Sometimes, the reason more people don’t join your PTA is because they feel unwelcome. Whether warranted or not, your PTA may have a reputation as a clique. Overcoming this common issue can be challenging because it requires the focus and commitment of your group as a whole.
The first obstacle to overcome – and the spot where most groups get stuck – is agreeing there’s a problem. When a PTA is labeled a clique, most leaders instinctively go on defense, arguing all the reasons the label isn’t accurate. And, in many cases, a group may have a compelling argument as to why that perception is wrong. However, it doesn’t matter. The simple truth is this: if your PTA is perceived as a clique, it IS a clique. And the more you argue that point, the stickier the label becomes and the harder to remove.
Think about it: how often does a group of friends decide to call themselves a “clique?” Pretty much never, right? But you can probably think of several examples of cliques you’ve encountered in your life. Groups get labelled “cliques” by those who consider themselves outside of one. In other words, it’s a matter of how others perceive your group. Perception is reality; that is, others’ perception of your group is the reality of your group’s reputation.
Once you’ve come to terms with your PTA’s public perception, the only way to change that reputation is with consistent action over a sustained period of time. Your board (or other group of leaders) must dedicate the time and consistency required for the change to happen. Each person must be willing to change how things are done, which can be a hard pill to swallow for an established PTA. Even if a board member disagrees with a change, they must be able to rise above their personal feelings for the benefit of the group. Naysayers are always on the hunt for a sign that things haven’t really changed, and if anyone in your group isn’t walking the talk, that person will become the “sign” those naysayers seek.
Once your board owns up to its reputation as a clique and agrees to do what’s necessary to change, the real work begins. The quickest way to combat a negative public perception is to analyze those actions that are creating that perception and then change them (and don’t assume you already know – that’s what got your PTA in this dilemma in the first place). Sometimes it’s possible to gather this information through a constructive discussion among honest, well-intentioned stakeholders. However, that’s often not an option, in which case your board should take time to walk through all of your PTA’s touchpoints with “the public” and consider where there may be opportunities to improve your perception as a welcoming group. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- At every PTA function, proactively seek out any new faces and introduce yourself. You might not recognize them, but they probably recognize you. Undoubtedly, you are that person “from the PTA,” and the way you behave toward them is the biggest factor in determining their opinion of your group.
- Regardless of your good intent, do not huddle together with fellow board members in private conversation during PTA events. If you catch yourself doing this, agree to separate out and canvas the area.
- Get folks on a level playing field by asking everyone to wear name tags at meetings and events, from the president to the first-time attendee.
- Communicate to families in the languages they speak. Find a parent or community member who can help translate materials and even serve as an interpreter at meetings. Make sure to advertise the availability of interpreters and materials to encourage participation among diverse groups. Don’t forget to personally tell them how happy you are that they’re in attendance.
- Eliminate the practice of having the board sit together (or at a head table) at membership meetings. Minimize side conversations, inside jokes, and chit-chat, which can make newcomers feel like outsiders.
- Explain each piece of business, and steer clear of obscure terms and insider jargon. Don’t assume “everyone knows that.”
- Instead of having board members volunteer together at an event, assign a mix of new and old volunteers to each station or shift.
While there will always be critics, it’s up to you to decide which words may have some truth behind them. And, since the clique label is a matter of others’ perception, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to others labeling your PTA a clique. You may uncover a multitude of opportunities to improve your reputation, increase your membership, and broaden your volunteer base.