Christina Hidek is a recovering attorney, and current Professional Organizer and certified PTO volunteer nerd. She founded PTO Answers 5 years ago to help empower parents to improve their child’s educational experience and school community through PTA/PTO involvement. She’s been an active PTO leader for the past 12 years and hosts the vibrant 7500+ member PTA/PTO Super Star Leaders Facebook Group. When she’s not volunteering, you can find her in her garden, cheering on her boys at their hockey games, or walking the family dogs.

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Show Highlights

Encourage your PTOs to be on a first name basis with the superintendent.

Tactics to create a culture that identifies problems with solutions when voicing feedback.

Social media “Needs to be jazzier” to effectively generate attention towards the great stuff happening in your school.

PTA / PTO are circuit breakers for teacher retention and selling your school to the community.

Approaches when forming a new relationship or transforming a negative relationship with the PTA/PTO.

Effective ways school leaders increase parent involvement.

“I’m going to look for you on Tuesday” is a powerful phrase you need to master to create connection.

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Read the Transcript here.
How To Increase Parent Involvement


Daniel: Depending on the cards you’re dealt, your PTA or PTO is either an incredible asset or an incredible pain in the You know what? I was super lucky, the last school I was at down in Houston, Texas, my first and last rodeo. I had the best president ever in a super strong PTA, so, so lucky. They made the school function well, they took care of our staff, and our students. It was really an incredible resource. But that is not everybody’s situation. Lucky for you, dear Ruckus Maker, I have Christina Hudak and we talk about and have a conversation around building strong relationships with your PTA and PTO. We also talk about two different ways you can show up and get your message actually heard as a school. Honestly, listening to me and taking action on what I teach, who’s really training you on how to put your message out there effectively. You certainly didn’t go to school for that. We’re here to help in today’s school leadership conversation. Welcome to the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast. This is Danny Chief Ruckus Maker over at BLBS. This shows for you a Ruckus Maker, which means that you develop your mindset and skills, you challenge the status quo, and you design the future of school now. We’ll be right back after a few short messages from our show sponsors.


Daniel: Develop your structures, systems, supports and culture for excellent teaching and learning in every classroom for every student as a part of Leading Learning. A brand new certificate of School Management and Leadership Course from Harvard. Leading Learning runs from October 12th to November 9th, 2020 to apply by September 30th, enroll by October 6th. Get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.


Daniel: Teachers use Teach FX to record a lesson and automatically get personalized insights into their classroom. Conversation Patterns in teaching practices. See for yourself and learn about special partnership options for Ruckus Makers at TeachFXcom/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder, which equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid or traditional educational setting. Learn more at OrganizeBinder.COM.


Daniel: Hello, Ruckus Makers. Today, I’m joined by Christina Hidek, a recovering attorney and current professional organizer and certified PTO volunteer nerd. She founded PTO Answers five years ago to help empower parents to improve their child’s educational experience in the school community through PTA, PTO involvement. She’s been an active PTO leader for the past 12 years and hosts a vibrant 7500 plus member PTA, PTO, superstar leaders Facebook group. When she’s not volunteering, you can find her in her garden, cheering on her boys at their hockey games or walking the family dogs. Christina, welcome to the show.


Christina: I’m so excited to be here with you today.


Daniel: Yes, It’s good to be here with you. I want to jump right in and start with a story about being a solution. Often people are really good at identifying all the problems, all the ways that things aren’t working, but rarely do they come with a solution as well. And that helps you build a pretty strong relationship with a superintendent. Would you share that story?


