As a parent, it can be hard to know how to get involved in your child’s education without embarrassing them by chaperoning all their field trips. That’s one reason why parent teacher organizations (PTOs) are a great way to get involved behind-the-scenes.
Sure, school boards and administrators can make the big decisions, but PTOs can fill in the gaps and provide support and insight from parents.
Every PTO is different, though: Some have specific objectives like fundraising for a new playground, while others run events like book fairs and Teacher Appreciation Week.
Whether your child is in high school, middle school, or elementary school, attending a PTO meeting can be a great way to get involved in the school community.
Here’s everything you need to know about running a PTO meeting and how they differ from other types of meetings like school board meetings and town hall meetings.
What Is a PTO Meeting?
Sometimes, the parent-teacher relationship can be a little contentious. Parents want to know why their child isn’t getting straight A’s on their report card, and teachers want to know why their students aren’t getting their homework done on time.
While parent-teacher conferences are an opportunity to talk about your child’s progress one-on-one, PTO meetings focus on the entire school or school district. PTOs are a great way to build strong relationships between school community members.
The PTO can identify gaps in school resources – such as old playground equipment or IT infrastructure – and raise funds to make improvements. It might also help plan school events or put together the yearbook.
There’s no definitive list of what a PTO meeting should cover, but there are a few things that distinguish a PTO from other types of organizations.
PTO vs. School Board
First, a PTO and a school board are very different. School board members may be parents, teachers, or simply community members. It’s their job to hire a superintendent or administrator and make key decisions about the school district.
A parent-teacher organization doesn’t have the power to make those decisions, but it might deliver updates to the school board from time to time.
PTO vs. PTA
A parent-teacher organization (PTO) is also different from a parent-teacher association (PTA). Basically, a PTA is a local chapter of the National PTA while a PTO is an entirely independent body. Similar goals, different structure.
Parent-teacher associations have to pay dues to the national association, which gives them resources and support. PTOs are independent but may still charge dues. A typical PTO might charge $10 in dues per family, which can help confer the right to vote at PTO meetings.
Both PTAs and PTOs can register as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations in order to accept tax-exempt donations or apply for grants.
Who Can Attend PTO Meetings?
While school board meetings are open to any interested community members, PTO meetings are just for parents, teachers, and other staff members. You can elect PTO board members or PTO officers to take on a more specific role.
PTO members are usually all volunteers, so don’t be surprised if things start strong at the beginning of the school year and then meeting attendance declines.
Holding monthly meetings is important, but it’s just as important to encourage parent involvement throughout the school year.
(Maybe that mom who works in social media or the dad who’s a graphic designer can put together some meeting memes to drum up interest!)
Accessibility at PTO meetings
Some parents may want to get involved in PTO events but can’t take the time off work to attend in-person meetings. You can make things easier by running virtual meetings or putting together a meeting agenda ahead of time so parents know what to expect.
It’s also a good idea to share a transcript of your meetings with parents who aren’t part of an official parent group. You can share them by email or a private social media group, or include a summary in a printed newsletter for parents who aren’t online very often.
Consider also translating them into Spanish or another language that’s spoken in your community to make them as accessible as possible.
By focusing on accessibility, and providing a welcome packet to new members, you’ll make it easier for parents to get (and stay!) involved.
Tips for Running a Successful PTO Meeting
Whether you host your monthly meetings online or in person, there are several things to remember to make sure it runs smoothly. First, schedule it well in advance so everyone can put it on their calendar and make time to attend.
Next, send out a meeting agenda with an estimated timeframe for each topic. One hour is a good length for PTO meetings, but some topics may take longer to discuss.
Finally, choose a facilitator who can help you stick to the agenda and wrap up on time. (Extra points if they can moderate disagreements between confrontational parents!)
Here are a few other tips to make your PTO meeting a success:
Follow Robert’s Rules of Order
If you try to please everyone or just “go with the flow,” you’ll end up with Mrs. Peterson thinking it’s ok to add her pet project to the agenda at the last minute.
No one wants to be a buzz-kill, but sticking to an agreed-upon meeting format, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, will help minimize any conflicts and disagreements.
Robert’s Rules of Order gives the moderator a set of neutral rules to follow so they don’t appear to be favoring one group of parents or taking sides.
This governs everything from quorum – the number of people who have to be present at a meeting in order for a vote to count – to the actual voting process.
Take Good Meeting Minutes
You aren’t obligated to take notes at all PTO meetings, but if it’s a PTO board meeting or you’re taking a vote, then your bylaws may require it.
In any case, it’s a good habit to regularly take meeting minutes so you have a record of anything that was discussed or decided.
You can either designate a different notetaker each week, or invite Anchor AI to the meeting to take notes. Anchor AI uses artificial intelligence to create a full transcript of your meeting, complete with action items and time stamps.
Be sure to send out your meeting minutes for review after the meeting. Depending on your organizational structure, your bylaws may also require you to take PTO meeting minutes and approve or amend them at the next meeting.
Offer Virtual Meetings
If you already have to attend Zoom meetings for work or family commitments, you may not be thrilled at the idea of attending virtual PTO meetings – but hear us out!
Virtual meetings can be more accessible than in-person meetings, making it easier for immunocompromised or disabled parents to attend.
True, there are more opportunities for technical difficulties, but you can do a trial run to address any Zoom error messages or other problems.
If you have a free Zoom account, keep in mind that you’ll be limited to 100 participants per meeting, and you’ll have to switch to a new room after 40 minutes.
Don’t forget to ask attendees to brush up on virtual meeting etiquette and practice good behavior like muting their microphone when they aren’t speaking.
Have Anchor AI Take Notes for You
Instead of asking a parent or teacher to take notes, invite Anchor AI to take notes for you.
Not only will that free your participants to focus on contributing to the discussion, but you’ll cut down on the likelihood of typos and human error as your notetaker tries to keep up.
Plus, your transcript will be time-stamped and fully searchable, so you can easily post it online after the meeting and review any action items that need to be addressed.
Learn more about how Anchor AI works, or sign up for Anchor AI to try it out for free!