One critical component of running a successful PTA is working well with the teachers and administrators in your school building. A workshop at the 2016 National PTA Convention in Orlando focused on what those teachers and administrators want when working with their PTA. The panel discussion was moderated by Deb Strauss, National PTA Vice President of Membership (and an Illinois PTA Past President) and featured:
- Dani Carver, an elementary teacher
- Harold Dixon, Family Engagement Specialist for Charlotte Mecklenburg (NC) Schools
- Sherry Griffith, currently Executive Director of the California PTA and a former school administrator
- Renee Jackson, National PTA Senior Manager of Education Initiatives and a former principal
The panel began with Mr. Dixon sharing what he thought the three components of effective family engagement were for schools:
- Shared Responsibility (both schools and families committed to the process)
- Continuous Across a Child’s Life (cradle to career)
- Across All Contexts (e.g., home, pre-K, school, after-school programs, faith-based organizations, community organizations, etc. all engage with the family and school)
The rest of the workshop was devoted to discussion of questions from the moderator and audience. Here are the highlights.
What do administrators find to be the greatest strengths of working with PTA?
- PTA’s family engagement programs (e.g., Schools of Excellence, Family Reading Experience, Connect for Respect, PTA Reflections)
- PTA’s role in providing communication between families, teachers, and administrators and connecting families to what is happening in the classroom.
- PTA brings to the school things that other parent organizations do not—a legacy of reliability, accountability, and stability—and the knowledge that if there is a problem in the PTA, there is a state and national association there to help.
What are the greatest challenges for administrators in working with PTA?
- Both PTA leaders and school administrators need to have clear rules, roles, and goals.
- Many school administrators simply see PTA as the ATM for the school, and it is necessary for PTA leaders to educate those administrators of the role of PTA in engaging and educating families and in advocating for every child.
- Have a back-to-school meeting with the building principal well before school starts to share goals, calendars, and deadlines as well as to discuss how to collaborate to help the school meet its goals.
What are your tips for PTA leaders to work with school administrators?
- Meet with administrators over the summer to begin collaborating and planning for the school year ahead.
- Continue to meet with the school administrators during the school year to keep communication open and ensure that everything is running smoothly.
- Don’t forget school district administrators as potential collaborators as well, since they can be some of the biggest PTA advocates in the district.
- Invite the school board, superintendent, and other school district administrators to PTA events.
- Find out what the school district’s goals are and discuss how the PTA can help meet them.
In terms of fundraising, how can PTAs work with school administrators?
- Work with your principal over the summer to create a calendar that is not too crowded with school and PTA events.
- Create a master fundraising calendar so that PTA fundraising doesn’t overlap with band booster, sports booster, and other fundraising at the school.
- Don’t get too hung up on fundraising; focus on what your PTA can do to support your families to work with their children at home.
What advice do you have for working with principals who are under-involved or overinvolved?
- Make sure that your principal understands that PTA is an independent 501(c)3 organization.
- One of principals’ biggest fears is that PTA problems will become their problems. Be sure your principal knows that if there are PTA problems, he can also turn to the council, district, region, or state level of PTA for help.
- If your principal is antagonistic or apathetic, approach the school district about how the PTA can help them meet their goals for the school.
- Make sure that your principal knows that they don’t control the PTA. They have, at most, one vote on the PTA board.
- If a principal or school administrator is retiring soon and “checking out” of engaging with the PTA, contact the person handling family engagement for the school district to discuss the future at the school and how PTA and the district can work together during the transition. Also, enlist teachers, especially teacher leaders, to help integrate PTA’s efforts with those of the school.
Our school district requires all Title I schools to have a PTA, but they seem to exist mainly on paper. What can we do?
- Work with the families at the school to determine what they want or need to support their child’s education.
- Focus on PTA programs that would help those families.
- Every Title I school receives funding targeted for family engagement, and that money is returned to the federal government if it is not spent. Work with the school to have those funds used to support PTA programs and parent education, training, and leadership capacity building.
- Have your school district stress why they require PTAs at those schools and the importance of those PTAs fulfilling their mission.
What are the first positive signs of good PTA family engagement?
- Families need to see that someone cares about them and their student, that the PTA has goals and plans, and that the PTA is not just about fundraising. Once they see that, they will readily engage with the PTA and the school.
PTAs at the middle school and high school level are struggling to reach families. How can these PTAs better engage these families, since many of the PTA programs are geared primarily towards the elementary level?
- How are you inviting parents to engage with PTA? Speak before school events (e.g., Open House, Homecoming, etc.) about the different role that PTA plays at the middle and high school level.
- Parents have likely engaged with PTA around events at the elementary level, and are still event-driven towards engagement at the upper grades, but those events are now sports or other school activities. Since there is little classroom engagement at the middle and high school level (e.g., reading to students, parties, etc.) and students don’t want parents there in that role either, engage them on the curriculum and education side of PTA. Have parents serving on building committees or school district committees that then share that information with families.