This post was written by Gwen Pescatore, a PTO president, mom of three, and comoderator of  #PTchat

Did you ever wonder, as a PTO or PTA leader, why it seems the same individuals volunteer over and over?

My group, the Knapp Elementary Home & School Association, has struggled with this issue like most groups. But we’ve found one thing that’s been really successful in getting new volunteers: We make a concerted effort to connect with parents whenever and wherever we can.

Each year at our initial team kickoff meeting during the summer, I ask each board member to talk to as many families as possible. That means conversations at the bus stop, at school and community events, in the school lobby, and anywhere else they might meet. We don’t leave this job to one person. It is a team effort, because each of us connects with different individuals in different ways.

What do we talk to parents about? We talk to them about their lives and families and ask them what’s on their minds. What are they excited for this year? What are their interests? What concerns do they have? What is going on in their lives? And most important, we listen to their answers (without judgment), hear the tone in their voice, and keep all that in mind when we ask them to become engaged in their child’s education, the school, and our PTO.

Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, initiating conversations with complete strangers can be intimidating. Here are some ideas we’ve found helpful:

    • Remember you are speaking to your peers, fellow parents who want to best support their child, just like you.

    • Keep in mind that everyone’s a little nervous, and stay focused on how most parents are interested in connecting with the community.

    • To get a conversation going, ask parents about their kids. Tell them who your children are and what grades they are in.

    • Ask parents if they have met other families from their child's class, and if possible, make introductions for them.

    • Or simply say hello and ask how they are doing. As a PTO leader, I will often introduce myself and let them know I'm available if they have questions or suggestions to improve how and what we are doing.

These conversations begin to build and strengthen relationships. Quiet families sometimes get a confidence boost from connecting with our PTO leaders. I cannot tell you how many volunteers have told us that they began volunteering because one of us struck up a conversation with them somewhere. As well, we take their feedback into consideration each time we make a decision.

These connections are so important to us. Our school belongs to our community. The more individuals we welcome to join us as volunteers, the better a job we will all do.