What was it that sparked you to become an active PTA member? Or rather, WHO was it? Think about that person. What did he or she say or do that attracted you to joining and volunteering for PTA? How did you feel that first time you volunteered? What did you most admire about that person?
Hopefully, yours was a positive experience – one where you felt welcomed, supported and empowered to give more of your time, talents and skills. Speaking from my own very recent experience, most of us “newbies” walk in the same way, right? A little shy, a shade intimidated, not sure if “they” (those who seem to know exactly what needs to be done) really want us there – and most of all, fearful of stepping on toes or doing something wrong.
But all it takes is that one PTA leader – title unknown – to change our PTA future.
You know who I’m talking about: that one person who greeted us with a smile, made a quick introduction to the other volunteers, and showed us a specific way to help out that first shaky day. That’s how PTA leadership is sparked. Then the spark becomes a flame of pride when we see the ways students and families benefit from our collective efforts – enjoying the event, learning together, improving the school and strengthening the school community.
In 2015, resolve to be the PTA leader who sparks a PTA future for others.
No matter the organization, volunteers get involved and stay involved when they feel:
- Welcomed and supported by leadership through effective, two-way communication;
- Proud of the way the mission supports others;
- Engaged in decision-making and respected for unique perspectives;
- Valued for time, talents and skills contributed; and
- Connected in a positive way to others in the community.
These expectations of membership and volunteer service align well with what we aim for through the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. These standards are evidence-based guidelines for schools, PTA leaders and families to use when building strong and effective family-school partnerships.
You may have heard someone say before, “Take a look in the leadership mirror.” Well that’s what these standards will help you to do — examine your strengths and weaknesses (it’s ok, we all have them!) as a PTA leader and PTA Board. Once you’ve answered the questions, you can begin to map out a plan for the year to do a few things different. Don’t aim for a self-revolution, nor a PTA overhaul. That wouldn’t be authentic, nor practical – and it might even yield unnecessary drama.
Instead, resolve to engage families – all families, even the ones that you can’t really see yourself hanging out with – in a more meaningful way as PTA members and leaders. See the potential for participation and leadership in every parent, every teacher, every grandparent – every caregiver or community member that cares about the kids of your school.
Making this resolution will increase your PTA membership and grow new leadership. But it will also fuel your own personal satisfaction from this leadership experience. You will feel fulfilled by new energy that new people bring. You will feel the glow of passing on your passion to new child advocates, and you will create a positive flame of family engagement that shines on all of the children of your school community. You’ll be the one they talk about someday – you’ll be “That PTA Leader.”
GET STARTED – USE THE PTA’S NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR FAMILY-SCHOOL PARTNERSHIPS
Answer the questions below on your own. Then share the questions with other board members. Talk about your answers in a safe, supportive, team-building way. For each Standard, agree on one priority for the PTA Board that will have the greatest impact on your PTA membership and school community.
Standard #1: Welcome All Families
- Do you know who the families are at your school – their unique perspectives and their needs?
- Are you welcoming and consider the leadership potential of every parent/caregiver, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender preference, family structure, employment status, education level, socioeconomic level, etc.?
- Do you know what families and teachers think of your PTA? If so, is it all positive? Is there anything that could be better?
- Do you always assume every parent/teacher wants what’s best for their students?
- Do you treat every parent/teacher as a potential PTA leader?
- How do you welcome families at the beginning of the school year and at each PTA event that follows?
Standard #2: Communicate Effectively
- Do you communicate in many ways and often?
- Do you communicate simply and in the languages preferred by families?
- Do you encourage feedback for improvement? Do you incorporate the suggestions you receive?
- Do you view every face-to-face interaction as an opportunity to recruit a PTA member or potential PTA leader?
- Do you share many ways to contribute to PTA’s success?
- Leader, Board Member, Event/Program Volunteer, Promotional Volunteer, Program Participant, Financial or In-Kind Supporter, Fundraiser, etc.
- Do you regularly communicate how membership dollars and PTA volunteer hours contribute to student success and school improvements?
- Do you know your X, Y and Z so that you can often say, “Thanks to families and teachers like you – who support PTA as members – we can have X, do Y, and improve Z?”
Standard #3: Support Student Success
- Do you provide opportunities for families to experience what their child is learning and how they can support that at home?
- Do you offer events or forums that foster relationship-building and positive interactions with school professionals?
- Do you talk with the teachers about the challenges they are having and work together to develop PTA-supported solutions?
- Do you access the turn-key toolkits, grants and family resources available through National and State PTA to support your efforts?
Standard #4: Speak Up for Every Child
- Do you know what students need for their educational success and overall well-being?
- Are you working in partnership with your school leaders to address a specific school improvement goal?
- Do you share PTA’s District, State, National advocacy efforts that are important and relevant to your school community?
- Do you create opportunities for families of your school to voice their perspectives to school leaders, district leaders and policymakers?
- Do you access the advocacy tools available through National and State PTA to share needs and address concerns of the families at your school?
Standard #5: Share Power
- Do you treat every member as a potential leader?
- Do you always say “Yes” when someone offers to help in some way? Do you provide them with direction to get them started?
- How are you engaging all families in PTA decision-making?
- Are your general meetings well-promoted and do you offer educational value for families?
- Do your offer flexibility related to timing and means of attendance (conference calls, etc.)? Do you have translators?
- Do you have a central place for minutes, upcoming events, and ways to gain feedback on PTA progress from general membership?
Standard #6: Collaborate with Community
- How are you seeking support from local businesses, including parent-owned businesses?
- Financial support
- Member benefits
- In-kind donations
- Employee volunteer hours
- Promotion space/visibility
- How do you partner with local community organizations to reach new families and support the needs of your families?
- How do you work with other PTAs to share best practices and support each other?
Mary Pat King, MS is the Director of Programs & Partnerships, National PTA. She serves as the Legislative & Advocacy Chair at Cypress Woods Elementary School PTA in Palm Harbor, FL. She is the mom of Mason (first grade) and Jenna Bea (Pre-K).