One of the most effective ways to ensure your success as a PTO leader is to develop a good relationship with your Principal. A lot of times the Principal is the gatekeeper when it comes to communicating directly with parents and also for event approval. If you don’t have a good relationship with your Principal, it can make for a very long and very frustrating year.
Partner v. Friend
Partnering with your Principal is different from becoming friends with her, although that totally may happen! The first time I was PTA President, I developed such a fantastic relationship with my Principal and we did become friends. Because of this good relationship, we were able to weather a few uncomfortable situations and come out on the other side still on good terms.
Professional Partnership Tips
The first step in partnering with your Principal is to set up a meeting with your Principal. In the meeting, your goal is to get on the same page. Literally on the same page. After you get done with the introductory chit-chat, get a sense of what she’s comfortable as far as communications with families and event approval:
Does she want to see flyers that get sent home?
Does she want to see the language of announcements before they’re made?
What about the PTO newsletter? Does she want to look it over before it’s sent?
Does she want to know about and approve all events, including those after hours?
The answer to all of these questions is likely yes, she does want to see and approve everything. And that’s ok and you should be expecting that answer. And the reason for that isn’t because she’s a control freak or because you’re not capable.
Relationships take time
Remember that your Principal’s perception of the PTO is colored by her past experiences. She may have previously dealt with a PTO that was totally dysfunctional and ate up a lot of her time, so she may want to put some baseline controls into place with you and your PTO to avoid that. Just know that the controls will likely loosen as the partnership strengthens.
In fact, that’s been my exact experience! Remember the fantastic relationship I had with my first Principal? By my second year as President, the approval process has turned into a FYI situation. I was simply giving her the heads up about what was going on and making sure she was in the loop. She no longer wanted to see the newsletters or announcements before they were made. We had strengthened our relationship to the point where she trusted me completely.
In the subsequent years at this school, I served as Family Events Chair and there never was a question about whether or not I could put on a certain event, even if it was a brand new event. The answer was always “of course she’ll let us do this.” And she did! It was a wonderful working relationship.
But I’ve experienced the flip side of that situation with a Principal at another school. It was her first year at the school and I had floated the idea of doing a talent show after-hours for the school, which was an Upper Elementary School covering Grades 4 through 6. Well, the Principal had no poker face at all, and I could tell she was immediately concerned. She explained that she was concerned that the kids might be unsupportive of the performances and rudely jeer and such. I responded that I had a plan for that (I did… simply turn up the music in between acts to drown out anything like that) and that I thought the kids would be respectful, but she still wasn’t comfortable with the idea. I tried my best to negotiate some solutions, but the talent show ended up not happening. I was pretty upset.
I ended up going back to the Principal at the other school and explained my situation and said, half jokingly, “Will you talk with the other Principal and let her know I have things handled and the show will go off without a hitch?” She laughed and told me no, but that she’d be happy to have a talent show at her school! Well game on, my friend! The talent show was a huge success, so much so that the following year we had one at my older son’s school, the Junior High!
Just to wrap up this story with the happy ending you know is coming, fast forward to the end of this last year at the last PTA meeting. We were discussing events for the following school year. The Principal leaned over and said, “Christina, I’ve reconsidered this topic and I’d like to have a talent show next year.” I smiled, and inside I was doing a huge happy dance! I knew that I had turned the corner with the Principal and that our partnership was deepening.
Literally get on the same page
Now, back to more of what you should be covering in the meeting with your Principal. While you’re in the first meeting with her, be sure to as what she wants to see from the PTO. This’ll help you get a sense of where your views are the same and where a bridge needs to be built to connect you two onto the same page.
And if you really want to knock it out of the park, look for some honest feedback about what the PTO could do better to support the school and staff. Take this feedback as constructive criticism and not an attack. It’s super helpful information for you to take back to your board to help craft goals and programs going forward.
What’s more, if your Principal is good, she’ll probably flip the script and ask you the same question – how could the PTO be better supported by the administration and school? Use this opportunity to give her some constructive feedback as well. Maybe the PTO could have a blurb in the school newsletter, maybe the administration could be sure to have a representative at every PTO meeting? Be sure to ask for what you truly need. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Finally, be sure to continue to meet with your Principal on a regular basis. Back to my first year as PTA President with my first and favorite Principal… We met every few weeks to touch base and check in with each other. These regular meetings were really key to developing our awesome relationship!
For even more tips about how to partner with your Principal, watch this video: