Effective parent teacher communication is essential to the success of any parent school group (PTA–Parent Teacher Association in my experience). The world in which we live today requires us as leaders to use a variety of methods of communication (here are 10) in order to keep our members engaged.
What Do you Mean you Didn’t Get the Message?!?!
Have you ever heard, “I didn’t know about that event.”? Or, “I didn’t know you needed volunteers.”? As a PTA leader who is busy planning an event, you can get caught in a trap of thinking everyone knows about the event. These questions can make you cringe and think, “How did you NOT know about that event or think we DIDN’T need volunteers?!?!” Unfortunately, this type of feedback needs inward reflection instead, “What did we miss in communicating the event and our needs?”
I am beginning my first term as Vice-President Communications for our PTA. While it is the middle of the summer, I’m spending some getting ready for the upcoming PTA year and its communication challenges.
Does Failing to Plan = Planning to Fail?
I don’t totally believe it, but it can be a good indicator of your success. It didn’t take long for me to realize our PTA doesn’t have a comprehensive communication plan! That may sound pretty basic (which it probably is), but I’ve learned our communication efforts have been hit or miss in the absence of this plan. So, what does a parent teacher communication plan look like? Here’s the one we’ve put together:
I am but one person, so contrary to the belief of my children and a few other people, I CAN’T do it all! The communication plan must be a collaborative effort (hence the name of the organization–Parent-Teacher Association). So after creating the plan it must be shared with all the stakeholders.
So How Does this Communication Plan Work?
In some ways this initial sharing of the plan is the most important step, so everyone has appropriate and realistic expectations. You may even find it helpful to go one step further with the plan I’ve shared above and break down each of the sections to detail frequency and responsible persons. For example, if your school has the capability of sending a mass phone call, this is where you would list the ideal timing of those calls. At my son’s middle school, the principal makes this call every Friday for the coming week. So, this is my expectation. At the elementary school, there is a Tuesday folder where classroom and written PTA communications are shared. So, I’m in the habit of looking for that each Tuesday afternoon/evening.
Make Sure Technology Doesn’t Get in the Way
While technology can certainly help make communication between parents and teachers much easier, it can also make our jobs more challenging if it’s not used effectively. I had a situation last spring when I had a conflict and needed to change the date of a PTA meeting. I sent a mass email and changed the date on one calendar, but it was never changed on another calendar. The duplicate calendars caused confusion. So, I am now in the midst of creating a work flow process so when we are publicizing events, the committee chair knows what we have available, can choose which methods are best, and who is the responsible party. Hopefully, this will give us the consistency we need.
Make a Good First Impression
You want to be open and inviting so first appearances can mean a lot. Don’t beat yourself up about things you didn’t do in the past. Start now and move forward. What are you doing NOW to welcome new families? Since school communication doesn’t get a summer break, here are a few things our PTA is doing this summer:
- Sending Summer Newsletter to incoming families
- Arranging kindergarten play dates for families to meet each other
- Sharing any dates we already have for upcoming events
- Getting people connected through our MemberHub site
Doing this has hit on three of the four quadrants of our communication plan! We know we won’t hit everyone on Facebook, people check their email with varied frequency, and everyone isn’t in town to receive their mail, but by using all these avenues we hopefully are meeting people where they are.
Ready or Not, Here I Come!
That phrase may conjure up childhood memories of playing hide-and-seek on a warm summer evening. As an adult, the connotation has changed a bit. At this point, it makes me realize time is not standing still, summer is passing by (agonizingly slowly or like a whirlwind, depending on your individual perspective), and I can choose to be prepared for the coming school year or not. Since I’m not quite as rebellious as I was in my earlier years, I have chosen to plan and be as prepared as possible for the coming school year. While that may mean missing out on a bit of time in the sun (Relatively easy the past few rainy weeks, but nonetheless I’m sure it pleases my dermatologist!), I am taking a little bit of time most days to get some PTA planning done. Some of the things I’m preparing for the first week of school include:
- Membership Form–This has evolved to include the commitment of joining, why someone should join, and what PTA actually does! Which is definitely more than sell cookie dough and wrapping paper!
- Volunteer Interest Indicator–As part of our membership packet, we list all the committees and opportunities to volunteer. We make sure people know that indicating interest in more information does NOT equal a commitment.
- Directory Information Form–We can’t reach our constituents if we don’t have their contact information!
- Important PTA Dates–This includes our open house, back to school picnic, PTA meetings, fundraisers, and more. They could change, but it’s always better to be on the calendar and then tweak things.
- Fundraising Overview–With budget cuts galore, PTAs are increasingly being asked to fund things that historically came from school budgets. Share what you did with the funds you raised last year. I bet people will be surprised (including yourself!) by all your PTA does to support your school.
Like most teachers and children, I enjoy the prospect of a new school year. As a child that meant new markers and freshly sharpened pencils. As a PTA leader it means fresh faces and hopefully new, willing volunteers. Whatever it means for you, I hope you do enjoy the remainder of your summer.
I look forward to hearing how you’re planning your communications for next year! Leave a comment!
About the Author
This is a guest blog post from Beth Dickinson. Beth spent five years teaching primary grades in public school before having children. She has spent eight years as a preschool director including the last six years as the Director at Hayes Barton Baptist Preschool in Raleigh, NC.