How to Avoid PTA/PTO Drama at Your School

You can be there for your PTA without taking over.

Principal Life Hack: Avoid PTA Drama

Families are a critical component of any school environment. And it’s up to principals and administrators to create a meaningful relationship based on collaboration, mutual respect, and support. Schools and families work hard on behalf of kids and that should transcend party lines. As Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University says, “Our charge is to create parent-friendly schools and school-friendly homes.

No relationship between humans is without drama, and it’s normal for conflict to arise between the parent-teacher association (PTA) and the school administration. Smart principals know that the key to managing difficult situations is maintaining healthy boundaries and building relationships. These guidelines will help you create and keep the kind of relationships that will make navigating conflict easier.

1. Be a leader by showing you care for families.

Be intentional in making your school a place where all families feel welcome. You can do this in two small ways: timing and language. Be thoughtful about how you schedule events and stay cognizant that families often have non-traditional schedules. Not everyone has availability during the day, and evenings can be equally complicated. Consider offering on-site babysitting during evening events or performances so parents can enjoy themselves without wrangling younger siblings.

Next, practice using language that is inclusive. In official communications, consider using the word families instead of parents to show awareness that not all students have traditional structures at home. Many of the students you serve have aunts, uncles, grandparents, and other adults as guardians and caretakers. The same goes with using mom and dad: not all families have the same structural makeup, and you want to make sure that single-parent families and same-gender couples feel welcomed. Your leadership in this area matters, and when you use language thoughtfully and carefully, you model inclusivity for PTA leadership.

2. Open those lines of communication.

It’s crucial that you prioritize your relationship with PTA leadership so you can work as a team. Create a regular meeting time before each PTA meeting so you can see the agenda. Ask them to share their mission statement with you so you can better understand their work. If they don’t have one, encourage them to write one. A good mission statement can be crucial to help recalibrate and level-set when the going gets tough, and it can help PTA leadership with internal politics as well. Ask if you can have time at each meeting to greet parents. You should not play a major role in the meetings, but a smart principal will take the opportunity to be seen.

3. Know their process.

Do you know that most PTAs have bylaws, an executive board, and yearly goals? If not, it’s time to do your homework. You need to understand their operating procedures and their vision for their finances. You should absolutely know who is counted in the membership rolls; students whose families’ voices are not included in the conversation require extra consideration and representation.

4. Good boundaries are everything.

Relationships are not made meeting to meeting. Rather, they are built by creating a variety of partnerships. Consider this: What are the formal and informal ways that you invite parents into the school? Family members who can volunteer their time to help out during the day or at school functions are an awesome resource that any principal should feel grateful to have. However, boundaries can help make the relationship a good one. Protect the learning process by creating opportunities for family members to help outside of the classroom. Solicit volunteers for the library, all-school programs, or lunch periods. Doing so allows volunteers to focus on the school community as a whole, not just their individual child.

5. You need boundaries, too.

Your job is to partner with the PTA not micromanage it. Most schools have established PTAs that have their own set of traditions and processes, and you need to respect that. You will know you are being a good collaborator in your partnership if you are keeping the lines of communication open. You don’t have to bow to every request, but you also do not need to oversee every detail of their work. Trust in their leadership and their support with minimal intervention.

6. Provide a window into the school day.

Families want to see the awesome things that kids and teachers are doing. Why not offer to have kids perform or present their work during a PTA meeting? You can also collaborate to design a gallery walk outside the meeting so parents can see kids’ work. While this might be time consuming, know that this is an important investment that you are making toward building good relationships. Kids love having an audience, and families will love seeing what their kids are working on.

7. Say thank you.

You already know that your immediate team and your faculty need and deserve meaningful praise, and that extends to your PTA and your parent volunteers. Strong PTAs contribute tremendously to the school community, and any way you can show gratitude makes a difference.

How do you keep conflict with the PTA at a minimum? Share your tips in the comments.

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Posted by Anne Rubin

Anne Gomez Rubin has been a dean and teacher in Minneapolis, MN, since 2016. She tweets about education, intersectional feminism, and tacos on Twitter at @annegrubin .

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