Building support for your group takes time. Often a patient approach will get you to your goal faster than a sprint.

by Tim Sullivan


One of the real ironies of this PTO world of ours is that the fastest PTOs move slowly.

It took me a while to understand this, and it goes against my let’s-get-going nature, but it’s true. If you’re the type who barrels through everything and everyone to get things done, you may actually be hurting your parent group. At the very least, you’re hurting your group’s efforts to get more people involved and engaged.

In many areas of life, we celebrate the doers. They finish the test first, get the promotion, have all the thank-you notes mailed out before the party is over, and step in to rescue projects that may be falling behind.

In the parent group world, though, those same attributes can lead to long-term troubles. While the doer careens about finishing projects, pulling off amazing family events single-handedly, and reediting the PTO newsletter minutes before deadline, other volunteers slowly move aside. They grow tired of their input and efforts being overrun by Ms. Doer’s zeal. “If she’s just going to run it anyway,” goes the thinking, “I’ll find a place where my talents and opinions are valued.”

Our doer mom (or dad) is getting great things done at record pace, but she’s slowly eroding the more important base of our parent group: lots of talented parents working together as a team. Broad involvement is the best model by far, and doers often unwittingly work against it. What’s going to happen when the doer goes away? Her child may change schools. She may choose to put her doer-ness to work in another venue. She may be abducted in the middle of the night by the non-doers (kidding, kidding!) which point your PTO will be back to square one, only with fewer engaged parents than when your doer started her reign of getting things done.

If you’re a doer (as so many PTO leaders are), this school year make this your PTO mantra: patience. Embrace some of the most frustrating things about PTO leadership because those things actually make your group stronger. Put your doer instincts to work making the group better rather than doing, doing, doing every little thing for your group.

For example, “I’ll just do it myself” is often the simplest, fastest way to get a whole bunch of common PTO tasks done well. It takes time (and patience) to connect with a new volunteer, explain a process, answer questions, and perhaps accept less-than-optimal results. But it’s the only way to engage new volunteers.

And counting on your regular crew of experienced volunteers is just a step beyond counting on yourself. It’s hard work to welcome new volunteers one by one, make them feel comfortable and valued (even when their early efforts might actually be slowing you down), and give them roles that affect your group.

A lot of parent group leaders are doer types. Are you? If so, you probably don’t even realize that your desire to do so much for your school and your kids could be part of the reason your group is struggling to engage more parents.

This year, flip the script. Rather than working to get tons of visible “to dos” done for your school, set a goal to make the group great. This involves patiently developing new parent volunteers and, eventually, new leaders. And it’s actually a much more difficult job. Don’t do less—just put those doer instincts to work on recruitment and training instead. It’s the best way to do long-term good for your school and your kids.

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