While being involved in your school's PTA can, of course, be incredibly rewarding, not to mention a great way to make friends and feel closer to your school community, it's not without its challenges. Whether it's dealing with ungrateful parents, difficult teachers or unwelcoming committee members, being on a PTA can be tough – especially when you consider that it's a voluntary role. Here, Rona advises on how to deal with some of the most talked-about issues on our PTA forums.
Our PTA committee is really cliquey! If you're not part of the 'A team' then it's really hard to get your opinion heard, or even be acknowledged by them. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to turn up to meetings. How can I get them to include me and listen to my ideas?
Feeling thwarted in getting our opinions heard can be a common problem. Those in the 'A team' can dominate, which can lead to resentment and you may feel upset and discouraged, as if your opinions do not matter. It can help to recognise that in most cases this is not an intentional rejection of your input – rather, when these dynamics occur, people are often less confident than they appear and dominate discussions in order to boost their own self-esteem. In order to maintain harmony, could you go to the most approachable member of this group individually with one of your ideas? This may make them more able to hear your suggestions and get them on board. You could say something like: 'I thought you might like this idea, Sarah...' to get their attention. You could also put across your ideas via another platform, such as email or Facebook, using the same tactics. Perhaps you could speak to the PTA chair about your concerns? Or you could suggest a social activity to encourage inclusion of all members. Of course, if you feel too upset you may need to consider how much energy you wish to expend on this.
Parents at our school are quick to criticise PTA initiatives and can also be very negative (and rude!) about the PTA – and the school in general – on our parents' Facebook page. How should we respond?
It is very easy to criticise the efforts of others without doing anything helpful ourselves! This is particularly likely to occur online, where people feel freer to voice negative opinions. There are a number of different ways in which to approach this. It is wise to have social media rules and guidelines in place, with a clear indication that rudeness and negativity are not acceptable in this group. A mediator (there can be more than one) can remind parents to offer constructive criticism and positive ideas – and remove rude or aggressive comments, if necessary. Sometimes people can be critical when they feel ignored or have been unable to get their suggestions heard. Asking for their positive input will either elicit constructive ideas or you may find they suddenly become very quiet! The PTA could put out regular social media posts encouraging positive discussion to raise school community morale. If the situation continues, you can request that the head meets with the parents who are critical, along with the chair of the PTA and, possibly, a parent governor.
We're a large school but it's always the same small group of people who offer to help at events and we're sick of constantly asking for more help but not getting any response – it's so demoralising. What can we do?
Again, it is very common for certain people to offer to help and organise events and for it to fall to these same people time and time again. While some people enjoy these activities, if they do not receive any support they can find themselves feeling increasingly burnt out and resentful. It can be helpful to consider whether other parents are aware that this is becoming a problem for them.
Generic requests for help tend to be ignored, so you could get the head, a member of staff, or someone from the PTA to chat to parents at the school gate and suggest how grateful they would be if the parent could support the school in any way: 'No pressure, but have a think about it and let us know if you'd like to help'. Offering specific suggestions that do not indicate any kind of ongoing commitment might be more successful than open-ended requests and the suggestion could be made to bring a friend or another parent along to help.
Another way to increase support is by creating a skills database for parents – the school, via the PTA, could send out a letter asking all parents to list any talents and skills/support they could offer once (or more regularly) at PTA and school events. It's also worth considering if there are any incentives you could offer in return for help – for example, if helping with a paying event, your child gets in for free.
Our school has a new head and she isn't cooperating with the PTA. It's really affecting our fundraising. How can we change this?
Developing a good working relationship between the head and the PTA is paramount in order to support the school. The head should at least attend the PTA AGM to show support and to understand what parents are thinking. They may be feeling unsupported, overwhelmed or just too busy. Could the PTA chair meet with the head to discuss and work towards mutual goals? If the stalemate continues, the PTA chair could approach a parent governor to raise the issue with the governing body. The governing body can then establish what support the head may need and tactfully and sensitively suggest solutions for a way forward.
We've got money to spend and our school have given us a wishlist of items but our members are arguing over what to spend it on. Who gets final say and how do we resolve internal disagreements?
You have money to spend so, firstly, celebrate your achievement in raising these funds! As well as PTA and staff opinion, it can be helpful to seek the thoughts of the wider parent body as they may come up with some good ideas. Draw up a priority list of what would benefit the school, scaling according to urgency. If there are PTA members who disagree with the suggested order of priority, might a compromise be suggested – that the current money goes towards the widely agreed priority and money from a future event goes towards one of the other ideas, for example? If no agreement can be reached, those parents who disagree can be invited to an informal meeting with the head and PTA chair to try to end the impasse. It makes sense for the head, staff and governors to have input on what the priority should be. It would be helpful to have these discussions prior to fundraising, so that everyone is clear what money is being raised for and disagreements do not occur.
- Rona Waldon-Saunders (Dip Couns BACP (Accred)) is a student counsellor at the University of Brighton