not a really crafty mom or a financial whiz. But I’m a pretty good delegator and can also bring groups of people together to get things done. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we had a lot of great creative volunteers who could handle the decorations, while I could handle other issues like coming up with ideas to help build our parent community.

5) Who will I be working with? It was important to me to make sure I had other volunteers on the board who were cooperative and willing to help get things done.

6) What are my intentions and will this help meet them? I know many of us were drawn to the parent group to provide community service and improve school for all kids. I realized I wanted to be more involved in my kids’ schools so I could help make positive changes. I wanted to create a stronger sense of community among our parents.

7) How will I be working? I asked around to see if I would be doing it all myself—and luckily for me, the answer was no. Our PTA had many committees and chairs volunteering to help.

8) How will transition work? While our group didn’t have a formal transition plan, we did have an exchange of electronic files. This helped a lot! I also wanted to be sure there was a plan to succeed out of the position too. 

9) How does my family feel about it? I realized the position would take me away from some of my family time, and I needed their support to make it work.

10) Is there someone better suited for the job? This prompted me to take a long look in the mirror and assess what I thought I could bring to the group.

I ultimately decided to take the plunge. Despite some of the questions I had from friends (such as “Are you crazy?”), I’ve really enjoyed it. I even accepted the middle school PTA copresidency this year. I’m still learning and feel like I’m helping make a difference for our schools and students. And that’s what keeps me going.

Posted in Parent Involvement

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I really like our March cover story called “Test Your Fundraising IQ.” It’s definitely worth a good read.

And it got me thinking about my most fundamental belief when it comes to fundraising: Groups spend too much time worrying about products and profit percentage and too little time thinking about the people they are going to partner with to run the fundraiser.

The people are the most important consideration. By far.

A good sales rep from a reputable fundraising company is going to have a quality product. But that rep is going to do so much more than provide product. He is going to be responsive and helpful and solve problems and add ideas that will make you money and reduce work and drama. If you’ve had good luck with a rep or a company, resist the annual temptation to change gears. If you had bad service last year, resist the promise that this year will be better. Above all, resist the profit percentage promises that are so easy to manipulate.

Your goal isn’t the highest profit percentage; it’s the highest final profit with happy parents and still-sane volunteers. And you reach those goals by working with the best reps and the best companies. (Here’s a column I wrote about the value of great fundraising sales reps a few years back.)

Good luck!

Posted in Fundraising

We are all so done with this winter! PTO Today Expo season is about to start and we are looking forward to seeing you at our March 10 Expo in Marlboro, Mass! Our founder Tim Sullivan has a little more to share about it in the quick video below. And if you haven't registered for one of our Expos yet, head over to our registration page

Posted in PTO Today Expo
We'd all agree that PTO and PTA leaders want parents to step up and join the board, right? Often, parents hesitate because they don't understand what the board does. So, pull the curtain back and let potential leaders really see what you do. Not sure how? Get some tips from our editor in chief Craig Bystrynski on making your board more open. 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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Before the end of the school year, many groups will hold elections that either will usher in a brand-new lineup of leaders or bring in a just a few new faces. Either way, it helps to take steps now to ensure that the transition to a new board goes smoothly. Here are some key questions to consider:

1. Where do you stand? If you are a board member now and your term isn’t up, have you taken the time to decide if you want to stay on? If you are excited about another year, that’s terrific! But if you’re ready to move on, it’s best to let your team know as soon as possible. 

2. Is your nominating committee busy? If not, give it a nudge. By now, the committee should be recruiting candidates and making plans to get the word out about the election. 

3. Is your board ready to tackle elections if there isn’t a nominating committee? At your next general meeting, start by talking to parents about the upcoming election and explain each board member’s job. Get the word out in other ways as well, including your group’s newsletter and social channels. 

4. Who’s likely to run? At this time, you should be aware of one or two folks who have expressed interest in running for office. Make yourself available to potential candidates by offering to answer questions, inviting them to sit in on an upcoming board meeting, or even asking them to shadow you at an upcoming event. Do what you can so they understand what goes into the job of a PTO leader. 

