7 Things I Wish I Knew as The New PTA President
Let’s face it: Taking over as PTA or PTO President can be overwhelming and a little nerve-wracking. Hundreds of parents are looking to you to make sound decisions on behalf of their children’s education. Not least of these is this question: How are we going to raise money for our school?
Not to worry. After years of working with thousands of parent organizations, we’ve learned a thing or two about PTA/PTO Presidents and what makes them successful, from unique people skills to a PTA bio example. That’s why we asked Cathy Ellis, a former PTA President for two years and PTA-involved parent for 13 years, about seven things she wished she knew as the incoming PTA President.
Here’s what Cathy had to say about knocking your first year as PTA or PTO President out of the park:
1. You CANNOT do it all yourself—even you, “Super-Mom”
You would think I was ready when I stepped into the position, but there are many things I wish I knew when I first started. Here’s the first one: Your role as a PTO president or leader is to guide, encourage, and facilitate — NOT TO DO IT ALL! I am, by nature, way out there on the type A scale. (My honorary Booster nickname is “Charts and Graphy Cathy.”)
I like to control EVERYTHING, but I found out the hard way that trying to do too much results in burnout and much less buy-in from others. Regardless of what you may have heard, gathering assistance is actually a sign of strength in a PTO President, not weakness. Learn about the talents of those around you and build a PTA team with a little of everything. Putting others’ talents to use helps the PTA team, builds support from an extensive group, and makes those individuals shine.
2. Relationships are your best friend
Getting to know the school staff and PTA parents is time well spent. Here’s why: It makes all of the “work” worthwhile! Some of the most creative PTA project ideas began as casual chats about how the day was going. Then, those ideas evolved into ways the PTA could help enhance the lives of the students at school. So, dig into the needs and desires of school leaders (i.e., a problem the principal is facing or things that would simplify the teachers’ daily routines). Bottom line: Ask leaders, “What’s one thing I can do to make your life easier?”
3. Uphold unity at all cost
Personality differences can occasionally “stir the pot” among PTA volunteers. It isn’t always one big happy family. When differences arise, resist the temptation to take sides and instead work with resolve to re-align everyone toward the common goal. This is harder than it sounds. It takes careful thought, choice words, and often one-on-one chats. But if you act and speak from your heart, the rewards are immense.
4. Let YOUR personality shine through!
You don't have to fill your predecessor’s shoes. You may feel like all eyes are on you sometimes, but no one expects you to be a clone of the previous PTA or PTO President — so stop trying! Remember, there are many ways to accomplish a task. As long as you move towards the shared goal, you can relax, enjoy the ride, relish the friendships, and let YOUR personality shine on the way!
5. Think students first
Have you ever wondered, what is the purpose of PTA in schools? The answer is students first. This should be the foundation for EVERYTHING YOU DO as PTA President and everything the PTA does. You and the PTA are there to serve, and true service is not always the easiest, quickest, or least expensive. It can be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but if your heart is in it, and it ultimately benefits the students, it’s likely the right thing to do. Most importantly, your actions as PTA President should positively impact the lives of the students, staff, and the entire school community.
6. Ideally, wear a variety of “hats” before starting
Before I became PTA President, I had no idea how helpful my previous PTA experience would be. Serving in a variety of roles is the perfect training ground. Becoming familiar with the ins and outs of committees and responsibilities will equip you to fulfill your role as PTA or PTO President. It also will give you and others confidence in your leadership ability.
I began my PTA experience by serving on a committee or two, then switched to different positions as the years went on. When I was finally elected to serve as PTA President, I felt much more confident going in. If you didn’t get the chance to serve in another role, you could always call up someone who did and pick their brain.
7. Volunteer Coordinating 101: Be specific, NEVER turn down a volunteer, and NEVER forget to say thank you
Do you need volunteers? Be specific in describing what you want them to do. Instead of requesting “Three people to work on a project,” request, “Three people who can cut, trace, and color to create a six-foot-by-eight-foot map of the USA by Friday.” People who volunteer really want to help! LET THEM!
Do you have more volunteers than you really need? (I know — you wish!) Find something for them to do. If they think they are not needed, they may not volunteer the next time. And whether they serve one hour per year or one hour per day, every volunteer is valuable — so let them know it! A warm word of thanks or a brief thank you note means more than you know.
My PTA experience has taught me so much, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that it has afforded me. If this is your first year as PTA President and you want to define what is the purpose of PTA in schools, these seven principles are sure to set you up for success.
Cathy Ellis lives in Stuart, Florida with her husband Charlie and their three kids: Alec (21), Anna (16), and Amelia (14). Cathy served Felix A. Williams Elementary School (the school her children attended) for 13 years in various capacities. Currently, she works part-time as a “soap maker’s apprentice” and is heading into her third year as the Band Booster President at Jensen Beach High School, where her son played trumpet and her girls are in the Color Guard.
For the past 15 years, Boosterthon has strengthened schools by increasing funds and inspiring students through a remarkable fitness and character-based experience. This year, over a million students and 1,900 schools will participate in a Boosterthon program. With us, schools raise more, stress less, and provide a positive experience for every student.