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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

PTA: The Summer Place to Be?

By Peter DeWitt — July 21, 2012 4 min read
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Parental involvement is important. We all know that. There are countless studies that show students who have involved parents do better academically. It’s a no brainer that parents have the biggest impact on their children (National Coalition of Parent Involvement in Education). In these times of children who play multiple sports, families seem to be busier than ever and that involvement has changed. As a school system, we have to find ways to evolve with our ever changing family structure.

The other evening my school PTA had a summer meeting at the PTA president’s house. It’s something we have been doing for about four years now, and it was an idea that came out of a PTA meeting. June gets so hectic with outside activities that we opt not to have a meeting that month and we meet during the summer a couple of times. It’s a good time to reflect on the previous year and focus on the year to come.

I enjoy working with my PTA. We are small but mighty. A few people wear many different hats and we enjoy the camaraderie of working together. Although we may get close to 100% attendance at our Open Houses we do not get that kind of attendance at meetings, which is ok as long as we can still get the word out about events and still get volunteers to chair or work at events. The only time it is not ok is when parents do not come to a meeting because they feel people are unfriendly or don’t listen to their input. We are trying our best to change with changing times.

Summer PTA meetings are important because we have busy lives. Sometimes meetings during the year can be at risk of being the next thing we check off the list. Having a couple of summer PTA meetings is a way to make sure that we focus on what is important, which is creating events for students and supporting teachers so they can better educate our children. It is also about creating more of a bond between parents and the school.

Bumps in the Road
There are some universal issues that happen with all PTA’s and PTO’s. Getting diverse personalities together in one room to figure out events or talk about school can bring up a lot of different issues. Not all people get along, and there are adults who have strong personalities while others want to go along with the group to avoid confrontation. Schools have to figure out what issues they can work through and what issues have little to do with them.

There is sometimes a difficulty getting parents to chair events or join the PTA, and it is not only due to their busy lifestyles. It may have to do with other parents. There are parents who would love to be more involved but through experiences such as baseball games and soccer tournaments, they see that other parents are hard to please. There is a concern that some parents who are not involved at all will only complain about the event because they didn’t like something about it.

It’s not just kids who need to be entertained. In these times of 24/7 connections, there are parents who attend a school event expecting a Broadway Show. That can be very intimidating to parents who are trying to organize the event. They don’t want to put themselves out there only to be criticized during and after the event. Facebook can be brutal because some adults put all of their thoughts and feelings on their wall and negative comments travel fast.

In addition, sometimes there is a lack of the T in the PTA. Teachers need to be a part of the process. If they want parents to support them, they need to be in the process to show they support parents as well. This can be a very sensitive issue. Schools can help alleviate this issue by designating a couple of teacher representatives. Not all teachers can make it to PTA meetings but there are some who really want to go. They become the spokespeople for the other faculty. If the President and Principal run the meeting properly, the PTA meeting can be a place where all parties can openly discuss issues that are going on in school and it typically leads to a better understanding.

In the End
Schools need to change with the times. We need to find unique ways to meet the changing demands of the family. In the long run, working with a PTA is about making the school a better community. It’s nice to have meetings, like the one I just had in the summer, that get us energized for the year to come.

Although parents may worry about the other parents they can’t please, they should try to become a little more involved in the PTA. It’s an organization that has been around for a long time and they’re an important part of the school structure. In the end, a good PTA (or PTO) can help create long lasting memories with principals, staff and students, and that is one of the benefits of working in a school. We want to be able to look back at our time in school feeling good about our contribution. We just need to make sure that we put into it what we want out of it.

I would love your comments on how schools work with their PTA’s and PTO’s.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.