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An overview of what lies ahead for first-time board members, and tips for getting off to a strong start.

by Craig Bystrynski


Whether you won by a landslide or one vote, you face many challenges ahead. Getting off to a strong start can make all the difference. Here are some ways to do just that.

Meet with past officers—twice.

The first time, have the new board get together with the old board. Talk about goals they were pursuing, projects underway, who they count on for help, and other broad issues. The second time, have new officers meet one-on-one with the past office-holders. The purpose of this get-together is to talk about how to do the job most effectively. Past officers often have systems in place, know the best contacts, and have other tips that can help new officers get off to a running start. They can be a terrific resource. Don’t ignore it.

Reach out to other schools.

Make contact with parent group leaders. Share fundraising information, program ideas, and give each other general support. Yes, there’s someone going through the same things you are!

Get your board members together in a relaxed setting.

Discuss job descriptions and expectations. Talk about personal strengths and weaknesses. Take some time to get to know each other. You’ll be working together closely. When things get really busy, the foundation you lay now can really make a difference.

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

Begin delegating now.

It’s natural for a new president to want to have her finger on the pulse of everything that’s going on. Delegating then begins when the amount of work becomes too overwhelming for one person, or one board, to handle. By then, finding someone to help can be almost as stressful as doing it yourself. By sharing the workload and responsibility now, you set the stage for success down the line. Giving more people a stake in your work means you can accomplish more.

When you delegate, follow these three keys:

  • First, focus on the results, not the method. Communicate what you want to accomplish, and give the person you delegate to the freedom to develop a plan to accomplish that goal.

  • Second, set firm deadlines. A few realistic checkpoints will allow you to keep track of what’s going on without micromanaging.

  • Third, communicate limitations. Is there a strict budget? Is time frame crucial? Make sure the person you delegate to has all the information she needs to accomplish the task.

Communicate with parents.

Use surveys, talk to people at pick-up and drop-off, solicit feedback at school events. Ask parents about what goals, desires, and ideas they have for the school. Don’t plan in a vacuum. The more information you gather, the better plan you’ll create and the more success you’ll have in implementing your ideas.

Meet with the principal to discuss goals and establish a good working relationship.

Getting off on the right foot with the principal can make a world of difference. Tell him you’re working toward the same goals—a better school and a better education for the children. Tell him you’ll respect boundaries on decisions the school should make and decisions parents can make. Tell him you know about the power of parent involvement and, with his help, you intend to harness that power to benefit the school, the staff, and the children—which will make him look good in the process!

Engage your sense of humor.

It doesn’t take long in a leadership position to learn one inevitable fact: Things don’t always go as planned. You take pains to communicate an important message clearly, but it gets misinterpreted. You plan for every possible problem—except the one that occurs out of the blue. You envision exactly how an event will go, but somehow—you’re still not exactly sure where—it gets derailed.

Simply put, you can’t control everything.

There are too many human variables in everything we do. When things go wrong, laugh and look for solutions. Stressing out makes things harder on you, and it has a bad effect on your all-volunteer troops, too. Instead, act as a problem-solver. Most times you’ll get the result you were looking for, even though you traveled the road less taken.

Relax. Enjoy yourself and have fun. Even if things don’t go exactly how you envisioned them, the work you’re doing really makes a difference.

Originally posted in 2005 and updated regularly.


# Lorrie Herrmann 2008-07-23 08:05
Really appreciate this article as a start up. It shows an emphasis on positive relations with the principal. It acknowledges that problems will occur no matter how well you plan so be prepared to flex and be solution oriented.
# EllenVP 2009-05-24 22:04
I have been the VP for five years and this year I worked with a new board including a new President. We had only 1 General meeting the whole school year. There is 2 weeks of school left and there is not a last meeting scheduled for 2009-2010 elections. Can the new board assume their positions for next year and not have a meeting? According to our By-Laws we should. If they refuse, then what?
# Lisa @ PTO Today 2009-05-26 13:42
Hi EllenVP-
I re-posted your question on our message boards here:

This is a good place to gets lots of great advice from other leaders!

# G-Girl 2009-12-11 03:23
I am a (new) PTO president, At a recent mtg I offered to personally donate money to cover the cost of something the teachers needed. I was reprimanded for offerering in a public settting. Was I wrong? There is nothing in the by-laws about this. I was trying to help which is why I even took this position.

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