Six Ways to Fix the “Everyone Welcome Sign” on Your PTA

By: California State PTA Leadership Services and Family Engagement Commissions

You’re in the PTA to do good things for all kids and families. You might think your PTA is a place where everyone feels welcome, but others could see it differently because of popular media stereotypes, hearsay, or even personal experiences. These steps can improve your welcoming and inclusive environment and might even grow your PTA and attract some more great volunteers. 

  1. Create a welcoming committee

Jennifer, a kindergarten mom, goes to a PTA meeting for the first time. No one greets her, and the officers do not acknowledge her. When the events chair gives a report, she uses acronyms and makes references to activities Jennifer has never heard of.

Why people might feel excluded: Jennifer was interested in the PTA, but at the meeting, she didn’t know who the members were or what they were talking about. Not only did she feel like an outsider; she also felt like she didn’t know how to contribute.

The way to fix it:  Form a welcome committee or assign an officer to greet newcomers at each meeting. Wear name tags. Avoid using acronyms or jargon. Follow up with new attendees after the meeting to answer any questions they have about the PTA or learn whether they have any ideas about how they can help. Welcoming everyone is the first step in the PTA Family-School Partnership toolkit – find more info on this research based family engagement resource on the California State PTA website.

  1. Recruit everyone

Several seasoned PTA volunteers are setting up at the annual back-to-school night. As they unload decorations, they walk by the playground where a new parent at the school is playing with her kids. They invite her to the event but don’t introduce themselves or ask whether she’s interested in getting involved.

Why people might feel excluded: This new parent might have been looking for ways to get involved and meet new people. By walking by and only asking her to participate without telling her what they were doing, the PTA volunteers missed an opportunity to engage and invite a new volunteer into the group.

The way to fix it: It’s not always easy to know how your PTA is perceived. But consider every meeting with a new family an opportunity to talk about what your PTA does and to invite them to get involved. Remember to ask again later, too! If someone isn’t available the first time, they may be more receptive to a repeat request for help. Find recruitment ideas, tips, templates, and resources on the California State PTA website from the state Membership Services Commission!

  1. Be available

The PTA doesn’t communicate well with parents and there’s no list of officers on a bulletin board, website, or in a newsletter. Parents don’t know who runs the PTA or how to contact them.

Why people might feel excluded: Being unavailable makes the group feel exclusive as if members don’t want to share the information because they aren’t looking for new help. If it’s too hard to get “in,” some people will just stop trying. When you give up the chance to tell your own story, folks can make their own. Remember the adage that negative news travels twice as fast as positive.

The way to fix it: Find a volunteer who can keep your website updated regularly with every officer’s contact information. Link your PTA information to the school website, and supply the school administrators with the most updated list of officers, including email addresses and phone numbers, as parents will often call the school looking for information. The California State PTA Communications Commission has monthly meetings to support local leaders in their communication efforts – register now!

  1. Always follow up

The PTA asks parents to fill out a volunteer interest survey, but no one follows up with them. Parents who were willing to give their time assume that the PTA doesn’t need or want their help after all.

Why people might feel excluded: If someone offers to help and isn’t contacted, it feels like rejection. Rejection is key to the clique culture and breeds resentment and negativity. It can stunt further involvement by the potential volunteer (and their wider group of friends).

The way to fix it: Be diligent in following up after asking for input. Whether it’s on a fundraising survey or volunteer sign-up form, remember that parents took the time to respond to your request. You’ll be asking the same group for their help again in the future (maybe even next week!) and you’ll want their participation again. Try an online volunteer sign-up and management system; it makes following up much easier. It’s also okay to say sorry if you’ve dropped the ball but make a commitment to do better next time.

  1. Include New People in Decision Making and Leadership Roles

When the same people have been officers for years, newcomers feel like they’re not wanted or shouldn’t bother because they don’t have enough experience to take on a leadership role. When you do need to fill a volunteer position, you offer it to a friend.

Why people might feel excluded: The doors appear to be closed to new volunteers and their fresh ideas—which they might take to another organization if you don’t offer them an opportunity to get involved with your group. By not sharing information about volunteer openings, people who might want the job feel excluded.

