At each of our expos, Patty Catalano (PTO Today staffer) puts on her white doctors coat and helps leaders diagnose and find solutions to their most pressing parent group challenges. After our last expo in New Jersey I asked Patty to share some of the most common/interesting questions she’s addressed so far. Here’s what she had to say…
Q: What can/should we do about the fact that involvement at the middle school wanes?
A: The wane here is typical-not uncommon. Teachers don’t need parents “hands-on” etc. in the classroom, (kids don’t want ‘em hanging around either!) Involvement here tends to be more event focused, i.e. helping out at talent shows, jogathons, chaperoning dances, open gym nights, etc. Competition typed events work great here too, i.e. trivia nights, spelling bees, basketball game/shootouts etc. When planning teams, consider holding teams of students to participate AGAINST their parents. (They love to be on a team with their friends at this age instead of being teamed up WITH their parents. They are just so like, OMG, uncool. ; p )
Q: We have one parent (i.e. steamroller type) who tries to take over every committee and goes right to the principal (overstepping PTO) to make changes to our activities /plans without our knowledge. How do we address this?
A: I suggested the two leaders first sit down with principal and then the steamroller. Need to chat with principal about how your group is trying to be more orderly/structured and that it has procedures in place for chairs and volunteers and no one should side step PTO board. Tell her that you would appreciate that parents come to the board with ideas/proposals for PTO related activities. Process should be that all PTO events and programs are put on an agenda, voted, and approved. Things should not be changed haphazardly after they are voted on.
Also, the steamroller needs to be put in her place. Stand up to her and make sure she’s following documented procedures. Let her know you would LOVE her help; you just want to make sure she’s going through the right channels so that help can be put to the best possible use.
Q: How do we get teachers to come to our events/become more involved in our PTO?
A: Teacher’s job is to teach, job of parent group leaders is to provide support to make that teaching environment a positive one. Also, don’t take it personally, the 800+ kids at school are all very cute, but frankly by 2:00 p.m. the teachers have seen enough of them. (LOL)
It’s important to understand that they have other essential/more important things (family/kids/a life!) to deal with outside the school. They might not want to come to a book fair, or spaghetti night or some other PTO fun filled night just for that reason. Also, some teachers fear that parents will hunt them down and want to talk shop (so why did Johnny get an F last month on that test??)
If they show up for an event count your blessings, but don’t hold it against them if they don’t.
Other things that might help them to show up to at least one event during the year: put individual/personalized invitations to the event in their mailbox (versus the collective “Attention Teachers! Come One Come All” flyer posted on the copier room wall!)
Also, if you really really have to have their help for an event, recruiting teachers is not unlike recruiting parent volunteers…. You just need to ask for SPECIFIC help based on their skills/background, i.e. hello Mrs Smith (art teacher), can you help us make a back drop for the talent show? Hello, Mr. Smith (gym teacher) can you help us recruit some teachers to play basketball against the kids at our Get Movin’ night?
You get the picture…
If you’re attending the Chicago or Denver show be sure to stop by and see Patty…she’s the one in the white coat