Back to School season is stressful enough for the average parent. But, as a parent group Leader, you not only have to get your own kid on the bus in one piece, you are setting the tone for the entire school. Avoid a mid-morning panic attack by planning well and enlisting the help of others. Here are a few ideas to consider.
As parents, back to school time can be bitter sweet. We have been watching our sun-kissed kids wander around the yard, play with their friends and do projects at the kitchen table. Now that vacation is coming to an end, and kids have just now settled into a routine of late mornings and lazy days, it’s time to rip the band aid off again and get ready for the school year. It is that time of year you have to drag sopping wet kids out of the pool and cram them in the car to shop for sneakers, clothes, and back to school supplies.
As the leader of a Parent group, you have an even bigger role to play in a successful transition back into the school year. In fact, your parent group can have a direct role in getting the school year off to a strong start. Parent groups can spruce things up around the school, help make everyone feel welcome, and encourage parents, students, staff, and faculty to get reacquainted. The key to a successful year is good planning and delegation.
Your main goal should be to create a community that supports your school, the teachers, the staff, and the children. Whether school’s already started or you’re still gearing up, there are many things you can do now to accomplish that goal successfully. Here are some ideas to get your crew back into the swing of things;
Welcome Back to School
Have a Parents-Only Mixer
One of our biggest jobs as parent organization leaders is to create a network of parents. What better time to reestablish existing relationships and bring new faces into the fold but at the beginning of the year.. Whether sending their first child off to school or their last, kindergarten parents have a heightened sense of emotion. You and your parent group can acknowledge this special transition with a simple parents-only breakfast on the first day of school. This is a great opportunity to introduce new parents to the activities of the Parent group and for “old” parents to reassure the first-timers that their babies will be just fine.
Turn that Frown Upside Down
Make the return to school a glorious one! Hang a big sign on the school fence, over the front door, or near the bus loop on the first day of school. Add a bundle of helium balloons at each entrance to show this is a special day. Place welcome signs on the classroom doors. Enlist the help of your kid network to create the signage and set a tone that your parent group is excited to be part of the new school year and is looking forward to getting both kids and parents involved!
Be a Part of Open House
Having a presence at Open House is critical. The tone you set will carry you through the year. This is your time to shine. Set out examples of past events and successful projects. Provide samples of your fundraising merchandise. Be sure to have at least one officer on hand to answer any questions and engage parents.
It is important to set out committee sign-up sheets and membership forms, but be sure to engage every parent. It is understandable how a parent that is faced with getting one or several kids back into bathing on a regular basis may not be ready to commit to a volunteer schedule. It is more important that you get key pieces of information from the parent like their email address so you can continue to educate them through the course of the year about opportunities as they become timely.
Hold a Kick off Meeting that Involves the whole Crew!
Sometimes we get so busy with the goals we have for our parent group that we have to remind ourselves of our priority – our kids. On the first meeting, make sure they are involved and make it fun. This is the perfect time for an ice cream social or other kid friendly activity. It is also the right time to let the kids know how they can help make the school year great. Kids are great workforce for things like party setup, poster making, ticket taking and so much more. They can be your most productive contributors and become great advocates amongst their peers and their parents.
Distribute a Welcome Packet
You want to make a great first impression with parents, right? Then delay sending home your fundraising appeal and distribute an information packet first.
Prepare a comprehensive packet that includes the parent group’s mission, key projects and plans for the year, the names and phone numbers of the officers and committee chairs, meeting dates and locations, membership information, a volunteer sign-up form, and other appropriate information. Market the parent group!
Apple for the Teacher
Don’t forget how important our administrators and teachers are in helping us achieve their goals. It is not uncommon for teachers to share resources in time and material with us to get there so, the beginning of the school year is a perfect time to acknowledge how much we appreciate them. It could be as simple as a bright red apple on their desk with a short, happy note or as involved as a back-to-school breakfast for our partner-teachers. It isn’t the action as much as it is the sentiment.
Get the Message Out
Be Clear. Be Consistent
June does seem far away, its true, but with some forethought, you can set an annual calendar of meetings and events sponsored by the parent group. Post the calendar in the school, on social media, your website and in your email newsletter. Be sure that is integrated into the school calendar by getting to know who manages that in the school. If you have monthly meetings, try to follow a consistent pattern (for example, the second Tuesday of every month) so your members can work the meetings into their personal routines.
Don’t assume everyone marked the dates in their day planners. Send out social media, email and text reminders as the date gets closer. Be sure to do it very close to the meeting date – like the day before or the day of the meeting.
Get Them There, Keep It Real
You’re likely to have several new attendees for your first meeting of the year. Be sure to pick convenient times and places for the meetings. Make sure this meeting starts and ends on time. Be sure to explain to the attendees what they can expect from future meetings so they know the value of attending. Remember why you are there and keep it human.
Help Them Make a Commitment
Every parent group has a variety of ways members can get involved. When recruiting volunteers, describe the time commitment and estimated workload so people know what’s expected and can select a job that suits their availability, their interests, and their talents. Involve the kids in volunteer lists and tap into high schooler who is trying to build their college resume.
Show Off Your Successes
Create a display in the school lobby or other common area where you show ways the parent group has benefited the school in the past. Consider including photographs of family events, assemblies, and special projects; statistics of fundraising success; lists of items purchased with parent group funds; thank-you notes received; testimonials from members and staff; and more.