The way to fix it: Set up a succession plan for the major roles on your PTA board. Use committees to allow volunteers to “ease into” learning about your PTA’s work and to provide places for them to engage between elections. A new leader might be interested in being an officer, so keep that in mind. Keep new volunteers informed by providing job descriptions including the time involved, so parents can choose what fits their schedules and interests best. Also, include a timeline of when new board and committee chairpeople are selected. You can find information on PTA elections, job descriptions and so much more in the “Run Your PTA” section of the California State PTA website from the Leadership Services Commission.

  1. Build diversity

You’ve held the same event for years, run by the same tight-knit group of people, and attendance has been dropping. A whole group of families have never partici­pated because they don’t feel like the event includes them.

Why people might feel excluded: When different voices aren’t included in the planning and execution of an event, the ideas get stale and only appeal to a select few. For example, Doughnuts with Dads excludes any student whose father isn’t involved in the family or one who has two Moms.

The way to fix it: Invite idea-sharing and feedback from people outside the usual circle of leaders and volunteers. Take notice of parents who don’t usually get involved; talk with them and personally invite them to share opinions and join committees. Make sure you have a wide representation on your board and in your committees including parents with kids in different grades, in different activities and caregivers who might not be parents or speak different languages. And don’t be satisfied with contacting just one member of a new group; no one wants to be a token, so invite three or four new people at minimum. And ask them to invite some friends. You can find information on how to build a more diverse, equitable & inclusive PTA on National PTA’s website. 

Takeaways

Getting involved in your school’s PTA should be open to everyone and feel welcome and inclusive.  It shouldn’t bring back memories of cliques, popu­lar kids, or being left out. Here’s your to-do list when you are trying to break the per­ception (or reality) of a PTA that doesn’t feel welcoming to everyone:

  • Remind officers to socialize outside of their “officer” circle at meetings and school events.
  • Have a greeter at the door of your events to make newcomers feel welcome.
  • Use name tags so that newcomers will know better who’s who.
  •  Always explain business items and acronyms even if they’re held over from previous meetings. Don’t presume everybody knows.
  • Make people raise their hands and be recognized before they speak. Otherwise, meetings can devolve into chitchat, almost always among the “regulars.”
  • Set up simple ways for everyone to get involved. Make it easy for volunteers to see what type of help is needed, along with specific time slots.
  • Include current PTA leader contact information and planned events on the about page of your website and social media accounts. Consider the addition of brief job descriptions for officers and committee chairs.

Family Engagement is a Shared Responsibility


By Heather Ippolito, Vice President for Family Engagement , California State PTA

Whose job is it to create partnerships between families and the schools that serve them? That question has driven the work of Dr. Karen Mapp, a Harvard professor and a contributing expert to the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships that we have been sharing over the past few months. 

At a really basic level, her answer to that question is that both school personnel and family members are crucial to making the partnership work.

Dr. Mapp has spent her career working with educators and parents to cultivate partnerships between schools, families, and the community to support the best outcomes for our students. In 2019 she updated her Dual-Capacity Framework to better reflect the challenges faced by both educators and families and to give more direction on how we can work together in our schools.  

The framework contains four sections. Addressing all four can provide crucial support for strong family, school and community partnerships. Let’s go through each section briefly:

#1 – Challenges.  Dr. Mapp notes that before we talk about all the things that need to happen for successful partnerships we need to address the barriers and challenges that schools and parents face for family engagement.  

Barriers educators face include not having received much training in this area and, with the exception of very few, not seeing family engagement done well.  Parents’ challenges include not feeling welcomed on campus or having negative experiences with their own education that color their feelings towards a school setting.  

#2 – Essential Conditions. There are two different types of essential conditions; process and organizational conditions.  

Process conditions include things like having family engagement linked to student learning and making sure it is culturally responsive. Additionally, Dr. Mapp says that in the process category family engagement should be collaborative and interactive with a focus on building relationships. The organizational conditions that need to be met include family engagement being visible across the entire educational system meaning that family engagement needs to be supported by everyone from teachers to superintendents in order to be effective.  There must also be resources devoted to the program and it should be embedded in all aspects of education. 

