As incoming leader of my parent teacher organization last summer, my primary goal was to promote the role and mission of the PTO to our general parent population. Months earlier the principal had conducted an online survey to get an understanding of the parent attitudes toward academic rigor and school culture. In this data the PTO received critical remarks and realized we were perceived as an exclusive club not interested or inviting of the input of others. The question is why? We considered ourselves to be passionate parents sacrificing great amounts of time and energy for the greater good of our children and school community. Why was our effort criticized instead of appreciated? Why the disconnect with so many parents?
Prior to September of 2012, communication flowed from the PTO to all parents through fliers in the Wednesday folder, the monthly newsletter, email blasts to those we had addresses, and finally, room parents. The principal communicated to parents via a robo call, a district email blast, and a few paragraphs at the end of the monthly PTO newsletter. At the time, these were the best tools available. However, if your homeroom did not have a room parent or a room parent fulfilling their role then those parents were often in the dark as to school wide activity and information. Parents checking the Wednesday folders waned as the school year progressed. The monthly newsletter was helpful but either served as a recap of what had already happened or reminders of events into the future. Overall, parents were having to puzzle together what was going on. Parents who feel uninformed are often disgruntled, hence the survey remarks. Then everything changed.
In September of last year, our elementary school and PTO adopted LivingTree to streamline all communication and event coordination. Through this online tool, a connectivity occurred with all parents that has resulted in a school community that now feels endeared not only to the PTO but also their individual teachers and the administration. The answers to the question above are knowledge and transparency. For the first time, parents were equally informed. Dependence on the room parents, weekly folders, and monthly newsletters was no longer necessary because as administrators of LivingTree the principal and I could now communicate directly to the entire parent population, the entire PTO Board, or targeted segments of either group any day of the week, any time of the day. Two way communication was now a regular part of each day as parents could now respond to any post with either a question or a comment or the chance to LIKE the message. Also, all events requiring parent sign ups for example parent teacher conferences, carnival shifts, library volunteers, and so on were now coordinated through the sign up component in LivingTree, displacing paper fliers or ancillary schedule management websites. Each response and sign up resulted in parents feeling “included” and engaged in what was going on at school.
At the end of the 2012-13 school year, I sent out a survey via LivingTree to test the temperature of the parents attitudes regarding school culture and to measure the success of my original PTO goal. The results were in stark contrast to the year prior. The data came back overwhelmingly positive with parents reporting a renewed enthusiasm and optimism for the future of our school. There was nothing more rewarding than being flagged by a parent in the hallway toward the end of the school year I did not know and told thank you for keeping him informed. LivingTree allowed each of us to do that – connect.
I will have a daughter starting 6th grade in two weeks. I am so appreciative that the principal there has embraced LivingTree for the middle school community because I can’t imagine being connected and involved in school without it.