Orient the Team
Gather your committee chairs for an orientation meeting. Discuss tips on keeping the executive board up to date, managing the committee’s budget, working in the school, and working with their volunteers.
Encourage chairpeople to contact all the members who sign up for their committees, even if not all of the people will be needed.
Get Feedback and Suggestions
You may not always like what you hear, but in order for our parents and teachers and even our kids to “own” our parent group, it is important to set up a system for them to offer up feedback and suggestions. A great way to do this is to solicit feedback with a Facebook poll or email out an invitation to weigh in a particular topic. Try getting kids and teachers involved. It doesn’t always have to be serious. Sometimes fun polls can get people involved.
Who’s In Charge, Anyway?
Before confusion sets in, clarify with the principal which activities are run by the staff and which are the parent group’s domain. If your school holds a book fair, for example, should the parent group recruit helpers, or does the school librarian see that as her job? Be sure that everyone feels empowered with clarity. It will avoid uncomfortable situations and, in some cases, hurt feelings.
You and your team may have great plans, but, you do need to mold your goals against the budget you have. So, as part of your planning, be sure that your goals are in line with the resources that are available.
If your budget includes accounts over which the principal or teachers have discretion, be sure to let them know how much money they can look forward to. They, too, need to do some planning for the year.
Finally, be sure that your team has a clear understanding of what they have to work with for any given endeavor. Planning something as seemingly simple as a bake sale actually requires a fair amount of planning, and depending on the event, money.
Find Your Bylaws
This is good time to find—and read—a copy of your group’s bylaws. If you have only a paper copy, recruit a volunteer to type them up in an electronic format so they can be updated and saved easily. Make copies for all of your officers and committee chairs. Post them to your site and send them to your list.
Robert’s Rules of Order were designed to help meetings run efficiently. Local bookstores carry summarized versions of the rules that make them easy to understand and apply to your situation.
Some parent groups even have an assigned parliamentarian who can answer questions related to motions, voting, amendments, and more during parent group meetings.
You don’t need to go overboard in applying the rules, but if you have a basic understanding of the areas of Robert’s Rules most relevant to a parent group, you can keep the meetings running smoothly.
Ask for Help
Recruit committee chairs and committee volunteers from your membership. If you set out sign-up sheets, include the names and phone numbers of the current and immediate past chairpeople, so potential volunteers can call for more information. On the other hand, don’t fill all the positions with “old” members. Leave opportunities for parents who are new to the school this fall.
Find the Files
Somewhere in your school, or possibly in the basements of your past officers and committee chairs, are the files of past parent group events. Track those down and redistribute them to the new officers and chairpeople. Even files that seem old and outdated can provide good advice, if your volunteers take the time to read through them.
Set Up a Binder System
Officers and committee chairs acquire a wealth of information during their time in office. Start a committee binder system to collect it all; you’ll make life a lot easier for future volunteers. Have each committee chair fill her binder with information gathered in working on events: vendors used, costs, planning issues, budget projections, and so forth.
The next time you run that event or program, you won’t have to go searching for information you already had—once. More important, you’ll smooth the transition when new committee chairs take office. Your group will be off and running a lot sooner and a lot more smoothly.
Mark Those Dates
If your school district requires that the parent group requisition meeting space, now is the time to complete the paperwork. It can be very awkward to show up for an evening meeting, only to find the school building locked. If your district maintains a district-wide calendar, submit the dates of your big family events to reduce the likelihood of conflict with other events at neighboring schools.
Consider collecting the e-mail addresses of your members so the parent group can send meeting announcements, meeting minutes, and special event reminders electronically.
Update the Website
Now is the time to update the information on your Web site. If your parent group does not have its own Web site, contact the administrator of your school’s Web site to see whether a page can be dedicated to your group. At minimum, post meeting times and locations, officer names, and a list of the benefits the parent group has provided to the school. Consider assigning a Communications Coordinator role to one of your officers or even establishing it as a new volunteer position.
Do Some Fall Cleaning
When was the last time the parent group cabinet or closet at school was really cleaned out and organized? Now is a good time to tackle that project and take inventory. You can reduce spending on office and hospitality supplies if you know what you already have on hand. Post the inventory on the cabinet or closet door, and be sure to tell your volunteers that they should use what’s on hand first. We found that when we consolidated all the boxes, we had 10,000 coffee stir sticks. Plenty for any coffee hours we might host for the next several years, plus enough for several good art projects!
Meet One Another
Get To Know Your Fellow Officers
Jackson Elementary parent group in Hebron, Ohio, holds a potluck dinner for new officers in late summer. The emphasis is on getting to know each other, not necessarily on parent group business. You might want to include spouses and children, too.
Most parent groups have at least one executive board meeting in the summer. This is a good practice that ensures your officers are organized and ready to get started right away. Discussion topics might include meeting format, key dates, next year’s budget, new projects, special challenges ahead, and the specific role and responsibilities of each officer. Even if school has already started, it’s a good idea to get together for a little strategic planning.
This is also a good time to ensure that each officer has a copy of your parent group’s bylaws. You might want to invite last year’s officers to a transition meeting, if that has not already happened.
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This is an exciting time of year and your parent group is critical to a successful, fun year of learning and experience for our children. Take these tips for what they are, just ideas and include them in your thinking in a way that enhances the experience for the volunteers and teachers that are helping you and your leadership reach your goals. Above all else, have fun with your role, be proud of your accomplishments and remember why we volunteered in the first place.
Have a great school year!