Mastering the Three-Legged Race - Association of ...

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Mastering the Three-Legged Race - Association of ...
Mastering the
     Three-Legged Race
                                                              David Jones
                    Jen Hirman                                Past President, Elementary
                    President, Everett                        School Principals             PRINCIPAL EVALUATION CRITERIA
                    Council PTSA                              Association of Washington     Engaging Families and Communities

               very Field Day, the three-      The relationship between a                  First, a reminder of who makes
               legged-race is a big event.     school’s administration and parent          up the team. A Parent Teacher
               And, every year, within the     organization can be a bit like a team       Association (PTA or other parent
               first 10 yards, it is easy to   in a three-legged-race. You are bound       organization) is legally separated
               see which teams will finish     together, in a very public way, and you     from a school system. They select
               well and which won’t.           are supposed to be moving together          their own leadership and committee
                                               toward a common goal line. With a           chairs. They write their own by-laws,
     Some teams move in smooth                 bit of careful forethought and agreed       draft their own budget, and manage
     coordination, employing some              upon operating systems, the entire          their own finances. They create
     pre-agreed system to stay in sync.        school community wins when the              annual goals, decide which programs
     Other teams are clearly out of            leadership in both organizations takes      to implement, and establish their
     balance, with one teammate pulling        steps to ensure the partnership works       meeting calendar. They are supported
     harder than the other, or taking long,    together well. Not all PTAs are created     by their own district, regional, state,
     fast steps while the other moves at a     equal. Some schools have stronger           and national systems, which provide
     different pace.                           PTAs than others, but principals can        excellent structures and leadership
     At the extreme, these teammates pull      help support the development of a           development programs.
     against each other, tumble over, get      PTA no matter where theirs currently
     angry and start blaming.                  stands.

Mastering the Three-Legged Race - Association of ...
Three-legged race, Kentfield May Day Celebration, Marin County, California, 1909

Strategies to build a productive
relationship with your PTA
       You are bound together, in a very public way, and you are supposed to be moving together
       toward a common goal line. With a bit of careful forethought and agreed upon operating
       systems, the entire school community wins when the leadership in both organizations
       takes steps to ensure the partnership works together well.”

Schools, on the other hand, are bound   So, why add one more leadership role              Too often, new administrators view
by national and state laws, district    to your list of duties? Put simply,               organized parent groups as a threat.
policies, and collective bargaining     most parents and the community at                 It’s easy to worry about what gets
agreements. Their success, and the      large conjoin these two organizations             talked about in the parking lot, or
success of their administration,        when forming their impression of                  whether parents are second guessing
are judged by the ability to achieve    your school. Almost everything you                your actions. As a new administrator,
externally-determined metrics. A        do to strengthen the relationship                 you are the last one in the door.
single school administrator may, in     between your school and your                      Parents, in some cases, have been
many cases, be responsible for the      school’s PTA has the potential to                 with the school for decades. Seasoned,
performance of 60-90 direct reports.    increase student achievement, parent              successful administrators know that
Reaching out for more-frequent          satisfaction, school safety, and the              a healthy PTA can help achieve many
and deeper involvement with a PTA       overall sense that your school is well-           desired elements in a school’s vision,
may feel impossible to an already       functioning.                                      far beyond what a school’s resources
overworked school administrator.
                                                                                                                      Continued on page 22

                                                                               WASHINGTON PRINCIPAL | VOLUME 3 – 2019-20                                21
Mastering the Three-Legged Race - Association of ...
Continued from page 21

     or staffing can handle. But, where to       TRAPS FOR                                    • Allowing preferential treatment for
     begin?                                                                                     the children of PTA leaders. Nothing
                                                 ADMINISTRATORS TO                              good ever comes from this. Ever.
     Nothing starts the administrator/PTA        AVOID:
     relationship on the right path better                                                    • Leaving PTA leadership in the
     than a meeting before the start of          • Treating PTA leaders as employees            dark about upcoming changes and
     the school year to share goals, discuss       who can be told what to do and how           challenges. When you share news
     procedures, and clarify roles. Here is        to do it. Remember, these folks are          with your PTA leaders you gain a
     a possible agenda for an early August         volunteers, giving their time out of         sense of how the range of parents
     meeting between the school principal          a desire to serve.                           in the community will respond, and
     and the PTA Executive Committee:                                                           help those parent leaders explain to
                                                                                                other parents the rationale behind
                                                                                                an upcoming change.

