Strengthening the Principal-PTO Relationship

June 2015, Volume 38, Issue 10

In the best sense, the relationship between a principal and his or her school’s parent teacher organization is symbiotic. When working well, they collaborate in a way that efficiently accomplishes their common goal: improving the school.

In a recent issue of Principal, Jennifer Schwanke from Scottish Corners Elementary School in Dublin, Ohio, shared some of the best practices she has found that help her and her PTO run like a fine Swiss watch. Here are some of the highlights:

Communication, Communication, Communication

In many schools, the PTO is run like an independent entity of the school. PTOs organize their own events, have their own budget, and strive toward their own goals. It’s no surprise that in schools like these, the PTO and the administration might butt heads when those goals collide.

Schwanke takes any opportunity she can to connect with her PTO, including informally in the halls and calling for informal meetings with the executive committee. She is also a consistent presence at board meetings and even subcommittee meetings—anywhere that she feels she could add value. This pays off not only in building relationships, but also in providing a perspective that parents might not have.

Don’t be a Micromanager

When this level of communication is successful, the principal and the PTO both feel comfortable in the PTO taking over the minutia of running the organization without the principal’s direct involvement. Needless to say, anything that can take tasks off of a principal’s plate is welcome.

What qualifies as minutia? Consider these questions: Does the principal really need to be involved in PTO event planning? What about organizing volunteers on an individual level? Editing the email the group is about to send to the school board? You need to be honest with yourself about your available time and the amount of trust you show in the group. Remember that they are often dedicated, educated, and competent members of your community.

Ask for Help Often

Positive symbiotic relationships mean that both parties help each other. If the PTO isn’t helping the administration, it isn’t helping the school. The opposite is also true. A principal can be responsible for giving as much as he or she takes.

This also goes for the PTO. Schwanke has requested a standing agenda item at PTO meetings where the group asks her what the PTO could provide that would help the school. It might be funding, extra volunteers, or political help. In return, she asks the PTO what kind of help she can provide them. Over time, the requests from both truly make each party’s mission successful.

Help With the Internal Politics

Any group of people will have factions that are often critical of where the organization is heading. If these people get the sense that their views are not being heard, they will just get louder until they derail proceedings. This is possible both within the school and inside the PTO.

Schwanke says she is quick to point out the sacrifices, commitment, and good works of the PTO if she ever encounters naysayers. In return, she says the PTO often steps to her defense when someone is critical of the direction of the school and administration. This requires trust, communication, and the understanding of a mutually beneficial relationship.

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