Christina: One of the reasons why I’m a PTO nerd, is that I often see solutions and bring those to people. Part of the reason why I’m so involved in this particular issue was I noticed that the language that the school district was using in social media posts was very dry, boring, old school AP format, just not what you need on social media at all. I mentioned something to the superintendent. We had already established a relationship because I took part in the strategic planning process that the district had gone through. We kind of laid the groundwork there for being able to approach her with ideas and point out problems with solutions. I said I didn’t think that people were paying attention to the messages that were being posted on social media. The whole point of social media is to get attention. I think the language needs to be jazzier. She set up an appointment because she’s like, Jazz, let’s explore this. She set up an appointment with the district PR guy and other interested parties who were on the inside of the district. I came in and she’s like, “Okay, let’s talk about this. What do you mean by jazzier?” I gave her some examples and she’s like, “Well, we’re following the MLA or AP format or some very specific journalistic format. I said, “Well, that’s great, but that’s not what’s needed on social media. Parent’s eyes are going to glaze right on over and they’re not even going to realize there is attention. “What’s the whole point of saying it if it’s not going to be looked at? So yeah. Then after that, I noticed that the superintendent is like, I love the concept of jazzier. She goes, I get what you’re trying to say. I got the energy behind it. And so the district actually did step up their wording. That’s one example of when I took what I saw was a problem and then came up with a solution. It wasn’t just saying social media posts kind of suck. I said they could be improved. Here’s one way. Many times I’ve gone to my superintendent with ideas and in my capacity as both a PTO leader and also a parent. When she is on her way to work, she drives down my street and if I’m out, she’ll stop and we’ll have a chit chat. It’s kind of really special to have that kind of relationship with a superintendent. I’m not an employee of the district, but she sees me and we have that kind of rapport. It’s really great.


Daniel: It sounds great. I want to talk to you about jazzy messages in a second. For the listeners, I am doing jazz hands too. I hope people can feel it right. We talked about the dogs and I actually want to ask you a question about them because when we’re thinking about how we show up in the messages, we tell something I really coach and encourage principals I work with is that you’re a character. You’re not just one dimensional or two dimensional or only a school leader. There’s more to you than what you do at school. I encourage and challenge them to show their community right, to open up, to be a little bit vulnerable, right in an appropriate way, because people will fall in love with you as a leader. Especially when they know that you are a fully developed human being. Right. Two little pups, right? What are their names and what kind of dogs do you have?


Christina: We are in Crazy Town right now so welcome. We have a ten month old golden retriever, Russell, and then a three month old Labrador retriever. His name is Jack. We had an older dog, Pepper, who got sick in the spring and we had to say goodbye to. Russell was very depressed and was pulling on his hair, very anxious. And so we thought, “Oh, sure, let’s get him a dog.” Actually, it has been a good thing because he’s been happier. When members of your family are happy, then it allows and eventually frees up time for you. Happy people make for a happy life. So that’s kind of the mantra I actually just pull it back into the school theme. It’s kind of the mantra of why I got involved as a leader and to kind of begin with, because I recognize you want your kids to be happy. So I thought, what’s one way I can make them happy? All I can make, they’re the adults that they’re spending most of the school day with. The majority of the day, actually, they’re spending with the teacher. How about I make the teacher happy? Because happy teachers make for happy kids, which make for happy parents. There is an altruistic motivation too, but primarily I’m doing it for my kids.


Daniel: Makes a lot of sense. But you’re helping out a lot of people’s kids as a result. I also challenge Ruckus Makers I work with to be a teacher first principle. And that’s not to ignore the kids, but I believe the same thing. If you really pour into and take care of the adults in the building, they’re going to have an abundance of compassion and energy and patience and excitement that will then translate to a very positive classroom experience. My pup is Alba, she’s an Australian Labradoodle. She’s on a luxurious puppy bed right now that my wife picked up and it’s like her favorite place to be while recording. Love, love hearing a little bit about the dogs and people love to hear about it as well. Again, if you have dogs, if you have puppies, if you have your little kids, tell your community about the fun things that are going on. Alba makes it into every Sunday weekend resource and it’s funny because I get emails from people who subscribed to that saying “I knew Alba would be a star one day.” And that’s because like every week I’m sharing something about her. It’s really funny. So jazzy messages. This is important, especially for the Ruckus Maker listener, Christina, we don’t go to school right on how to effectively use social media or even how to effectively communicate. We are trained academically, but that’s not necessarily an effective way to spread ideas, to communicate vision and values and the great stuff happening in the school. Give us more in terms of the “jazzier” that you’re talking about so the listener can take it into practice tomorrow.


