A vacancy in the top job at your school almost always leads to worry. Of course, your teachers are waiting to learn all about their new boss, and the kids have no idea what changes are in store at school. But a principal change can also send a PTO or PTA reeling. Teachers are often part of the search process, and questions are commonly asked about what the new hire believes regarding students and learning and testing and discipline. Missing too often are questions about parent involvement at school and what role the principal sees for the parent group.
In a day when every bit of research shows clearly the powerful positive effects of parent involvement, it’s time for parent involvement habits to be part of the principal conversation.
If asked what their PTO needs in a principal, most would start with the core of professionalism. We all need a principal with a deep understanding of education principles and strong management skills. We all want a principal who clearly loves kids and loves the challenge of educating them. Those should be the starting points from every perspective.
But beyond those must-have, all-around basics, what makes a great PTO principal? I have a few ideas.
The successful PTO principal starts with a real respect for what an empowered and supported PTO can achieve for a school. The principal creates the culture in which a PTO becomes either a central part of the school’s approach, like the third corner of the principal-teacher-parent triangle, or an organization pushed to the side to be put up with and controlled.
Research says that parent involvement is essential, so we need a principal who gets that fact.
We then need a principal who has the confidence and trust to let parents lead and who gives parents a seat at the decisionmaking table. Here at PTO Today, we constantly hear of principals who want to approve every newsletter or control every PTO dollar or appoint her own PTO officers. Those are requests born from fear (and weak leadership), and they inevitably lead to the best potential parent leaders finding other outlets for their talents. These principals think they are leading their school and doing their jobs, but they are actually doing harm.
Ironically, we also need a principal who—together with his staff—will effectively guide our PTO. As a group of parents, we have a single, very powerful best asset: an almost limitless enthusiasm and desire to help our kids’ school. But we aren’t professional educators. Our best PTO principal will effectively guide our efforts and help us direct our powers where they are most needed at school. Academic help? After-school activities? Culture? We may have run the family carnival for the past six years, but nothing is stopping us from turning that into the monthlong reading adventure. We want to be of service. Help us help you.
Finally, we want a PTO principal who gets—deep in her bones—that school culture matters and that a school culture that welcomes parents as true partners matters even more. We all want our kids to learn. But we also all want our kids to go to a warm place every day and be loved and be safe. Our best PTO principal gets that our PTO can be her best ally in making that culture happen.
No one cares about our children more than we do, dear Mr. New Principal. We’re here for you and for our kids. Invite us in. Guide us where we need guiding. Empower us. Together, you, your staff, we, and all of these great kids can create a magical place.