Last week, registration began for National PTA’s annual Legislative Conference. Held in March, the conference provides PTA members the opportunity to speak up for every child at the federal level. Attendees receive trainings and briefings before meeting with their members of Congress to discuss issues of importance to PTA and families across the country. All PTA members are invited to join us!
As important as it is to meet with members of Congress in DC, local and state advocacy is just as critical to ensuring that family engagement in matters involving children is valued by decision makers at all levels of policy—from the school district, to the state, to the United States Department of Education. For family engagement to become a priority around the country, PTA’s must actively work to encourage both their membership and their community to participate. While it can sometimes seem like an uphill battle to get families and communities involved in activism, there are concrete steps that can be taken to get started.
They key to engaging existing and potential new members in PTA is to show people why their local PTA is relevant. If families can see that the PTA in their community is actively working to bring about positive change in their school district, change that can impact their child, they will be more inclined to get involved.
But how can PTA’s highlight their continuing relevance? The first step is to recognize that PTAs are advocacy associations with a rich legacy of speaking up for every child. Services like hot lunches in schools and establishment of juvenile courts would not be what they are today without PTA. It’s also important to take the fear out of “advocacy.” While the word “advocacy” can be scary for many people, it simply means to support a cause. To engage your local community, and potentially gain membership, local PTA units should strive to highlight how they have supported every child and brought about change, especially in recent months or years. Your unit could keep newspaper clippings showcasing PTA success; create a collage of photos with local PTA members working for change; or keep a bulletin board with past event notices. Be creative with it! Local PTA leaders should also familiarize themselves with the history of both their state PTA affiliate and National PTA so that communities can see why PTA matters at all levels.
While educating the community on what PTA has done recently, PTA members should also be prepared to answer questions about what they are doing now to speak up for every child. To be able to effectively answer this question and peak interest in the activities of the local PTA, leaders should have an advocacy plan in place. What issues affecting child welfare are happening in your school district? What can your PTA do to address this topic? Remember, your unit does not have to tackle every issue all at once; rather, a better approach is to choose one or two topics that impact families, teachers, and students the most and work to build support for PTA’s position. Using a strategy chart, units can set goals for what they would like to see happen. If community interest already exists for the issue, this is an excellent opportunity for local PTAs to raise their visibility by taking a stand and organizing their members for change, which may also result in new members joining. If the community is not aware of the issue, then PTA has the opportunity to educate them.
At the Legislative Conference this year, we will be talking with members of Congress about the Family Engagement in Education Act, a federal piece of legislation that provides states and communities with more opportunity to prioritize family involvement in children’s educational experience. As PTA advocates work with Congress to pass this important bill, take some time to consider ways that your PTA can engage families and communities at the local level.
Tell us: How does your state or local unit engage its membership and seek to recruit new members?
Want to attend the 2014 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.? Visit the Legislative Conference web page for more information and to register!