You can’t overestimate the value of good working relationships, especially between your parent group and school staff. The principal, teachers, support and office staff, and custodians can help you make your schools better when you create connections based on mutual respect and good communication.
When the PTO or PTA works smoothly with school staff, the school community wins because the group can do more to help meet the school’s needs. This becomes even more important when world events like the coronavirus pandemic change the educational landscape.
It’ll take some time and effort to cultivate good working relationships, but the results will be worth it.
This key ally can make your events run more smoothly, your fundraisers more successful, and your goals more attainable. The principal has a philosophy of how best to run the school and, depending on prior experience, most likely an idea of how a parent group fits into the school community.
Start the year by meeting with the principal to discuss your ideas and plans, and to learn about her goals. Come prepared with topics you want to discuss, and provide a written agenda before the meeting. This is the perfect time to establish your principal’s level of involvement and how she prefers to stay in touch. If possible, schedule regular meetings to keep communication flowing.
Support the principal’s goals. You don’t have to sacrifice your group’s priorities, but you may find you can align your family reading night plans with the principal’s goal of improved reading scores, for example. Show how your group can work with the principal to help achieve schoolwide objectives.
Be a good partner. Allow plenty of time to get approval for an event and keep the principal in the loop as plans develop. Follow school policies and procedures for scheduling events and using the building. Respect the principal’s time and opinions, and work within that framework.
For those times when you don’t have the principal’s buy-in or enthusiasm for one of your ideas, don’t take it personally; ask for feedback to help you understand why a plan won’t work from her perspective.
Read Your Relationship With the Principal for more tips for building a smooth partnership.
No relationship is perfect, and there will be moments when you struggle. Check out our advice for tackling some common sticking points.
For more insight about working with the principal, read advice from a former principal who was also a teacher and PTO president and Principal Q&A: Advice for PTOs.
Teachers love the PTO for all the good things the group does for them. But if your good intentions aren’t well received, there are ways parent groups can strengthen those relationships and earn teachers’ support.
Two-way communication is key to earning teachers’ cooperation and appreciation. It could be as simple as sending out a teacher survey to ask how your parent group can be more supportive. Keep teachers in the loop about your group’s plans, and listen to any concerns about timing or how it relates to the curriculum. Include teachers in discussions about new events, especially if they’re replacing a traditional event, to get early buy-in and stronger support.
Teachers like help. Ask them directly what you can do for them, no matter how large or small. It might be collecting cleaning supplies for the classroom or organizing parent volunteers to share a skill or lead a class virtually.
Show them the money. With ever-tightening budgets and cuts to enrichment activities and school supplies, teachers will probably welcome financial support for teaching tools like leveled reading sets or science lab supplies. Before spending PTO funds on items for the classroom, ask teachers if these items will make their jobs easier (or if they even want them). If your group gives teachers cash or grants for their classroom, streamline the process to minimize paperwork.
Most teachers have a new project or ambitious idea for their classroom that they can’t pull off by themselves. Flex your PTO muscles by recruiting parent volunteers or organizing parts of a project to help make the idea a reality.
Check out 5 Ways PTOs Support Teachers to read about high-impact ideas that go beyond typical teacher appreciation efforts.
Show your appreciation all year long. From simple handwritten thank-you notes to a breakfast buffet in the lounge, teachers need the morale boost—and they may need it more than ever because of the pandemic. See more ways to thank them from afar.
The Administrative Staff
The office staff should be a part of everything you want to do at the school—even simple plans. They know schedules, processes, and regulations and are a bottomless source of help and advice.
If you’re organizing an event, involve school staff in your planning as early as possible to avoid missteps. For example, staff members will know if there’s a scheduling conflict with the date you want to hold your field day, giving you plenty of time to reschedule your event.
Read Event Planning for PTOs: Five Steps for more simple, straightforward planning tips.
Understand that even though you’re at school a lot, you’re a visitor and you need to follow security procedures. If there’s a sign-up sheet to make an appointment to be at school, make sure you or a designated volunteer sign up and show up at the appropriate times. It’s more important than ever to follow visitor guidelines, such as wearing face masks or limiting the number of volunteers allowed on school grounds, to help keep everyone healthy. Working within the guidelines will show that you respect the staff’s working environment.
When you’re having an event, invite the office team so they feel welcome. Going that extra step to let them know they’re invited as guests can go a long way toward building mutual respect.
No one likes being caught off-guard and no one can read minds, so give the front office a heads-up if you’re expecting a delivery or bringing in a large group of volunteers.
The Support Staff
If your group wants to hold an event or school family night, ask for input from the school librarians, the physical education, music, and art teachers, and the special education teachers, as well.
If the principal’s goal is to improve literacy, your group can support that objective with the help of the librarian, who can arrange an author visit or help plan a book swap. And the librarian knows which books are the appropriate reading level for each class.
If you’re looking for ways your group can help schools improve reading and writing achievement, read How PTOs Foster Reading Skills.
When planning a field day, P.E. teachers are the go-to advisors for making sure activities and games are age-appropriate and safe, and that you have the space and equipment you need.
When looking for a field trip or enrichment experience, talk with the music and art teachers about ideas that will help their curriculum goals. You may be able to fund an assembly that these teachers have wanted to bring to students but couldn’t afford.
Finally, be sure to recognize the contributions this group of educators make. One PTO mom won a contest run by TeacherLists (PTO Today’s sister website) that allowed her to fill the holiday wish lists of four teachers and contribute to other lists. The music teacher, art teacher, and an instructional coach—teachers who don’t always receive holiday gifts—and a first grade teacher were grateful recipients.
If it works with your plans, turn teacher appreciation into staff appreciation to include teachers, administrators, custodial staff, and kitchen staff. We have ideas of what works—and what doesn’t work.
The Custodial Staff
Custodians are working hard to clean and sanitize schools, especially with expanded health and safety protocols.
Work with custodians and the principal to help get the word out about cleaning protocol information and reinforce your school’s safety measures. Share any updates through PTO channels to help spread the news about guidelines.
When you hold events or meetings on school grounds, give the custodial staff advance written notification of your schedule and your needs, such as trash cans or table and chair arrangements. Leave the area at least as clean and organized as when you arrived.
If your group wants to start a recycling or green project at school, start by having a discussion with your custodian to get ideas and learn how the systems that are already in place work. When the new project is up and running, act as a liaison between the custodians and others to take care of any issues and not add extra work to a custodian’s day.
Finally, clean up as much as possible after any events you hold at school. If you move tables in the cafeteria, put them back as they were before. If custodians are required to be on duty for an evening or weekend parent group event, be sure to thank them for helping make the event successful.
Staff Appreciation Days
Take time each school year to thank the hard workers who keep your school running. Your PTO may choose to give a small gift on these national days of recognition, or to thank all staff members on a single day. (Many groups choose to thank bus drivers, custodians, and other non-teaching staff during Teacher Appreciation Week in May.)
October – Principals Month
Oct. 2 – Custodial Workers Recognition Day
Oct. 5 – World Teachers Day
Sept. 13-19 – Arts in Education Week
Nov. 20 – Substitute Educators Day
Dec. 2 – National Special Education Day
Feb. 1-5 – National School Counseling Week
March – Music In Our Schools Month
April – School Library Month
April 19-23 – Administrative Professionals Week
April 23 – Administrative Professionals Day
May – Physical Fitness and Sports Month
May 1 – School Principal’s Day
May 1 – School Bus Drivers Day
May 1 – School Lunch Hero Day (honoring school nutrition professionals)
May 3-7 – Teacher Appreciation Week
May 4 – Teacher Appreciation Day
May 5 – School Nurse Day