Parent groups often develop a communication gap between new volunteers and the veterans who have seen it all. But what if we could bridge that gap and say what we’re really thinking? After all, true unity starts with a little understanding.

Dear Grizzled PTO Veteran,
I’m writing to you because deep down, I know you have a lot to teach me, an enthusiastic new volunteer. I know that you’ve put in years of volunteer time and that you’ve seen many different ideas tried (some without success) and that you have the best interests of the school at heart. But sometimes it seems that the PTO is all about you and your other experienced friends.

Do you remember what it was like when you were brand-new at the school? I bet you were a lot different than you are now—maybe more enthusiastic, probably less confident. I’m sure you were really looking forward to getting involved at your child’s new school. So am I.

That’s why it’s so frustrating for me and the other new parents who are trying to get involved to be shut out so often. I went to the first PTO meeting and felt invisible. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived, and I really didn’t know anyone when I left. Everyone else seemed to know each other, so there were no introductions and few explanations of how things work. It reminded me of being the new kid in the high school cafeteria. It didn’t feel good.

You say you want more parents involved, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I’ve been through high school; I even pledged a sorority in college. I was hoping that was over. It’s hard for us new parents to believe that you really want help when our offers to help are greeted with indifference or simply dismissed. If you hear parents complain about a clique atmosphere, that’s why.

If you really think my ideas won’t work, I can understand that. But I need you to take the time to help me understand why (without making me feel like an outcast), and I think you’d do well to help me find a role where my enthusiasm can be put to good use. It’s possible that some of my ideas are good ones and that new volunteers and new ideas can reenergize a group.

I do hope we can come together.

Enthusiastic PTO Newbie

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Dear Enthusiastic PTO Newbie,
I’m writing to you because deep down, I know that our group needs new blood and new ideas and that you and your fellow younger parents can help me, a grizzled PTO veteran. I know growing parent involvement in our school is essential. But sometimes it seems like you think everything we’ve been doing for so many years has been colossally dumb or that we’ve been wasting our time.

Many of the volunteers on the board have been at this for many years, and we’ve all put in countless (often thankless) hours trying our best for the group, the school, and the kids. So when you come to your first meeting and question everything we’ve been doing (or not doing), it can feel like an indictment of all that work.

Looking at it honestly, I can see where you might feel less than welcomed. We can and should do better on that front. But I also have to share with you another truth: I’m tired and not perfect. This is your first child in school and your first year in the PTO world. It’s my third child and my 11th year doing this stuff. When I arrived at the school, I expected the PTO leaders to walk on water, too—to be welcoming and helpful and patient and able to leap the school building in a single bound.

Then I was elected (I was unopposed and there were only six others at the meeting), and I realized Supermom doesn’t exist and our PTO has to succeed with a bunch of imperfect volunteers who sometimes drop the ball.

We really do want more help, and we love new volunteers. If we don’t do a terrific job of making you feel like the greatest new recruit ever, please chalk it up to the tired thing (or the non-Supermom thing), and please do come back. Maybe you’ll be the volunteer who, over time, makes our group as welcoming as we actually want to be. I hope so.

I also hope you’ll be open to the possibility that our experience does have merit. Taking the time to get to know how things happen and why (and then taking the time to be careful of feelings when you propose change) would be great. I will try to learn from you and remain open to change, but I’d really like you to respect the experience and perspective that I have.

I hope we can come together and do great things, too.

Grizzled PTO Veteran