As a former school principal, i know how essential it is for parent group leaders and the principal to develop a good working relationship from the start. When PTO leaders and the principal show that they’re on the same team, they help build a sense of team spirit in the school community that encourages strong home-school relations, supports student success, and makes the school the best it can be.
Building a positive school environment includes parents and the school working together. Although the PTO leadership and the principal might not always agree, both should be committed to working together to support students. The following steps will help you develop a partnership with the principal and pave the way for a positive school year.
Communication is a vital part of any relationship, but with busy schedules, regular conversations may not happen if they’re not planned in advance. It’s a good idea to email the school principal asking to set up a weekly meeting, if possible. Ask whether he would like you to schedule the meeting times with him or through the school secretary. (Some principals keep their own schedule, or share calendars with secretaries.) You can show you value the principal’s time by coming to the meetings on time and bringing an outline of what you would like to discuss. If you can send the outline to the principal the day before, that’s even better. Be prepared to discuss events, concerns, and parent needs that affect students, and take notes.
Show You Care
A small gesture of appreciation toward school staff members can go a long way. Bringing bagels for the office staff or remembering the birthday of a cafeteria worker or custodian with balloons or flowers from your garden says “we appreciate you.” Although this may not seem important, it shows that parents care and inspires everyone to be the best they can be. As a principal, I also appreciated the email, note, or phone call I got from a parent leader indicating how excited they were about the school year, or noting something positive they experienced or observed in the school building or grounds.
Be a Good Listener
Being a good communicator means using active listening, as well. To understand decisions made by the principal or district, it is important to ask questions and listen to the rationale for the decisions. For example, if the parent group offers to buy electronic notebooks for the entire 5th grade, but the principal does not respond positively, ask questions to find out her concerns. Keep the conversation going and share ideas about how the parent group can best support the school.
This sets the tone and the expectation that a reasonable resolution can be met. It also shows students how adults can work together—what a great example!
Set the calendar of events for the year in advance, making sure it aligns with the school and the district calendar. Create agendas for meetings and stay on task to show respect for everyone’s time and energy. This includes the regular meetings between the parent leaders and the principal as well as meetings with the parent community. Please do delegate! A sure way to burn out and stress yourself and other parents is to try to do it all yourself.
Have a Positive Attitude
It helps to maintain a positive demeanor and attitude, even if you’re having a bad day. Building a happy and productive school climate is beneficial to students and adults alike and is the responsibility of the entire school community. The leadership sets the tone for parents and the school. Be friendly and smile, smile, smile!
Help With Rumor Control
As a parent, teacher, and school principal, I know that when an occasional rumor about the school surfaces in neighborhoods, it needs attention. Often, it is a parent who first hears a negative comment or rumor about a school matter at a ball game or a party. Don’t be afraid to bring this up with the principal. The sharing will allow the principal the opportunity to determine how to deal with the issue and dispel the rumor. This will not only help to clear up misunderstandings, it will also build the trust that is needed between you and the principal.
Know the School
It is critical for parent leaders to be aware of school goals as well as the vision and mission of the school. This is especially important for the president of the parent group as she directs the goals, expenditures, events, and activities of the organization. Purchasing new playground equipment may sound like a wonderful idea, but if it conflicts with district safety policies, insurance requirements, or long-term planning, it can cause dissent. It is safer to check with the principal before making overt commitments.
The student handbook may not be the most exciting read, but please take the time to read the school and district policies it contains. Ask questions about those policies if they are not clear, and be prepared to discuss them with other parents if questions arise. Being informed helps you fulfill your role as a leader. By helping other parents understand the policies, you’ll help minimize confusion and make it more likely that parents will follow the policies.
Your physical presence in the school building or on the grounds of the school campus is very valued. Parents, teachers, and students should know who you are and that parent leadership is positive and engaging. If you are not able to be physically present on a regular basis, talk with the principal about having a monthly parent column in the newsletter—one that shows a photo of the president and board of the parent organization. Shout out and praise the PTO!
As a school principal, I couldn’t get along without parent volunteers to support the smooth daily functioning of the school. Talk with the principal about the school’s needs and how the parent group can offer time and resources to support student success. For example, if there are several parents who want to volunteer in classrooms, be prepared to offer suggestions on how a classroom volunteer program might be organized and implemented. Ideas that are well-thought-out have a greater impact when delivered.
Talk About Finances
Money is often a touchy subject. Talking with the principal about how the parent group earns and spends money can be particularly troublesome. To minimize discontent in this area, be open about financial accountability. Always present a written financial report at monthly parent meetings, showing responsibility for the funds that parents provide through sales, contributions, and personal efforts. This builds trust and also protects you and the school from liability.
Put Students First
Every decision you make should be for the greater good of the students. Together, the PTO should develop a mission statement that emphasizes its purpose, which should include supporting the school in teaching and learning. Parents are the first teachers of their children and share a vital role with the school to raise children to become strong and caring adult citizens. Remember, it’s all about the kids.
Originally posted in 2013 and updated regularly.