For many parents, being told they should join their school’s PTA, or even just hearing the word “PTA” out loud, causes a visceral fear reaction, easily detected by twitches, scrunched faces, and head-shaking. In the not-so-distant past, that was my reaction too.
I, too, used to think that PTAs were just cliques of overbearing control freak moms on a mission to make us spend all our money and volunteer every waking hour of free time. Boring meetings, petty drama, and layers of parent/school politics, disguised under the clever mantra of “supporting your school”? Nope. I wasn’t going to fall for the bait.
And then I did. And I kind of liked it.
So how, you may wonder, did I go from “hard no to PTA” to PTA president?
First, I watched. Two years ago, a heroic group of moms tackled the challenge of creating a PTA from scratch at a new in-district magnet school, Mark Twain Dual Language Academy in SAISD. As the city’s first all dual-language public school, it was an exciting time to build something from the ground up. With no entrenched systems or established power structures in place, the resulting free-for-all invited everyone and anyone to contribute. It was that clean slate, in part, that made the initial struggles all the more worth it.
Inspired by the hard work of my predecessors and eager to see the momentum continue to build, I threw my hat in the ring, along with a group of other committed women, volunteering to steer the ship last school year. Together, the five of us learned a lot and grew closer and stronger than ever. We finally hit our stride, and we felt empowered, supported, and grateful by the overwhelming parent support we saw blossom before our very eyes.
I’m here to tell you today that it is possible to have a wonderful, fulfilling relationship with PTA, whether you a ready to commit to being on the board or just want to be a supportive member at large.
Prospective Board Members
Have a positive attitude and assume best intentions.
For me, this is the most important part of all. It’s way too easy to get caught up in the trap of saying, “People don’t care. We do all the work, and no one wants to help or come to meetings.” Guess what? That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents and teachers can smell negativity, stress, and disappointment from a mile away, and a bad attitude will sabotage your success.
Instead, assume that every parent cares, even the ones who don’t volunteer or donate. Look for the natural givers and leaders and nurture them; if you gain their trust and confidence, they will bend over backwards to help you.
I was blown away by how supportive the Twain administrative team was of us last year, including all the office staff and teachers. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I could walk into the office and ask for help and they would willingly give it.
Make sure teachers are on your board.
It may seem obvius, but you’d be surprised how many PTAs only have parents on the board. A strong Parent Teacher Association shouldn’t be missing the T. Take the time to get to know your teachers and identify which might be good candidates; the payoff is invaluable. Luckily, we had two dedicated teachers who were willing to serve on the board, and this fundamentally transformed the overall dynamic and legitimacy of our PTA.
Make your meetings accessible.
If your school has mostly working parents, holding your meetings at 10:00 A.M. or 3:00 P.M. on a weekday isn’t going to cut it. Understand your school dynamics, and survey your parents and admin team to see which times work best for your campus. At our school, we found that evening meetings every other month, tied to a school performance, increased attendance and accessibility.
Thank and help your school leaders, staff, and teachers often.
Have the PTA bring tacos and coffee on teacher work days. Find out who, other than the principal, runs the school and ask them what they need and want. Give them small gifts to show your appreciation for all their hard work. At Twain, every teacher and staff member received a logo patch from us that they could iron onto a jacket or stick onto a laptop—a small token, but one that said “we care about you.”
Ask for input.
Articulate your vision clearly and often, and ask for suggestions as to how to make this vision come true. Even if only a handful take the time to email you a suggestion, just being asked goes a long way to build trust. Most of the time, people just want to be heard, and as a PTA your job is to be a good listener.
Be strategic in how and what you communicate.
Keep your members informed. Don’t spam them with multiple emails a week, but don’t be afraid to communicate either. Make sure you show them what you are doing with the funds raised; parents love to see pictures of the new reading nook PTA sponsored, or to be tagged in the Facebook group and thanked for their time and donations. You gain trust by showing that you are making a difference.
At Twain, we used multiple tools of communication to ensure that families received our messages, including:
- Dedicated PTA web site with blog updates.
- Emails to the whole membership (joinpta.org allowed us to email all the membership at once easily and efficiently).
- Facebook group for events.
- Paper flyers for big announcements.
- Inclusion in weekly school-wide all-call and email (our principal checked in with us weekly to see what we wanted to announce or include in the weekly communication from the school).
- A dedicated PTA announcement board in the front of the school.
Give members many options for how to contribute.
Many parents, especially those who hold down full-time jobs, simply don’t have the time to volunteer. That said, they often still want to help. Make sure to schedule service opportunities and events on weekends and evenings too, not just during the school day. Our PTA pushes membership all year long, because it’s the easiest thing to sell to our families and include them in what we are doing. Some parents just want to pay their dues and be done. Other want to buy spirit gear and tickets to events, or donate items. A core brigade showed up every week to make copies, beautify the campus, and help with teacher projects. Appreciate everyone, and thank everyone. By radiating gratitude and positivity, you will magically attract more help and goodwill. There is a snowball effect. Ask and ye shall receive.
Members at Large
Join your PTA.
It really is that simple, and most have an online option at JoinPTA.org. Annual dues are an important source of income.
Take time to read the emails, flyers, and other communication that your PTA sends out. Attend PTA meetings if you are able. Pay attention.
Be involved in whatever way makes the most sense for you.
Write a check, make a donation, chair a committee, volunteer your time. Do whatever makes sense for you and your family. Don’t feel obligated to sign up for or do everything—anything helps.
Be patient and kind with your PTA leadership.
This is an unpaid gig manned by passionate, dedicated volunteer parents and teachers who just want to make your school community better. We make mistakes. If something we do is not up to par, be compassionate and ask how you can help.
I am truly grateful for taking the leap of faith last year to run for a PTA leadership position alongside other dedicated parents and teachers. While we had a rocky start, we didn’t lose our focus and were able to come together. We took the time to understand and appreciate each other’s strengths without getting caught up in each other’s weaknesses. We set the bar high, but learned from our mistakes and forgave ourselves when things didn’t go as planned. And most importantly, we worked relentlessly to maintain a positive attitude while we focused on building a joyous school community.