- Do learn people’s names, and use them often.
Don’t assume everyone knows who you are. Introduce yourself.
- Do respect the principal’s role as CEO of the school.
Don’t surrender the PTO’s authority to the principal. Work together as partners.
- Do get to know the school secretaries, custodians, and other support staff.
Don’t treat them like the PTO’s hired help. They work for the school and your kids; they aren’t there to do your PTO grunt work. Treat them with respect, and they can help the PTO in many ways.
- Do set a good example by following school policies.
Don’t park illegally just because you know you’ll be in and out of the school quickly. Always sign in and wear the proper visitor badge even if everyone knows who you are. Follow protocol when you use the photocopier.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Do learn from the past. Share the old project binders. Talk to previous PTO leaders. Talk to teachers who have been on staff for a while.
- Don’t disregard the knowledge of your past president.
Do approach her as your mentor. Better than anyone, she knows the challenges you face. Listen to what she says. Ask for advice.
- Do train your committee chairs and lay out the expectations for each committee.
Don’t micromanage the committees or your fellow officers. Let them apply their time and talents, even if it means they don’t do things exactly the way you would have done it yourself.
- Don’t put all the emphasis on fundraising.
Do focus on parent involvement first. A community that feels connected to the school will step up to support the fundraisers when asked.
- Do repeat longstanding, successful events.
Don’t ignore the value of tradition; it gives your PTO an identity in the community.
- Do run efficient meetings.
Don’t treat people’s time carelessly. Use an agenda, prepare minutes, start and end on time. Clean up after yourself. Listen to the members.
- Do familiarize yourself with Robert’s Rules of Order.
Don’t get bogged down in layers and layers of parliamentary procedure. Use it to keep your meetings running efficiently, not to overwhelm your members.
- Do read your PTO’s bylaws.
Don’t give up if there are no bylaws—creating them can be one of the most important things you do for your PTO.
- Do become familiar with your PTO’s formal organizational status.
Don’t assume everything is in order simply because your group has been around for years. Find out whether your PTO has a tax ID number (EIN, or employer identification number, in IRS-speak), whether you’re incorporated with the state, and whether you’re registered as a tax-exempt charity with the IRS under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code.
- Do seek out information. Reach out to PTO leaders at nearby schools to share experiences. Attend parent group conferences and expos. Visit the message boards at ptotoday.com.
Don’t assume you know it all. There are loads of PTOs with great ideas and experiences you can use for your group.
- Don’t be afraid to make the tough decisions.
Do accept responsibility for unpopular but wise decisions, such as canceling an event due to lack of volunteer support.
- Do say thanks.
Don’t lump every “thank you” into one blanket statement at year’s end. Work hard throughout the year to thank individuals by name for their contributions to the PTO.
- Don’t let the stress level get too high. It’s OK to scale back to avoid burnout, and it’s OK to hold purely social events to boost morale and teamwork.
Do have fun. Being a PTO leader can be a very rewarding experience. Even small steps to create a supportive community really make a difference for schools.
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