Submitted by Brian Minsker, V.P. of Programs
So here you are, a brand new PTA president, with the National PTA Back-to-School Kit and Illinois PTA Local Unit Packet USB drives sitting next to you packed full of information, and you are starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the job you’ve taken on. Take a deep breath and relax—with a few helpful pointers, being president can be one of the easiest jobs in the PTA.
- First, recognize that as PTA president, you are a leader and your role at the school has changed. Your relationship with the principal, teachers, and other parents will change as well, with you serving as a communicator, mediator, and resource for all of them. Remember that effective leaders listen and encourage, offer a vision but don’t dictate, pass success and praise on to others but take responsibility when things go wrong, and build teams rather than empires.
- As PTA president, you don’t have to do it all yourself. “Superman” leaders that do everything themselves may get things done in the short term, but damage the PTA in the long term. No one wants to step into the shoes of the leader who did everything herself, so don’t hesitate to delegate work to others. Delegating is often one of the hardest parts of being a PTA president, but doing so shows that your PTA is welcoming to those who want to be involved, engages those who are excited to volunteer their time and energy to the PTA, and helps to build a team that will keep your PTA running strong for years.
- Be a servant leader. Your job as president is to provide those under you with the tools and resources to be successful. Be sure to share resources from those USB drives—we want you to make copies from them for your PTA. Communicate openly and often with others, asking not just how their work is going but also what you can do to help them.
- Share with your members what the PTA is doing. Many people would gladly volunteer to help if only they knew what was happening and how to help. Don’t make your PTA meeting the only place to find out what the PTA is doing. Don’t be afraid to try out new ways of communicating with your members, whether it’s an e-mail list, a Facebook page, or Twitter reminders of upcoming meetings and events. Take advantage of your Illinois PTA free premium upgrade and use VolunteerSpot to coordinate volunteers at your next event.
- Remember that communication is a two-way street. Listening is one of the most important jobs of a PTA president. Listen to your principal to find out how he feels about PTA events and activities. Listen to all parents, not just your friends or those at PTA meetings, to make sure they feel informed, included, and welcomed by the PTA. Listen to teachers and staff, not just your child’s teacher, to find out ways the PTA can better support the education of every child in the school. And listen (or read) to National PTA, the Illinois PTA, and your district or region director—they all have resources and information to make your job easier.
- Make sure that your principal is your partner at the school. While a PTA is an independent organization, we are most effective when we work with our school principal. Be sure to keep your principal in the loop regarding PTA plans, and solicit her feedback on ideas for new events as well as on how past events went. Remember, both the PTA and your principal have the same goal—a quality education for all of the students in your school.
- Use a procedure book, and make sure your committees do as well. PTA leaders learn over time, and when they leave the PTA, that knowledge can go with them unless your PTA has used procedure books. If you received a procedure book as president, take the time to review it. If you didn’t, create one as you go through the year. Keep track of the things that you do, who you contact, and how you do things, and make sure your committee chairs do as well. A procedure book also makes it easier to recruit new volunteers to take over next year.
- Run effective meetings. Everyone has sat through PTA meetings that dragged on and on, and those meetings certainly don’t encourage people to attend the next meeting. Make sure you have an agenda and stick to it. Contact committee chairs and others with PTA business ahead of the meeting to determine what needs to go on the agenda. Start on time. Listen to the discussion during the meeting with an eye toward bringing a decision to a vote or passing the issue off to a committee to make a recommendation at the next meeting.
- Keep on top of your PTA’s finances. Your treasurer oversees the day-to-day details of your PTA’s finances, but as president you need to be aware of the financial aspects of the PTA as well. Make sure your treasurer is submitting monthly reports, using deposit and expense vouchers, and getting two signatures for every check. Don’t be afraid to ask your treasurer questions, including whether PTA dues were paid on time or your PTA’s IRS Form 990 was filed.
- Thank your volunteers. Be sure to thank all of your volunteers and to thank them often. Thank them at the PTA meeting, thank them at the event if there’s an opportunity to speak to everyone at once, thank them in the PTA newsletter, and perhaps even with a short, hand-written thank-you note. Don’t wait until the school volunteer assembly at the end of the year. When volunteers feel valued and appreciated, they are much more likely to volunteer again.