       1.   Discuss/write norms and                    g. Posting information on the     9. Talk through where, if at all, PTA
            guidelines for your shared time.               school’s reader board or          supplies may be stored on the site.
            Encourage your PTA leaders to                  displaying posters/banners on
            bring along any plans or materials             school grounds                10. Explain how custodial time and
            that they would like to share with                                               services can be requested for
                                               5.     Clarify whether the PTA can use        non-school events, and whether
                                                      the school’s photocopiers, and,        there is a charge.
       2.   Talk through the annual goals             if so, how copies will be tracked
            for the school, and those for the         and charged. If the PTA will have 11. Work out the expected role of
            PTA. Seek ways for these two              access to photocopiers, clarify        the school administration at
            organizations to mutually support         who will provide training for the      PTA meetings. Will there be a
            each other, and to identify and           volunteers, how to report a paper      scheduled time on each meeting’s
                                                                                             agenda for a Principal’s Report?
            focus on shared goals. Think Venn         jam or refill the paper drawer.
            Diagram.                                  Address access to other workroom 12. Talk about how the PTA Exec
                                                      materials, such as colored paper,      Committee and the principal will
       3.   Review the annual calendar for            staplers, and markers.
            the school and the PTA. Identify                                                 communicate. Will the Committee
            and resolve potential conflicts,     6.   Talk through systems for               request time on the principal’s
            including busy times of the year          distributing PTA flyers and other      calendar?
            when school families might                materials to students and their      13. Remind everyone that every
            feel overly stretched or testing          families, and the need for the           minute at school is instructional
            windows when there is limited             PTA logo to be on each item              time. Proposed assemblies and
            access for visitors or events on          distributed.                             other uses of the instructional day
            campus.                                                                            are expected to contribute to the
                                                 7.   Discuss the handling of money.
                                                                                               educational program and must
       4.   Clarify contact people within the         PTA rules and often district
                                                                                               tie directly to one or more state
            school for the following:                 policies prohibit school staff
                                                      from collecting money for a PTA
            a. Request for use of the facility        function during their paid work       14. Clarify that the PTA does not have
            b. Additions/changes to the               day. If this is the case, clarify who     a say in school decisions, but can
               school event calendar                  from the PTA will be available            be an important sounding board
                                                      to receive money from parents             before decisions are made, a key
            c. Access to the site after hours         or students for PTA functions.            source of parent representatives
            d. Providing information for the          Consider installing a locked office       on hiring committees, an
               school or PTA newsletter               drop box for PTA membership               essential resource as chaperones
                                                      forms and checks.                         on field trips, trained as effective
            e. Requesting background                                                            classroom volunteers, and serve in
               clearance for volunteers          8.   Review the procedures for signing
                                                      in and out when on campus as a            many other ways that contribute
            f. Proposing before/after school          volunteer.                                to the overall functioning of the
               clubs and activities                                                             school.

Mastering the Three-Legged Race - Association of ...
• Shortcutting the PTA decision-                   The entire school community benefits from the
  making process. No individual PTA
  member, even the PTA president,                  coordination between these two entities, capitalizing
  can commit to a project or decision              on the talents and energy of parents to advance the
  without first consulting their
  board. PTAs are self-governing,                  mission of the school.”
  member-led associations with
  bylaws and guidelines. Honor their       OTHER THINGS TO                             ahead of time that shouldn’t be under
                                                                                       consideration. For example, the
  structure, processes and timeline.       CONSIDER:                                   classroom pet that the science teacher
• Failing to support enrichment            Be clear as to which PTA events/            is asking the PTA to buy may not be
  and recognition programs offered         programs need to be approved by the         permitted under district polity, or
  by your PTA. Our state and local         school administration before they are       perhaps the climbing wall the PTA
  organizations have access to many        shared with parents, and which can be       is excited about adding to the gym
  programs that support children,          approved by someone other than the          can not be covered by the district
  families and schools. If your PTA        school’s administration.                    insurance.
  wants to offer a program, find a staff
                                           The PTA Board members will be               New PTA leaders should understand
  member who will serve as the school
                                           talking with many more parents than         that, when speaking with the school
  liaison to the committee organizing
                                           the school administration and can           administration or another staff
  this assistance, and make sure the
                                           be effective ‘ears on the ground’ to        member, they need to be clear when
  program receives the attention and
                                           identify concerns and issues in the         they are speaking as a parent and
  support it needs.
                                           school community. Clarify when and          when they are representing the PTA.
• Neglecting to model to staff the         what kind of concerns (or gossip) to
  respect and appreciation for the         share with each other, and how to           PTA members must be trained on
  PTA that these volunteers deserve.       respond if a student’s safety is at risk.   FERPA laws. Students and families
                                                                                       have a right to privacy, and a child’s
                                           Remember that if the PTA leadership         safety may even be a stake. Schools by
                                           finds itself in a jam the school            law may not share addresses, parent
                                           administration can be a helpful,            contact information, phone numbers,
                                           confidential resource. Principals           student names or birth dates with
                                           know a lot about leadership, problem-       anyone without a parent’s permission.
                                           solving, and working with difficult         FERPA also applies to photographs
                                           people. You share the PTA’s desire          taken at school and at events in which
                                           that the school environment be              student faces are recognizable. As a
                                           positive and well-functioning. Be           workaround, PTAs will often have
                                           open to help as needed.                     their own social media accounts and
                                           While principals cannot serve on            will want to share pictures publicly,
                                           a PTA’s nominating committee,               following their organization’s privacy
                                           administration and office staff can         policies.
                                           be especially helpful to PTAs by            Discuss the expectation that PTA
                                           keeping an eye out for other parents        volunteers will follow the district’s
                                           who regularly volunteer at the school       confidentiality policies. When on
                                           and contribute to a positive school         campus, volunteers will inevitably
                                           climate. PTA leadership changes from        observe actions and come across
                                           year to year as children graduate and       information that must remain
                                           parents move on. Identifying future         private. It helps to rehearse possible
                                           parent leaders can help sustain a high      scenarios and appropriate responses,
                                           performing PTA, and for struggling          including which staff will serve as
                                           PTAs this is a way you can help build       a contact to handle questions and
                                           their membership.                           concerns from PTA volunteers.
                                           If the PTA is in the fortunate              Often, PTA regions or councils offer
                                           situation of having funds that can          a workshop titled, “PTA and the
                                           be used for classroom or school             Principal.” Invite your PTA President
                                           grants, help the PTA understand any
                                           limitations and weed out requests                             Continued on page 24

