A good relationship with a principal can be a lot of work, but for parent group leader Carrie Matsuo of Beaverton, Ore., the task is a labor of love. That’s because her husband, John Matsuo, just happens to be the principal at North Plains Elementary in neighboring Hillsboro. If you’ve ever longed for a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your principal, she has years of in-house training and plenty of advice.

So what’s the deal with principals? “We both want what’s best for school kids, but we have very different perspectives,” she says.

Matsuo served last year as Parent-Teacher Council president at Rock Creek Elementary in Beaverton. She says stepping back to look at the principal’s viewpoint on certain issues can help foster a great working relationship. “John is understandably deeply concerned with confidentiality and respecting the rights and privacy of students and staff,” she says. By seeing things through this vantage point, Matsuo says, she and others can better understand why principals sometimes squelch great ideas, such as publishing a family directory. In many cases, she says, parent leaders shouldn’t take the word “no” personally.

Matsuo also reports that principals are not always comfortable with volunteers coming and going in the office, where students’ academic abilities, personal family situations, and discipline issues are routinely discussed. “The daily challenges of ‘I heard this from so-and-so’ take up [John’s] time and energy,” says Matsuo. She offers two tips: “Choose your office volunteers wisely,” and “Ask the principal directly instead of clamoring around for answers and consulting the rumor mill.”

What else does Matsuo recommend that leaders do to get on their principal’s good side? “I have also learned from John to give our principal a head’s up if I know a topic will be coming up at the PTC meeting that he will want to have some background info prepared for,” she says. “I never want to blindside him because no one wins if we are not all working together.”

Matsuo has also helped her husband become a more effective communicator with parents at his school by helping him with his weekly newsletters and parent group meetings. “I always tell him my first gut reaction because I help him to be informative and encouraging but not too preachy,” she explains. More important, she adds, “I really remind him to be thankful and acknowledge those who really make a difference, large and small, during the school day.”

“The most wonderful thing about having a wife who is a PTC president is that she reminds me about the parent perspective," says John Matsuo. "I often ask her to read my notices and ask her to proofread them as a parent as well as a writer. I constantly remind myself to put myself in the place of the parent or parent group that I am talking with or writing to.”

You might call it a mutually beneficial relationship.