Leaving the relaxed pace of summer behind and tackling a new year can be a challenge. That's why we're helping pare down your (likely monumental) list of back-to-school tasks to these seven must-dos. Checking these items off your list will make it easier to handle challenges as they come. We've included a tip or a tool that can make it even easier to get these tests accomplished—and have your best year yet. Download the tools here.

1. Meet With the Principal

Most leaders know that having an effective relationship with the principal is a critical part of a successful year. No matter how many great ideas you have for your parent group, you need the support of the principal to make them happen. If you don’t establish an open and respectful connection, you could find yourself struggling. So make sure to do your part in not letting that happen—schedule a meeting with the principal as close to the start of the school year as possible.

Must-do: Be prepared—show up to your meeting with a list of topics you want to cover. Email the list to the principal before the meeting, and arrange for a long enough meeting to discuss details.

Tip: Find out how the principal prefers to stay in touch, whether via email, phone, or office visits.


2. Welcome Back Your Teachers

Back-to-school time for teachers is every bit as hectic as for parents, if not more so. Taking time at the beginning of the school year to show teachers you care and value their work can go a long way toward setting a good note for the entire year. Consider organizing a low-key event like a welcome-back breakfast or making them a simple gift.

Must-do: It’s important to make contact with teachers to let them know your group is there to support them in any way it can. A welcome-back event is a perfect opportunity to do so, but if you don’t hold one, send a personalized note on behalf of your group. And if your school has a teacher grant program, be sure to promote it to teachers.

Tool: Tag and instructions for a back-to-school teacher survival kit


Challenge accepted! Concrete steps for a great start to the school year

3. Reach Out to New Families

Making sure to welcome new parents serves several purposes. It lets them know you care and are there for them; and if you connect with and help them at the start of a new year, you have the chance to make them big fans—and get new help for your group. Reach out to new families in a way that is casual and family-friendly, like an end-of-summer barbecue or ice cream social.

Must-do: Make yourself visible to new families at your back-to-school night. Consider having a table and a friendly volunteer specifically designated simply to welcome them. Offer them a small welcome gift with your PTO’s name and contact information to encourage them to stay in touch.

Tool: Customizable tags for welcome gifts: apples, mints, bookmarks, and candy bars


4. Work Out Your Big Events

You’ll do a lot to set the tone for the year—as well as alleviate stress—by starting to plan early for your big events. It’s definitely OK to add to that roster with some smaller ones as the year goes on, but for anything requiring lots of planning and volunteers, aim to have the basic details determined at the start of the school year.

Must-do: Keep an open mind. Family events are a key part of what makes a school community feel connected, so in that regard, upholding traditions can be positive. But at the same time, you don’t want to fall into an event rut. If your group has been doing the same thing for a few years, consider making a change. You also want to make sure you look into, and take into account, other events that could result in a conflict (scheduled testing, important events in the community, etc.).

Tool: Free downloads to promote your family events, from art shows to winter carnivals


5. Review Your Budget

With any luck, your predecessors did a thorough review of your finances at the end of the previous year and sketched out a prelimi­nary budget. But chances are, there will be areas to fill out. Even if you’re starting from scratch, it’s important to create a basic plan so you’ll have an idea of how much you need to raise. Go through the previous year’s check register or get copies of checks from the bank as a starting point.

Must-do: Make necessary updates to the budget, but don’t get wrapped up in trying to make your budget perfect. A budget is simply an educated guess of how you expect the year to go. It’s not a final docu­ment; you should update and change it as the year goes on and new information comes in.

Tool: Editable sample PTO budget


6. Distribute a Volunteer Survey

Be sure that your group is using a sign-up sheet or survey form to ask parents how they might be interested in helping out or where they might be willing to get involved. One of the most common reasons parents give for not helping at their kids’ schools is simply that no one asked them. By distributing a form (via email or with the help of individual room parents), you’ll let parents know early on that you’re interested.

Must-do: Use the feedback you get—and follow up with everyone who responds. It takes time to follow up, but the best way to earn a clique reputation is to have parents express an interest in helping and then never take them up on it. Try your best to match parents to their interests, but even when it’s not possible, make sure someone reaches out to them with upcoming opportunities.

Tool: Volunteer interest surveys in English and Spanish


7. Prepare Your Speech for Back-to-School Night

Not all schools build in the time for parent groups to speak during open house or back-to-school night, but if yours does, take it! Your back-to-school speech is going to be many parents’ first exposure to your parent group, so it’s a great opportunity to let them know how much fun you have and the ways the kids benefit from your work.

Must-do: Avoid pitching your big fundraiser and focusing too heavily on recruiting. Remember that first impressions do count, so for that first encounter, make it all about the positive—and what they’ll get from you.

Tool: Sample back-to-school speech script; read “How To Give an Awesome Back-to-School Speech” for more tips and a video of the script being presented

Originally posted in 2016 and updated regularly.