Your PTO Doesn't Have To Be Perfect

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Feeling burned out? Your parent group’s struggles are common—and your efforts do make a difference.

by Tim Sullivan


Do you ever feel like throwing in the towel and giving up on this crazy parent group leadership stuff?

Maybe it’s the critics of your latest events. Maybe it’s the lack of appreciation from teachers or the principal. Maybe it’s the meetings with little or no attendance or the 17th “we need more volunteers” email that’s gone unheeded. Maybe you’re just plain tired.

Trust me—you are not alone.

Sometimes I fear that our magazine and the website give an unrealistic impression of parent group leadership. With profiles of huge event successes and smiling volunteers and wildly profitable fundraisers, it can seem like the typical parent group just sails smoothly from one win to the next.

The fact is, we know that leading a parent group is really, really challenging—but stories about just-OK events or groups grappling with day-to-day tedium aren’t the most interesting or helpful features. It’s the same reason Martha Stewart doesn’t profile kitchens with chip bags falling out of the cabinets and plastic cups overflowing from the sink.

All the know-how you need to be an effective and successful parent group leader!

We’ll certainly continue to cover those stories of groups that are meeting one facet of the parent group challenge especially well. We hope your group can take lessons from those successes to make your own work better, even if you never gain Martha Stewart status.

But my larger point is that just like with kitchens and homes and crafts, most of us struggle doing this parent group work, and none of us are perfect. Having trouble finding new volunteers? Check. Latest fundraiser a flop? Been there. Drama between two leaders who just can’t get along? Oh, yeah.

Not only are most parent groups today not perfect, but I’ll also submit that parent groups in the ’70s and in the oh-so-celebrated ’50s weren’t perfect, either. Listen carefully and you’ll hear June Cleaver complaining to Ward about how only 20 percent of the Mayfield moms did their share of the work.

Heck, I bet there are cave drawings showing two men chasing the woolly mammoth while eight others waited around to enjoy the dinner.

But thank goodness for those two hardworking cavemen and for June Cleaver and and your not-perfect parent group. When you feel like throwing in the towel and giving up, I hope you won’t. Your work is too valuable, and I’m here to tell you that I bet you’re doing a better job than you give yourself credit for.

If yours is like most groups (and your brain works like many volunteer leaders’ brains), you ignore your accomplishments and contributions but see your own mistakes clearly and hear your critics clearly. Yours is likely not a perfect group, but how many teachers are given an energy boost at just the moment they need it because of your appreciation efforts? How many kids experience the arts or finally get across the monkey bars for the first time because of your donations?

It’s not loud or sexy, but how many children and families are benefiting from simply having a better school because you and your parent group keep on plugging away even when it’s difficult or thankless?

Most of our articles celebrate those groups that have done something unique or achieved an uncommon level of success. But please know that our magazine as a whole celebrates even more those tens of thousands of PTOs and PTAs and those hundreds of thousands of PTO and PTA leaders who are decidedly not perfect.

When it comes to parent groups, not perfect is both very, very normal and very, very special, all at the same time.


# Sarah 2011-11-01 00:46
Thank you for this article. I just got around to reading my October issue of PTO Today (it's been one of those months) and just about broke into tears. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for just the right encouragement at just the right time.
# Tim Sullivan 2011-11-01 20:23
Thank you, Sarah. That kind of feedback makes our day around here!
# Natasha 2011-11-29 01:10
A much needed reminder! Thanks a lot!
# Dafnee 2012-01-09 03:36
Thanks a lot...

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