                                                                                 WASHINGTON PRINCIPAL | VOLUME 3 – 2019-20      23
Continued from page 23

     or Executive Committee to attend
     with you. This is one more way
     administrators can strengthen their
     relationship with their school’s PTA
     leadership and can demonstrate
     their active, visible support of the
     organization’s positive influence on
     the school.

            The cheers that
            erupt when a team                   other partnerships and is a reason         over the last 10 years, including school
            successfully crosses                for the entire school community to         volunteer, PTA President, and most
                                                celebrate. Your leadership can build       recently as the President of the Everett
            the finish line can also            that level of coordination and get         PTSA Council.
            echo in June if your                that team to the finish line smoothly,     David Jones, Ed.D, has worked as a
                                                efficiently and without a lot of
            admin/PTA team is                   shouting or blame. n
                                                                                           teacher, counselor and principal at the
                                                                                           elementary, middle and high school
            functioning well.”                  Jen Hirman, Ph.D, has been a teacher       level, and most recently served as the
                                                with the Peace Corps and in the US,        President of the Elementary School
                                                as well as served in various PTA roles     Principals Association of Washington.
     It takes time, effort and foresight
     to establish and maintain a positive         TRAPS FOR PTA MEMBERS TO AVOID:
     relationship between a school
     administration and PTA. When that            • As actively involved school            • Blurring the lines between PTA
     relationship is working well the               volunteers, assuming a level of          and school programs and events.
     administration feels supported and             familiarity and sidestepping rules.      This can lead to invalidated
     in sync with the parent community.             Always sign in. Always wear a            insurance coverage for PTAs and
     School staff benefit from a powerful           visitor badge, even if “they know        confusion over who is responsible
     partner, helping them meet the                 me.” Do not drop by a classroom          if an incident occurs. Make sure
     needs of their students. Members of            unexpectedly. It’s important for         that contracts for PTA events are
     the PTA see their efforts and energy           PTA members to remember they             signed by PTA elected officers and
     making a positive, direct impact. The          serve as role models for parent          PTA money, either for an event,
     entire school community benefits               engagement in the school’s               fundraising or membership, is
     from the coordination between                  community.                               handled only by PTA volunteers
     these two entities, capitalizing on                                                     and not staff, unless those staff are
                                                  • Using PTA funds to cover items           ‘off the clock.’
     the talents and energy of parents to           that should be paid out of the
     advance the mission of the school.             district or school’s budget. Parents   • Interceding in parent concerns. If a
     Remember that field day analogy and            feel strongly about helping out          parent approaches you to complain
     the three-legged race?                         their school and want to make            about something at school the
                                                    sure no need goes unmet, but             most helpful response is, “I know
     The cheers that erupt when a team              PTA funding should be for                the school is working hard to
     successfully crosses the finish line can       enhancements or enrichments,             serve this community, and I know
     also echo in June if your admin/PTA            not basic education.                     they want to hear from you if you
     team is functioning well. Coordinated                                                   have a concern. Have you talked
     teamwork is the foundation for               • Being overly social with the             with the teacher/staff member/
     success, in which students’ lives are          front office staff during school         administration about this yet?”
     enriched, teachers are supported and           hours. PTA members want to feel
     parents are engaged.                           connected with the school and can
                                                    forget that all paid staff have many
     A positive administration/PTA                  other responsibilities that need to
     relationship becomes a model for               be completed throughout the day.

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