When I was first approached about becoming PTA President at my son’s elementary school, my initial response was, “Heck no!” I didn’t think I was the right person for the position, as there were other PTA board members I felt were more suitable. Then, I engaged in conversations with the current President who was finishing her two-year term, and she laid out all the expectations and answered any questions I had. After discussing it with my husband, who was unsurprisingly fully supportive and encouraging, I opted to take on the challenge.
While I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world, here are a few things I’ve learned as I approach the end of my first year as PTA President:
Do not fear failure
I shared with my husband that my biggest fear wasn’t the work load, it was meeting the high expectations of our consistently A-rated school (18 consecutive years) and managing the diverse personalities of our strong PTA board members. He said because of all the different personalities on the board is the EXACT reason I should be President — diplomacy is my strong suit. And when had I not exceeded expectations? I allowed his sweet compliments to wash over me and gave the position tremendous consideration for weeks. After the board voted, I committed to the challenge and privilege of being PTA President.
Word spread, and I was inundated with congratulations from my Principal and the PTA board, but also with stereotypical jokes from friends about why they’d NEVER do it. I didn’t really know how to respond and joked in the beginning about being “volun-told” for the position. Joking about being “volun-told” didn’t sit well with me, and I realized it’s because I was actually looking forward to the opportunity. It’s a privilege to serve my school in this capacity. So, I stopped pretending it was a (insert eye roll) nuisance in my life when it has actually been one of my greatest gifts.
Have an open heart
Changing my outward acceptance and perspective about the position helped me enjoy being PTA President earlier than expected. Granted, my first few months felt like I had a firehose attached to my mouth that was flooded with audit, budget prep, first day of school flyers (no less than a gazillion), orientations, Boosterthon, open houses, carnival, spirit nights, meetings, texts, emails (oh, the emails!). But guess what? My Principal and previous President were right there to guide and support me. I’m a member of a few PTA/PTO support groups on Facebook, and it is common for me to read how Principals and PTA Presidents work separately, even against each other sometimes. That baffles me because the relationship between PTA and Principal at our school is a valued, authentic partnership. Officially they are separate entities, each with autonomy of their roles, but don’t we ultimately have the same goal? Isn’t the endpoint of any task, whether it be on the school side (Principal) or the volunteer side (PTA), always for the benefit of the children and their families?
This became my primary perspective when volunteers share concerns. Empathy is crucial when understanding and appreciating volunteers because regardless of hours volunteered to PTA, the simple fact any amount of time is given is impactful. When I learn some volunteers don’t necessarily “gel” well together, I remind them that we are all on the same team. We are here for our children and all the school’s children are our children. We may approach tasks and execute plans differently, but our differences are what makes our PTA great!
Look beyond face value
In more attempts at diplomacy, I also have learned to understand situations deeper than what is presented at face value. Regardless of the varying personalities of volunteers, I strive to understand what motivates a situation. Is she grumpy today because she doesn’t feel well? Is he perceived as difficult because he doesn’t do things the way you do them? (Yes! We have “he’s” on our PTA board!) Is she non-responsive because it’s best to reach her via text, not email? Is she impatient today because she has a full-time job, five kids, a traveling husband and still volunteers time to the school, simultaneously taking care of an ailing parent?
Ideally, I seek a 360 perspective to understand what other factors could be in play. I haven’t always been successful with this, because, you know, I’M HUMAN. I make tons of mistakes, but I try my best. My son has challenges of his own and in my attempts at ensuring he isn’t misunderstood, I endeavor to provide the same 360 perspective to parents that don’t know him well enough to understand his behaviors. That practice has opened my eyes and heart exponentially when people aren’t always at their best. Like when an exhausted parent is kind enough to volunteer time to PTA. Going “beyond face value” is a practice that taught me greater compassion, and led to a deep appreciation and admiration for volunteers when they entrust me with their personal stories.
I really do love it
I don’t view my role as a leadership role. I perceive myself as a coordinator and resource for volunteers and a liaison to our Principal. I serve the Principal, faculty, staff, the PTA board, and most importantly, our students and their families. Serving as PTA President has filled me with a validation I never realized I was seeking. I love the relationships that have developed, especially with volunteers. We may be diverse, but we share the same vision. I love showing my son how much I love his school by volunteering, and he LOVES having me there. I love shining a positive light on PTA and not being shy about it. You don’t have to hate it even though the cliché expectation is that you should. I give you permission to love it and be proud of your PTA!
The learning curve is steep, I am still climbing it, but the feeling going into the summer and into the second year of my term is a strong sense of gratitude. Grateful for the privilege to serve, share, evolve and connect.
Are you involved in your school’s PTA? If so, what has your experience been like?