Christina: This all came about from the fact that I realized that really the game for schools has changed or the game has changed. There’s a community school and you send your kids there. No. You have charter schools and private schools and religious schools and all sorts of stuff.Especially my kids go to a private school or go to a public school. The game has changed most drastically for public school leaders and for public school districts because they need to really be selling their school. It’s not just that you’re going to worry about, you know, educating the kids and coming up with a curriculum and all that kind of stuff. No, you have to go and sell your school to get your kids, get the community kids to come to your school. When I talk about jazzier language, this here’s a concrete example, and this is the one I think I gave to the superintendent and helped her understand. So there was a Facebook post and it said “the South Euclid Lyndhurst School District would like to congratulate student A, student B, student C for their selection of this honor following their participation in the regional chess competition” or something like that. I was like, Yeah, that’s really boring. Having the school first, people like to tune out rather than my suggestion was, “Oh my goodness, congratulations to student A, B and C. They are such rock stars at chess. They were acknowledged with this honor”, something like that. We don’t need to start off every social media post with the South Cleveland School District is happy or proud. You need to get away from Charlie Brown speaking into how this is something to be excited about. These kids did something fantastic and had skill, devotion, interest in excelling in this particular field. And that’s what we’re excited about. We’re not excited about the school district being excited.  I’m just flipping it like that. Yeah. And using better words, dragging out that thesaurus and figuring out different words, different words to say the same thing so that it’s not so monotonous.


Daniel: Correct me if I’m wrong or if you agree or disagree. One of the ways to simply say it, too, is make the students, make the staff, write the people, the heroes of the post and that kind of thing. They’re going to see that it’s whatever district posting. You don’t need to say, “we proudly present.” They know it’s you.


Christina: That’s a fantastic point. Yes. Yes, yes, absolutely. Make them the hero of the story. Make them the focus.


Daniel: Another question, Christina, I’d love to ask you about people leaving districts. You already talked about the competition and Ruckus Maker, if you don’t already understand it, you’re actually in a sales position as principal because you’re selling your school to the community. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a public, private, independent charter, whatever. Some districts are losing out on students and that kind of thing. A PTA or a PTO can help with that. What does that look like?


Christina: PTA/PTO are able to say things that the school district cannot. In my school district, I said, it’s a public school district and we have a very economically diverse as well as like we’re very diverse racially, economically. All that good stuff. We’re very diverse. What happens in our community is there’s a section of the population that gets pulled out and gone. They go to private school or to religious schools. Part of that is race motivated, where the majority of our school is majority black students and the white kids tend to get pulled because of racism. And that’s something the school district can’t even come close to saying that. As a parent, I can acknowledge that and I can use less coded language. I guess if a school district would come out and say that, can you imagine? I think they’d be fired. Especially in today’s climate. When I first recognized this, this was six years ago, which were maybe even seven years, maybe even further back, because I kind of picked up on what was going down pretty early in my school district because as kids moved from the lower elementary schools and then merged up into the upper elementary school where all of the there were three lowers from different parts of the city. We’re two cities that are joined together. Then that was a point where people left and then as they went up to the junior high, that was a point when the people left. So it was kind of interesting to see where the exit ramps were for people because they were quite regular. In my conversations with the superintendent and others, even like the school principals that I’ve come to know, we’ve had this conversation like this is the problem. This is why parents are leaving because of this. It’s calling that out and not being afraid to call that out from parents because parents can say things like tough conversations at the pool over the summer,”hey, did you hear about this?” One issue that in particular my school district was having was that things that had happened over a decade ago were being retold in conversations in the community as if they had just happened. And so having a knowledgeable PTA volunteer, because it’s in our interest to keep more parents in the district so that we have helpers and more involved parents and all that good stuff. You have a larger base to start with, but then we also don’t want falsehoods being spread. We would be able to say that’s not true or that did happen. But that was eight years ago. There’s a totally new administration in there and they’ve put in protocols to make sure that wouldn’t happen again. Having that circuit breaker, it’s an additional layer. It’s a tool that school districts can use or partner with really to effectuate the same goals because PTA and PTO leaders at the end of the day just want to have a strong school district. Just want to have a strong school. That’s why they’re doing it. That’s why they’re involved. That’s why they’re giving their time in schools. So there’s a lot of common goals.