5. What’s on file? At your next board meeting, discuss how your group is doing in the record-keeping department. Are there up-to-date notes on committees and activities so new leaders will have the information they need to run a project next year? If not, set aside time now to gather the information you need. 

6. Are you staying positive? As we move into the final months of the year, it’s not hard to get stressed. Parent groups are busy with spring activities, teacher appreciation events, and end-of the-year celebrations. But what you don’t want is for for potential new leaders to see grumbling, stressed-out board members. Time permitting, invite candidate out for coffee and talk about your group’s accomplishments and the rewards of getting involved. Speak from the heart about why you have loved being a parent group leader. 

Here are some additional resources: 

5 Tips for Your Upcoming PTO or PTA Election 

Officer Transition: Planning Ahead

8 Tips for Passing the Gavel 

Posted in Parent Involvement

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Ever feel like there are just a few of you and your group is kind of barely surviving?

You are not alone. While there are certainly many thriving groups out there with lots of volunteers, the more typical group is like yours -- a few dedicated volunteers doing the best they can and getting tired and making mistakes.

The good news: You are likely still doing great work, and -- if you are not -- you certainly can.

We have this great new feature on small groups achieving big things. My simple advice to small groups is to tackle just one or two things and make them great. Whether it’s improving communication or making one signature event memorable -- start there. Tangible success is the best way to attract more volunteers, which will allow you to do even more. Those small groups that try to do too much and wind up with just so-so results (and completely overworked volunteers) have a really hard time attracting new blood.

Posted in Tim's Tip
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A comedian recently said he didn’t like it when people applauded at the end of a movie because they are basically clapping for the projector. Funny, I actually love it when people clap because it makes me feel like I’m part of a shared experience. For a brief moment, everyone is connected and agreeing that something was awesome. 

That shared-experience feeling is what makes Family Movie Nights such a great way for you to build a sense of community at your school. Gather up a bunch of parents and kids to watch something like Disney’s Frozen, and chances are there’ll be a sing-along of the film’s runaway hit song, Let It Go. Those moments help make a connection. Next time the parents see each other, say in the pickup line at school, they’ll say hello and maybe share a joke about the movie they watched together. That’s the start of a community. 

If you haven’t done a Family Movie Night before, consider trying one for the spring. Many groups take advantage of the nice weather by hosting an evening picnic or barbeque with outdoor activities, followed by a movie. It also works as an end-of-the-year event—a relaxed, final get-together before summer begins. 

We have a free Family Movie Night kit that includes tips for organizing events and many ideas on activities and snacks to help make the evening a success. The kit also has information on licensing a movie through Movie Licensing USA. 

Here are some additional resources to help you: 

Movie Night: It's a Smash Hit

Movie Night Tickets 

PTO Today Family Movie Night on Pinterest 

Have a fun event, and just my two cents: Clap as often as you want to.

Posted in Uncategorized

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Cold or warm, sun or snow -- no matter where you are these are the dog days of the school year, which makes this the perfect time for your group to play a key role in livening up the school climate and creating some fun to go along with the midwinter slog.

My favorite solution: School Family Nights. I use the capital letters there, because we have a bunch of great nights already planned with ideas and materials for you to borrow from and follow. Great nights like Family Game Night, Family Movie Night, Family Science Night, and more.

But you can also put together your own school family nights in any way you want. Get your school community together; get kids and parents interacting; have faculty and staff in the mix, too -- that's the good stuff. Is it a night at minor league hockey or a spaghetti supper or bowling? You name it. I loved this idea I saw recently where a school put on a Harry Potter Night

The best PTOs and PTAs are definitely not just about fundraising. And we also don't have to be all serious all the time. Fun events should be a core part of your mix, and our School Family Night kits (as well as the events you plan on your own) can make that happen. Have fun!

Posted in Parent Involvement

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A cake walk is a fun addition to school events. While many groups love giving away cakes, others substitute a variety of other treats like cupcakes or books to change it up.  But the basics of how to make this event work stay the same. Here are our tips for a successful cake walk!

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Posted in Family Events