PTO leaders all have an important job to do based on their particular office. But there’s a second role: How well your officers work together as executive board members can determine the ultimate success of your group. Taking a few key steps early can help these individuals function as a team. Failing to lay the groundwork can have serious consequences when real challenges and disputes arise during the year.

Get To Know Each Other

Start by taking a little time to get to know each other better. Even if you’re all acquainted, you probably haven’t worked together as colleagues in the close way you will now. Share with each other a little about your family and your kids. Describe why you got involved in the PTO in the first place. Be sure everyone understands the others’ time constraints and job demands. Talk about your talents and the experience you bring to the board. And be sure that every member of the board has a clear understanding of the responsibilities and job expectations for themselves and their fellow officers.

Develop a Shared Vision

What is it that you want for your PTO and for the students and families at your school? How will you know whether you’re successful? These are key topics your executive board should consider. Do you hope to improve, expand, reach out to the community, engage more parents, provide more activities, raise more money?

If you want better for your parent group and your school, you proactively need to formulate a vision for your unique PTO. Set some specific goals so you can celebrate when you’ve reached them. Write it all down. Luckily, there is not a one-size-fits-all vision for the independent parent group; your leaders are free to lay out a plan that best suits your team, your school, and your members.

Set Ground Rules

As officers, you are the leaders of the PTO. Other members look to you for guidance. They gauge their own involvement by your level of commitment. They judge the quality of the PTO by the work you produce and the way you conduct yourselves. In large part, they decide whether they want to get involved based on the warmth, enthusiasm, and excitement that you convey. Like any team, people gather round when they sense a winning spirit and appreciation for their support.

So work together within the boardroom for the sake of the whole PTO. Open communication is the key. Your individual officers must feel safe in sharing their ideas, their opinions, and their recommendations within the privacy of a board meeting. Often, lively discussion at a board meeting will generate a far better solution than if one officer attacks a point on her own. But debate should not get personal. You’re all giving of yourselves and your time for the same purpose: to improve the quality of education for all the children at your school.

No single person’s opinion should veto another’s. It’s unrealistic, however, to think that you will all agree on every topic. Sometimes you need to reach consensus and move on. At those times, your board members should present a face of unity to the general membership, even on controversial topics. Don’t undermine your members’ confidence in the PTO’s leadership by publicly squabbling over PTO business.

Meet Regularly

Even if you put a lot of work into up-front planning, it’s still necessary for the officers to meet together, in private, on a regular basis. Typically, the executive board will evaluate recent programs and brainstorm new ideas during their meetings. You should also review finances with the help of the treasurer and hear a report from the principal.

In the privacy of the boardroom, PTO leaders occasionally must discuss conflicts or confidential matters. There should also be an opportunity for other members to bring issues before the board. For example, you may want your committee chairs to present their detailed project plans to the board for approval. It is more appropriate to have this discussion in the boardroom than to bring it up at a general meeting. Nothing bores PTO members more than needless debate on the merits of catered vs. potluck.

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Finally, the officers should work together to develop the agenda for the next general PTO meeting. The secretary is typically responsible for producing the actual document, but all the officers provide input about what to include. And don’t forget to take minutes at any executive board meeting, paying special attention to document any decisions the board makes. Start on time, and set a time limit if necessary. Make the most of the chance to work closely with your fellow officers.

Put Your Plan Into Action

A big part of the work you’ll do, both up front and ongoing, involves implementing your vision. You’ll plan and organize the committees, projects, and initiatives that become the work of the PTO. For example, if your vision includes engaging more kindergarten parents, you might establish a new family welcome committee that plans an annual boohoo breakfast.

Of course, you can’t simply define a master wish list of every pet project ever desired by any PTO member or the principal. You must carefully consider the resources available to your PTO and allot them judiciously.

Your pool of volunteers is a fixed resource. You don’t want to stretch your precious volunteers too thin, for risk of burning them out. And assuming volunteers will sign up simply because they are needed is a sure recipe for disappointment. Be realistic about the amount of reliable volunteer support in your PTO, and plan accordingly.

Financial constraints come into play, as well. The executive officers are the stewards of the PTO’s money. Within the context of the vision, you must exercise good judgment when allocating PTO funds. For example, if the PTO’s vision includes a goal to extend its support of the school library, it might be wise to coordinate a book sale rather than simply offering a token donation from the PTO’s coffers.

There are other factors, too. Consider your PTO’s long-standing traditions. Not every project has to be new; there’s comfort in continuing successful events year after year. Consider the skills and connections of your parents. How can you tap in to them? If parents have skills such as carpentry or technology training, your PTO might be able to put them to good use. And if you set a goal for your PTO to become more connected to the immediate business community, it would be helpful to know which parents are local business owners.

When laying out strategies and plans, it’s vital to include your principal in the process. She knows best what works and what is appropriate within the school itself. She can also guide the PTO when it comes to working with the teachers and apprise the executive board of feedback from the staff.

Finally, as you develop your PTO’s tactical plans, consider priorities. You know you can’t do everything at once. Some great ideas might have to take a back seat until you can acquire the people, money, or time to pull them off. With a vision-directed plan put in place, evaluated against the resources of your PTO, and prioritized to meet the needs of the group, your board is doing some serious leading. You’ll know when to celebrate success, and you won’t be likely to stray off course by jumping at the latest project du jour.