I’ve hosted seven years of back-to-troop parent meetings as a troop leader, each a little different as I learn from my growing experience. Having strong communication with parents and girls about meeting expectations, yearly planning, and volunteer commitments is crucial to a well-functioning troop, so here are the 4 things I cover with parents to keep us on the same page.
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My career is in communications, so there is no excuse for me to get this one wrong! Being clear and thorough about your communication methods is a great start. There are several group messaging apps like GroupMe or Band that allow troop parents to message each other, and give the troop leader the ability to update everyone quickly and efficiently. (We use GroupMe and have had success with it.)
We use Shutterfly for its calendar, contact list, and photo storage features. I check in with parents to make sure they are regularly accessing Shutterfly so they always know what’s going on. Some troops use a troop Facebook page to stay connected this way, but not all of my parents are on Facebook so that’s never been discussed as an option. Make sure the methods you are using work for everyone involved.
Finally we will often use email for longer messages to the group and to send out important attachments. This is a great way to make sure the info is in an easy to access place for your parents, but using as many methods of communication as possible keeps everyone informed, so no one misses a meeting or event because they missed the memo while juggling their busy schedule.
Finally, your best communication tool is your relationship with each family. Building rapport with parents and making sure they are happy with the Girl Scout experience means that they feel comfortable coming to me and telling me what’s working and what’s not. All of these tools keep the troop on track and help me improve my leadership!
Meeting Times and Locations
At your very first meeting, have parents bring their calendars, their daughter’s calendar, and any other activity schedules. Getting all the possible conflicts and plans on the table at once ensures that your meeting schedule won’t be derailed by other important events.
If you have a family who can’t attend, ask them to let you know ahead of time what their open/free days are for meetings. You definitely want to do your best to accommodate everyone, but most parents understand that scheduling is the most complicated game of Tetris ever devised, and the biggest challenge we face as leaders. One year, one of my girls had a conflict on the evening we decided to have our troop meetings. She rotated between her other activity and Girl Scouts every other week so she could participate in both. If she wants to do Girl Scout “homework” in order to keep up with the troop (planning for a project or doing badge work on her own), she is more than welcome to.
Here are some questions to ask when you’re planning your meeting schedule:
How often you will meet? Is every week reasonable, or will you do more events on weekends? How old are your girls, and how long can meetings to ensure maximum engagement? What frequency is the best balance between what the girls want and the parents can manage?
Where you will meet? Will you have one meeting location during the year? Has the location been reserved? Do you meet at homes? Should you schedule that out ahead of time?
How will you handle snacks and share resources? Will you have snacks at your meetings? Who will bring them, and how often? Has this been added to your troop calendar so people can remember? Will you send reminders?
Set Priorities and Expectations
As troop leader, it’s easy to get focused on Girl Scouts and only Girl Scouts, but girls have so many other activities and extracurriculars these days. Knowing each girl and family’s priorities will allow you to better support and plan their involvement in Girl Scouts. Not only do you want the opportunity to support her at a play, a basketball game, a swim meet, or recital, but you also want to understand the entire family’s goals and needs. Are they all about that Girl Scout life, or is it one of their many activities? Are they planning to go all the way through a Gold Award, or is it the first thing that they miss if school or life gets busy and stressful?
For example, I have one Girl Scout in my troop who focuses on theatre in the fall, but she takes the winter/spring off from theatre to focus on cookie season, so she and her friends can make sure the troop has the funds to do the exciting activities they want.
Money is a necessary resource in running a troop; paying memberships, planning events, and even attending camp or travel programs are all part of an amazing Girl Scout experience. Thanks to our success in the Girl Scout Cookie Program, our troop hasn’t collected membership dues in several years, but this is by no means true for all troops.
At your first meeting, discuss the financial ability of parents to contribute, and the financial needs of the troop. Will you collect dues? What kind of activities do the girls want to do? How much will dues be? How often will you collect them? Think of as many possible needs and issues ahead of time, and try to answer as many as possible. Leave no stone unturned at this meeting, and encourage open conversation and dialogue so families don’t feel pressured or overburdened financially by their participation.
You’ve scheduled the meeting, so what next? Here’s a checklist of things to discuss and remember for your first back-to-troop meeting:
- Pick, announce, and demonstrate your means of communicating with the group.
- Decide meeting frequency, day, time, and resources.
- Discuss dues and activities you’ll need to save for.
- If you have new families in your troop, they are going to have a ton of questions. Let them ask all the questions they need to; you’d be surprised how often a veteran parent has the same question, but feels silly for asking. Don’t forget to review Liz’s blog post: Tips for Communicating with Troop Parents!
- Make sure to meet with every family. If there is a family who can’t attend this first parent meeting, try to get together with them before your troop meetings begin. You want to make sure everyone is set to go for the year.
- Make sure everyone feels welcome and listened to at the meeting, so you can build on your current parent-leader relationships and start off on the right foot with the new parents!
- Last but not least, review GSNorCal’s the “First Parent/Guardian/Caregiver Meeting” section of Volunteer Essentials and check out the Meeting with Parents/Caregivers online training.
Remember, this is my go-to list, so it is by no means the only way to run a back-to-troop meeting—I want to hear from you! What do you talk about with your parents? What have you learned is important to discuss at this first meeting? I would love to know, since my back-to-troop parent meeting is coming soon!
Angela Borchert—Angela just completed her seventh year as a Girl Scout leader in Vacaville/Travis Air Force Base service unit. She leads Juniors and Cadettes and loves the wide range of activities and interests that both groups have and the challenges they provide her along the way. Girl Scouts have helped her embrace glue guns and dirt while taking her on her first kayaking adventure. She’s been camping more times in the past five years than she has in her entire life thanks to Girl Scouts!