by Qiao Li, Program Coordinator
As a program coordinator at IEA, there are many parallels between running a successful program and leading an affective Parent Teacher Association (PTA) organization. Parents are stewards of advocacy, just like a program coordinator to his/her perspective program. I want to share a few tips and lessons learned from other established PTA groups. Hopefully this can be helpful to your advocacy journey.
1.Relationships with teachers and schools
Positive relationships with teachers and schools are keys to advancing needs of gifted students. A strong partnership is built when parents and teachers are on the same team fighting for the same cause. PTA groups who work alongside teachers often clearly communicate expectations and outcomes of their planned program, they solicit teachers’ input during any event/program planning process, get teacher participation during implementation, and invite teachers’ feedback for future improvement.
To make a sustained impact in a school district and the community, continuity in the PTA’s leadership is very important. The core group that’s leading the PTA needs to have a working knowledge of the group’s past success and failures, know the ever-changing needs of students and classrooms and always plan ahead to mitigate any possible conflict that may arise. To do so requires awareness for the political landscape of the District and relationships with the administrators and teachers, as well as a deep familiarity with the logistical needs of any PTA-led programs and events.
3. Parent leadership within the group
It goes without saying that a PTA group needs to be led by parents. There are PTA groups that have parents as members, but the group is actually led by a classroom teacher or a school administrator. If the leaders are not parents, how can they fundamentally understand the needs of parents and advocate for them? There are other groups with parent leaders who also happen to be a teacher or administrator, and that is a great asset. PTA leaders should always authentically represent the makeup of their group.
4. Open forum time within meetings
Everyone’s voice counts. During PTA meetings, any members can share the successes and challenges of their parenting journey. That way, every member feels that they are a part of movement that is making a positive impact on everyone in the group. The more engaged parents are, the stronger the group is.
5. Lunch hour monthly meetings in the District office building
In Blue Valley, Kansas the Parent Advocates for Gifted Education (PAGE) group holds monthly lunch meetings in the District office building. Over the years, the meetings have become very popular and well-attended by District staff because they are during lunch hours and staff don’t have to travel far to attend these meetings. Some of the meetings are advocacy-based, while others are training based. These meetings have helped district staff to better understand the needs of their students and are more prepared to work with the gifted population.
6. Money raised through summer camps donated back to each gifted classroom in the District
Another lesson learned from Blue Valley PAGE is giving back to the gifted classroom. Blue Valley PAGE runs a summer robotics camp, each year, as their student participation number has grown, so goes the proceeds of the program. The PAGE group then equally divides the proceeds and awards every gifted classroom and their teacher a grant to run any special projects in the classroom. Teachers love the extra help to support their students, PAGE runs a successful summer camp, and the students now have more opportunities to learn. It’s a win-win situation for everyone!
Successful parent advocacy requires friendship, broad coalition, and steadfast persistence. Also, don’t forget to have fun! Working with people who believe in the same mission often produces the best results!
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