Friday, September 7, 2012

Meet the Parents

School's back in session - so, ready or not, it's time to get back to Girl Scouts. Which means it's also time for the parents' meeting.

For new troops, the need for a parents' meeting is obvious - a chance to introduce yourself, meet the girls, recruit other volunteers and get everything started off on the right foot.

But for already established Girl Scout troops, it's easy to dismiss the importance of these meetings. Don't get me wrong, we've held one every year, but they tended to be more of an afterthought, with only about half the parents attending. And those who did attend rarely had the information to fill out the necessary forms or their checkbook to pay registration/dues. Every year, we found ourselves spending the first month of meetings trying to catch parents or chase down pieces of paperwork. I consider myself a pretty smart cookie, but for some reason I never seemed to learn.

Until this year.

This year, I was determined to head into our first meeting with these details out of the way. Here's my keys for success:

1) Get yourselves organized. The more organized we are, the easier it is to run a successful parents meeting. Make sure you have plenty of registration materials and health forms. Prepare a sign-in sheet to collect email address. Create an order form to purchase uniform elements. (Our parents have it easy - we only require a vest/sash and the basic insignia - and if they give us the money, we'll run to the Girl Scout shop and pick it up for them. But it was always a big hassle until we created a simple order form with prices for them to fill out - a little more work upfront, but much easier in the end.) Know if you need additional volunteers. If you already have some events planned out, create a calendar.

2) Tell parents exactly what they need to bring to the meeting. The Girl Scout motto is "Be Prepared" - so why not help your parents be prepared? In our case, we sent out a quick email reminder about the meeting, with instructions to bring their immunization record, any medical info needed to fill out the health history and a cash or check for the amount of the dues. (We covered their registration out of last year's carryover.) We also instructed them to check their daughter's uniform or bring it along in order to place their order for missing items.

3) Craft the perfect parents' letter. The parents' letter is your opportunity to put everything down in writing. If you're going to cover it in the meeting, make sure it also goes in the letter for reference. I can't necessarily make the parents read or keep it, but at least I can ensure that the info was provided to them. Keep it as short and concise as possible, but if it's important to you, it should go in the parents letter.

4) Use the parents' meeting to set expectations. If you've had problems with something in the past, now's the time to rectify it. Some years, we've had both parents and girls sign a behavior contract. This year, we had to introduce an electronics policy. Share with your parents how you plan to communicate with them and what you expect from the girls. The more consistent and upfront you are with parents, the fewer surprises there will be later in the year.

So, did it work? It took a little more work on the part of me and my co-leader, but it was completely worth it. We had nearly everyone registered and ready by the first meeting, leaving us to focus on what we enjoy most - working with the girls.

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