Daniel: Thank you. Christina, I had a really great experience with my last PTA president, but that’s not everybody’s experience. If I was a school leader that had negative experiences and maybe a number of them with former PTA and TOSS, how could they potentially approach revamping or resetting or starting a new relationship with that PTA or PTO?


Christina: I would seek to build a relationship with the PTO president, and sometimes you’re going to get bad leaders who are in it for the wrong reason have been talked into doing it but don’t really want to do it. They feel resentful. Maybe they wanted to do it. But then their dad got sick and now they’re caring for both their kids and their parents or lost their job, got a divorce, you name it, something’s happened so that they’re not as willing and able to be a good leader. You might have to wait that person out because sometimes that will happen. But I would say, look for parents you do want to work with and establish relationships with them and build them up as leaders so that they could step into leadership positions down the road. Because sometimes you just have to play the hand you’re dealt and sometimes it’s a bad hand, but you can change your hand by developing those leaders because a lot of times parents are resistant to step up because they lack the confidence that they will do a good job. A lot of what I will tell members of my Facebook group, a lot of times they just need to be told, you can do this. And they’re like, well, I don’t know enough. It’s like, Yeah, I didn’t know enough either. That doesn’t matter. You know, enough now and you’ll learn as you go and no one is expecting you to have all the answers either. A common misconception among parent leaders that they’re afraid they’re going to make a mistake. You’re probably going to make a mistake. Is it going to be a fatal mistake? No, you’re not going to burn down the school. Hopefully you’re not going to kill the PTO. Unplugged that nacho machine. I really believe strongly in relationship building even when I’ve encountered I’ve been a leader long enough and have been through established principles, newer principals, newer to the district principals. I’ve had my share of good and bad, and I always try and work with them, even if they’re not a great principle, even if I can see that they’re going to be transferred or the contract is not going to be renewed, because again, you got to play the hand you’re dealt and and make the best of it. A lot of issues come with pits and tosses when people aren’t following rules, when they’re not clear on what the rules are. Especially weaker leaders won’t recognize the need for rules. They’ll just want to make things up that suit them. If I was a building leader, I would suggest asking for a copy of the group’s bylaws and standing rules and starting there, because that’s a good place to get everybody literally on the same page. And if the rules haven’t been updated in a while, work with the group to update them, get them current. They should be living, breathing documents that are guiding decisions on a day to day basis. For Santos and I found when groups go off the track, they don’t even have their set. Maybe their set of governing documents was set up or was last updated 30 years ago? That’s not going to help. I think that can kind of rein in a lot of leaders who are not good team players. One of the mistakes I’ve heard from other members of my Facebook group is that the principal just gets tired of it. And so they just go, we’re shutting this down. And while that might be good in the short term, in the long term, that’s going to come around to really be a deficit, and I think it’s more harmful than good.


Daniel: I’m really appreciating these expert insights into how PTAs and PTOs operate and how principals can build strong relationships with these organizations. We’re going to pause here just for a second to get in some messages from our sponsors. When we come back, I’d love to hear about why it’s important to say something like, “I’m going to look for you on Tuesday.” Develop your structures, systems, supports and culture for excellent teaching and learning in every classroom for every student. As part of leading learning, a brand new certificate in School Management and leadership course from Harvard. Topics include aligning systems with instructional vision, creating structures for your students, academic and character development, developing your teachers, navigating change and more. Leading learning runs from October 12th to November 9th, 2020 to apply by September 30th, enroll by October 6th. Get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.


Daniel: Teachers use Teach FX to record a lesson and automatically get personalized insights into their classroom. Conversation Patterns in teaching practices. See for yourself and learn about special partnership options for Ruckus Makers at TeachFXcom/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder, which equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid or traditional educational setting. Learn more at OrganizeBinder.COM.


