Congratulations—your child has started kindergarten, and you’ve been invited to join the elementary school’s PTA. PTA stands for Parent-Teacher Association, which is a national umbrella organization made up of individual, dues-paying chapters. In fact, only groups that pay dues to the national organization can call themselves PTAs.
Many parent-teacher groups choose to remain unaffiliated with the PTA, preferring to use the money that would go toward dues to make purchases or improvements to benefit the school directly. These groups use other, more generic names, such as PTO (parent-teacher organization) or PTG (parent-teacher group). Whether your school has a PTA, PTO, or another equivalent group, here are some tips on how to stand out at your first meeting, especially if it is in-person rather than virtual.
Each individual PTA chapter is independent. The main objective is to raise money to support the school, whether that be upgrading the school’s computers, covering the school librarian’s salary, or springing for a schoolwide ice cream party at the end of the year. It’s likely that the school website has a dedicated page where meeting minutes and information about past events can be found. So, one evening, before you head off to your first meeting and once your child has gone to bed, grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, put on your favorite comfy clothes, and spend an hour or two learning about the school’s PTA. This way, you’ll be able to anticipate what topics will be discussed and be prepared to offer your opinions or recommendations.
It can be hard to care about what you’re going to wear to a PTA meeting, especially if it’s an evening meeting, you’ve already worked a full day, and you want nothing more than to kick back in your rattiest pair of sweatpants. But, if you want to be taken seriously, you need to dress the part. By all means, change out of your professional work attire, but do make sure your meeting clothes are clean and free of rips and stains. Even the most casual of outfits—jeans and a T-shirt, for example—can be taken up a notch with the addition of a cardigan sweater.
Similarly, if you’re headed to a daytime PTA meeting that you’re sandwiching between a trip to the gym and grocery shopping, it’s certainly okay to stick with women’s yoga pants. However, skip the sports bra and put on a full-length top. Keep in mind that if a child can’t wear it to school, you probably shouldn’t be wearing it on school grounds when students are present in the building.
When a bunch of parents are discussing what’s best for their child’s school, things can sometimes get contentious. You aren’t going to agree with every idea another parent has, and they are not going to agree with you. For example, parent A might want to do a wrapping paper fundraiser, parent B might prefer to sell candy, and you might think popcorn is the best way to go. If you keep in mind the end goal—to support the school, which means its faculty, staff, and students—you should be able to reach a consensus.
All those things the PTA does for your school? They don’t happen magically. It takes a lot of hard work and often physical labor to accomplish goals. So, don’t just sit in meetings and talk about what needs to be done. Volunteer to help make it happen. Does the PTA want to put in a vegetable garden for the kindergarteners? Throw on a pair of women’s jeans, roll up your shirt sleeves, don a pair of work gloves, and start digging.
When you do volunteer, play to your strengths. There’s always a need for parents to solicit contributions from community businesses, but if you’re not comfortable asking people for donations, don’t take on that role. If you love baking, contribute two or three items to the annual bake sale or cakewalk instead of just one, and then help keep the goodies table organized. If you’re a graphic artist, offer to design event posters.
Nothing makes a great impression like bringing munchies to a meeting. There will always be an attendee who forgot to eat a meal or has been running around and hasn’t had time. So, grab a canvas tote bag and load it up with an assortment of snacks. Be sure to keep in mind that many people have dietary restrictions, so be sure to include foods that are dairy-free, gluten-free, low carb or vegan. If you want to keep things healthy, opt for fruit and vegetable trays with dips on the side. Everyone should be able to eat something from the trays.
Participating in PTA meetings not only benefits your child and their school, but it also offers parents the opportunities to make friendships that often endure long after their children have moved on to other schools. When all is said on done, then the best way to stand out at your first PTA meeting is simply to be yourself.