The dawning of a new school year is the perfect time to set goals and commit to making change for your group. In that spirit, I have a simple question for you: Is it easy for parents to get involved at your school?
Before you answer, take some time to think. We parent group leader types always think that the answer is yes. But we have to put ourselves in others’ shoes. For most of the parent groups I work with, it’s really easy to get involved if meetings on the second Tuesday of the month are good for you. It’s really easy if Teacher Appreciation Week is up your alley. It’s really easy if you have an outgoing, joiner personality.
In other words, it’s really easy for people to get involved if their skills, interests, and schedules are just like ours.
But what about all those parents who have very different schedules? What about those parents with amazing talents who don’t fit into your current involvement offerings or those parents less comfortable in big social settings?
In this coming school year, how can you create opportunities for these folks to get involved? Maybe it’s a weekend morning event. Or perhaps it’s a "share your passion" night or international night, when parents can show off their hobbies or cultures (you’ll be amazed at the variety of unique experts in even a small sampling of families). Can you create opportunities for people to help from home? Give folks the chance to get involved on their own terms and you’ll broaden your connections.
And what about those parents, especially dads, who’d prefer to do anything over attending a traditional PTO meeting?
This doesn’t make them bad people or bad parents. Frankly, it makes them pretty normal. As a parent group leader, it’s your choice whether to continue asking for involvement on your terms (and then lamenting that few folks come to your meetings) or to create new ways for parents to get connected.
Get More Parents Involved
In all of these cases, the key is creating new doorways. Think of each possible way to get involved as an entry point. You want as many of these as possible. Some folks, like you perhaps, are attracted to the traditional model of PTO involvement, with the meetings and the committees and the annual fall gift-wrap sale. Others might love to help with movie night or speak to a class on career day.
As a loyal PTO Today reader, you know that increasing parent involvement is the key goal for your group. Research shows clearly that it makes a huge difference in your school and for your kids. The kids of involved parents do better in school. And schools with higher overall involvement almost always see higher test scores and a host of other measurable benefits. All of your other goals—raising dollars, creating community, supporting teachers—they all flow naturally as you continually increase involvement and connections.
We don’t even care who gets credit for being involved as long as involvement is rising. If a parent really gets into helping in the classroom but shies away from attending PTO activities and meetings, no problem. Celebrate the involvement. If you find—as I bet you will!—that dads tend to have an automatically negative reaction to "join the PTO" messages, no problem. Help create a dads’ group. Give it any name that’s not "PTO." Heck, even fund it. The goal is increased involvement, whatever it takes.
Your first job as a parent group leader is to facilitate involvement. While teachers teach and principals administer, you and your fellow leaders are charged with creating the community that invites parents in. What you accomplish is important, but research says that how many people help you accomplish those things is also important. Your efforts to broaden your support are well worth the time.
How many unique involvement doors are open at your school and into your group? If there are just a few, maybe your first purchase this year should be a crow bar to pry open a couple more.