Daniel: We’re back with Christina Hidek, who has founded PTO Answers. We’re talking all about PTOs today. There was a phrase, “I’m going to look for you on Tuesday” that was especially powerful in your experience. And can you unpack, like, why that’s such a meaningful phrase to use?


Christina: Sure. Now that can come across two different ways, because you said it was kind of low and drawn out, which I was like, “Oh, kind of creepy.” I usually say it in a joking way. So that phrase has been something that I have used time and time again to be an engaging, charming person that people want to hang out with and also create some expectation that I’m going to see people at the PTO meeting on Tuesday or the event that I need some help with. When you kind of are, it’s kind of both welcoming and also telling them what to do at the same time, but in a nice way. When I say it, I’ll say, “Hey, Susie, I’m going to see you there on Tuesday.” That sounds not stalker-ish at all. That sounds like I’m excited for you to come join me, Susie, and I’m going to be looking for you there. Hopefully I’ve created a connection with Susie so that she is going to come join me. I was going to say that it was just a tactic. I’ve used to get people involved at different levels.


Daniel: It’s just communicating you’d love for them to participate. You’re excited about them to be there. They have value to add. Am I getting it correctly?


Christina: That’s absolutely right. Absolutely right.


Daniel: Awesome. My last question before I get to the final few that I ask all my guests, any any other insights in terms of the Ruckus Maker listening to increasing parent involvement?


Christina: I would say look for opportunities to partner with your PTA and PTO to bring parents together and that look for ways to eliminate competition because you guys should really have very similar goals and be working for similar things and that involves some planning. So I would definitely be planning events together and like I said, just establishing those relationships with people, with parents in the building. If you have that relationship and as you said earlier, if you’re not just a two dimensional person, like, for example, when my superintendent comes down the road, I go, How are your grandbabies? ” She had one very new grandbaby who arrived just very recently. It was nice to have that connection with her. And she goes, Oh, that’s nice of you to ask. It just builds a rapport that you’re unable to get otherwise. That would be my biggest tip for that.


Daniel: Christina, you can put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day. What would your message read?


Christina: Be kind. It’s really simple because you never know what people are going through. You should just be kind to them because people have a lot going on. If we were more in tune with that and gave people some grace and said, you know what? They might be going through something rough and not saying they’re out to get me or make my life difficult, that that changes the narrative.


Daniel: I don’t remember the quote where it comes from, but the gist is basically, there’s somebody that you’re frustrated with. You might even consider them an enemy, or something like that. But if you really knew what they were going through, your perspective would completely change.


Daniel: Christina, if you were building your dream school and had no limitations in terms of resources. The only limitation was actually your imagination. How would you build your dream school? What would be the three guiding principles?


Christina: First, I’d want to make sure there’s adequate connectivity throughout the building. In today’s age, you have all sorts of needs for streaming this and streaming that, and it’s a shame when you can’t connect somewhere in the building. I would also carve out spaces for parent involvement, so a PTA or PTO office would be an absolute necessity. It would demonstrate that the parent organization is valued and respected and appreciated and a part of the school and also communicate some of those joint goals that it’s important to have involvement and all that good stuff. The third one, I guess, is adequate funding. I put in a cash machine so that schools can just hit. Teachers wouldn’t have to draw from their own finances and their own pocketbook to fill their classroom with what they needed. Principals wouldn’t have to make the hard decisions on what programs to fund or who gets what and what classroom. PTA and toss would be able to bring in wonderful assemblies and programs for the students.


Daniel: Awesome. We’ve covered a lot of ground, Christina. Everything we talked about today, what would you say is the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?


Christina: Parents who are involved in PTA and PTO really are trying to make the school a better place. I guess they’re really at the end of the day, they’re just trying to make it a better place and that not to discount and to try and work with them as much as possible.


Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast ruckus maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email Daniel at better leaders better schools dot com or hit me up on Twitter at. Alien earbud if the better leader is Better Schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more ruckus makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter and Alien Earbud and using the hashtag blurbs. Level up your leadership. Better leaders, better schools dot com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”




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