#3 – Policy and Program Goals. There are “4 C” areas that Dr. Mapp feels must be met in the policy and program areas- Capabilities, Connections, Confidence, and Cognition.  

Capabilities include skills and knowledge. Schools need to understand the community they are working in and they need cultural competencies to be able to work with the families at their school. Parents need to have a better understanding of the educational system and strategies they can use at home to support learning.  

Connections are the important relationships and networks built on mutual trust and respect that need to be formed between parents and teachers, parents and parents, and the school and community.  

Both families and educators need confidence in working together. They need to have time to develop self-efficacy as they navigate this work and educators and parents of diverse backgrounds need to be encouraged to participate and be included in positions of leadership.  

Finally, cognition refers to families needing to see themselves as key partners in their child’s educational success. Schools need to be committed to working with all parents and see the value of including families in all aspects of the educational experience. 

#4 – Capacity Outcomes.  If we build up the capacity in our parents and educators then the real work of coming together to make improvements for our schools and our students can begin. Parents become supporters, advocates and co-creators at the school and educators create welcoming school cultures where families are encouraged to be co-creators and acknowledged for the skills and talents they bring to the campus. 

Our role as PTA leaders is to understand that schools and families need to work together.  We can use the Dual Capacity-Building Framework in our work with families and we can offer parent education to help parents understand how to navigate the education system or see how they can support their child at home. PTA programs can help to shift parents’ perspectives about school from negative to positive as we help them create positive interactions with teachers, administrators, and school staff at our events. 

To learn more about National PTA’s Transformative Family Engagement work, visit the Center for Family Engagement

Dr. Mapp, in collaboration with the Institute for Educational Leadership, has videos, graphics and lots of resources for anyone who is wanting to dive deeper into this. They can be accessed here:  https://www.dualcapacity.org/

Family-School Partnership Standard #6: Collaborating With Community 


By Kathleen Fay, California State PTA Family Engagement Commission Consultant

The PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnerships offer best practices for increasing authentic family engagement in our schools. The sixth standard, Collaborating with Community is the final standard and concludes our series (find links to the entire series below).  This standard encourages families and school staff to work with their community to provide expanded learning opportunities, offer community services, and promote civic participation.

Parents and school leaders can collaborate with businesses, community organizations, and institutions of higher education to strengthen the school, make resources available, and build a family-friendly community. Here are some ideas:

Connect families with local resources. 

  • Partner with your school to create a resource station offering brochures and flyers about local colleges, health services, sports teams, and service-learning opportunities.  
  • Include PTA and school or district programs offered throughout the year, such as a used clothing or athletic equipment exchange, dental clinic, or summer program expo.
  • Provide information online through your school or PTA website.  

Identify and work with community partners.  

  • Consider having your PTA publish lists on its website or hold a resource fair to let families know about partners, programs, and services, such as after-school programs and summer camps offered by community partners.
  • Invite community organizations and businesses to sponsor events like family science, math or reading nights, or offer donations and/or scholarships to programs like student leadership academies.   
    • Tip for PTA Leaders: review and follow the California State PTA Toolkit guidelines for cash and in-kind Donations
  • Ask local specialists to present parent education forums virtually or in person about their areas of expertise, such as health, raising adolescents, and keeping kids safe online. 

Partner with other community groups to support student success.  

  • Promote student skills to the community by partnering with the school to help high school students start up a local café and bookstore, offer graphic design and printing services, or do carpentry and light home repair.  
  • Work with local groups to solve problems by getting supplies and labor donated so families and students can fix up a deteriorating park, renovate a home for a family in need, or plant a community garden.  
  • Partner with other community groups to organize or participate in a resource fair, health expo, cultural celebration, or a job fair at your school.

These ideas are all designed to help PTA connect the school and the community in ways that benefit both and build stronger ties. Do you have a great suggestion for supporting student success?  Please share it with us and you may be featured on our social media.

This article is part of a series covering the PTA Standards for Family-School Partnerships.  You can see the other blog posts in this series below: