Parent Association’s (PTA, PTO, HSA whatever you want to call them) have earned the bad reputation for being uninviting, clique-like, a private club. How do you break that? So many groups say they want to get rid of that image, have more families join them at their monthly meetings, and join them in volunteering…but do their actions speak louder than their words? I don’t believe you can correct it with one person or tool. It takes a group effort of all those involved using all of the tools.
1. Relationship Building: More than anything else, I think you need to build relationships before the parents are going to jump at joining you; be it for a meeting or volunteering. This takes time. It requires your team to genuinely care about the other families. Yes, you can go through the motions and pretend – but let’s be honest, most of us can see through that. Does it require you to be best friends? No, but find some way to connect. Given that we’re all parents, I can always find something. And one of the easiest ways I find is to ask questions about them. I am always amazed at how much I learn about our community from asking questions of those I am just meeting.
2. The Board Is There To Inspire: Think of your duties not to just “represent,” but to ”inspire.” Inspire others to want to fill the same positions you all are filling currently. Remember that not only do you need help with everything you are doing for the kids now, but you will not be there forever and will need people to take your place. The average parent will need to build up to serving on the board or as a chairperson. Not many will jump in with little to no volunteer time. You need to provide opportunities for them to start small and gradually work their way up to the commitment that serving on the board requires.
3. Stream Meetings Online: This might be one of my favorite ways to allow others to see you are welcoming, fun and open to others ideas and suggestions (of course this mean you actually need to practice these things…otherwise you are just confirming the negative image). Families can sign in from the comfort of their own home and get a view of what your meetings are like and open their mind to attending in person or joining the team.
4. Take Your Meetings To Them: Hosting your monthly meetings at the school doesn’t always work. If you are missing a portion of your population, try other ways. Not only is it more comfortable for others on their own or neutral turf, but it shows that you are open to others being a part of the team. Try community centers, places of worship or anywhere else your families spend time outside of school.
5. Communication: Everyone one of your families has their own preference on how to receive their “news”. If you want to include all families you need to make sure they all get the information you are sharing. That means sharing the same information in many locations and forms. Some options are paper hard copy, email/electronic, social media and text. Your goal is to make sure all of your families are well informed in advance. The beauty of the social media piece is the possibility of two-way communication. Real feedback and idea sharing when face to face isn’t possible.
Ultimately it’s the golden rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated. Welcoming others to be part of your school family the same way you welcome your personal family members into your own home. Is it not?