Building an Effective PTA Board

As the school year begins, it’s important to get your PTA working effectively. A key part of that effectiveness is having a good PTA board made up of your officers and chairpersons. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you build your PTA board and start working together.

Get the Right People in the Right Seats on the Bus

In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins stresses the importance of getting the right people in the right seats on the bus. In other words, making sure that the people on your PTA board are the right people to help lead your PTA and they are doing the right jobs for their skills. Your PTA board should reflect your school community, and you can use National PTA’s Diversity and Inclusion Toolkitto help you reach out to groups at your school that are underrepresented in your PTA.

Realize that Team Building Takes Time

No group comes together right from the beginning. Psychologist Bruce Tuckman noted this in his 1965 article Developmental Sequence in Small Groups, in which he identified four stages that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Those stages are:

  1. Forming:In the forming stage, your board has low skills and high enthusiasm. The leader plays a larger role in this stage, since most team members are still sorting out what their roles and responsibilities are.
  2. Storming:In this stage, your board still has low skills, but low enthusiasm as well. People have begun to get comfortable with their role on the team and have started to push back against others. These conflicts can arise from differences in working styles, jockeying for position, or challenging your leadership. It’s important to remember that this conflict is an expected part of the process, and as a leader you should work to keep your board members focused on the goals of your PTA—helping the children of your school.
  3. Norming:In the norming stage, your board has higher skills, but still has low enthusiasm. Board members have begun to resolve differences, recognize each other’s strengths, and understand how you work as their leader. They’ve begun to know one another better, have begun to build trust, and are beginning to ask each other for help and provide constructive feedback. As a leader, you can begin to step back a bit from managing your board at this stage, but realize that storming and norming overlap to some degree, and as new challenges arrive or new board members come on, the team may lapse back into storming again.
  4. Performing:In the final stage, your board has both high skills and high enthusiasm. There is a high level of trust between your board members, and they are all focused on accomplishing their tasks to meet the PTA’s goals. As a leader, you can delegate much of your work and focus on developing team members and preparing for the transition to next year’s officers.

Make Use of the Seven Habits

Author Stephen R. Covey identified a framework for personal effectiveness in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. While the book is aimed at individuals, those seven habits can also be used in creating an effective PTA board.

 

  1. Be Proactive: Decide what your PTA will focus on this year at the beginning. Realize that there will be conflict on the board and that some conflict is essential to moving forward. Make sure that conflict is productive conflict that focuses on determining the best course of action for your PTA and not damaging personal relationships on your board. Develop ground rules for handling conflict with your board, including keeping board conflicts confidential so your board members can trust each other and share honest opinions. Nothing tears a PTA board apart faster than a board member sharing disagreements on your board or with your PTA’s chosen course of action with those outside the board discussion or on social media.
  2. Begin with the End in Mind: Set goals now for what your PTA will accomplish this year. Make sure that those goals are supported by your board and that they are SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Agreed upon, Realistic, and Time-based.
  3. Put First Things First: Work with your entire PTA community to create an action plan to achieve your PTA’s goals. Share your goals with your principal and teachers as well as your families. Ask for their input. Put together committees to accomplish specific goals or tasks, and empower them to accomplish that goal or task.
  4. Think Win-Win: If your PTA is considering two different ways to meet your PTA’s goals, and both of them will get you there, there is no wrong answer. Keep your board and your PTA focused on the destination, not the path.
  5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: It seems counterintuitive, but an effective leader is first an effective follower. While a leader may be able to harangue their team into following their personal vision for a short while, the effective leader collects and considers the team’s visions and identifies where the group wants to go as a whole. That means that you should ask more questions, listen attentively, and make fewer statements. Make sure that everyone, whether at your PTA board meetings or general membership meetings, feels safe and comfortable enough to share their opinions and ask difficult questions.
  6. Synergize: Synergy is combining the ideas of several people to create something that is better than what any one of them could have come up with alone. Doing this successfully requires that your board members trust each other and focus on the goal more than the path to get there. Identify which groups in your PTA community are not at the table and invite them in to make sure that all voices are heard.
  7. Sharpen the Saw: Sharpening the saw is about taking care of yourself, your board, and your PTA. Take the time to rest and rejuvenate, not just as a PTA leader, but your board as well, so that you don’t burn out. Celebrate your accomplishments. Publicly thank those who helped make things happen. You can be more effective cutting down trees if you are always using a sharp saw.

Build Trust

Patrick Lencioni is best known for his book The 5 Dysfunctions of a Teamthat identifies the ways that teams fail to work effectively. Somewhat less familiar are his five behaviors of a cohesive team. Of these five behaviors, the fundamental one is trust. Trust is the essential foundation of any team, and without it, conflict becomes destructive and your PTA will struggle to meet its goals.

As a PTA leader, one of your first tasks should be to work towards building trust on your board. You can do this by providing opportunities for your board members to get to know each other better. Use icebreakers at the beginning of your first few board meetings, especially ones that require each board member to talk with every other board member. Make sure to have some icebreakers that are small group or one-on-one activities, as some people may not be comfortable standing up in front of the whole group and sharing something personal about themselves, especially early on before there is a lot of trust between board members. Provide opportunities to socialize together, either with refreshments after your board meeting or on a specific board outing to a coffee shop or other social setting.

PTA meetings are notorious for the “meeting after the meeting” out in the parking lot. Listening in on that conversation is a good measure of how your board or your PTA are working. If the parking lot discussion is all about what went on in the meeting, you have a problem. If the discussion is about what they’re doing this coming weekend or making plans to meet and do something together (PTA or otherwise), then your board is working well as a team.