• Reflecting on the PTA Legacy: A Challenge for 21st Century Leaders

      Sandra L. Zelno, Consultant to the Pennsylvania PTA


     Chapter 7. Pick a Card, Any Card—But Make Sure It is the Right Card

    Step right up, folks. Pick a card, any card.  Yes, the purpose of card tricks is to create an illusion of a seemingly impossible act.  Card tricks are done with sleight of hand and some false shuffles to impress and entertain audiences.  They are an illusion, but PTA is real.  Card tricks are used to impress and entertain audiences, and often an observer can become a believer in what they see.  The Harry Potter books and movies have undoubtedly flooded our lives and created a new interest in magic.  But, if you are reading this as a PTA member or leader, you know there is no magic.  There is no silver bullet.  Getting people to work with PTA doesn’t involve magic props such as folding hats, pop-up flowers, invisible thread, or magic wands.  It involves progressive thinking and committed leaders reflecting upon the PTA legacy that brought us to 2014.

    Magicians hesitate to reveal secrets, but PTA has no secrets.  The members are an audience that has an appreciation of the amazing legacy of which we are all a part.  Throughout turbulent decades of economic and social change, the PTA has become a voice that is unmistakably ALL children.  Over the decades, members have embraced the work with a sense passion and zest.  But WHY is the question.  Why do members continue to join decade after decade and commit to an organization that found its roots in 1897?  Why do members continue to buy the little PTA card that gives them a voice at the local, state, and national level?  Better yet, why don’t some parents join and become card carrying members?  Perhaps we as PTA members have not marketed the organization in the right way.  Listen up.  If we are to perform magic and ask people to “pick a card,” we want it to be the right card—the PTA card.

    September and October are the ultimate membership enrollment periods in local PTA units.  But how do PTA units “sell” the PTA and can you be a part of changing how that happens?  Picture this scenario.  You go to your first PTA meeting of the school year and, among other items of business, they announce the following:  “If you want to join the PTA, there is a table in hall and you can sign up there for a PTA card.”  Insignificant.  If this sounds too familiar, I challenge each of you to figure out how to tell the PTA story and sell the “card” which undoubtedly is the PTA membership card.  No one buys anything they can’t see or they don’t know about.  Think about that.  Good consumers don’t purchase anything without doing the research.  With PTA, the research has been done.  We are a living laboratory.  Come on in!

    Just think what might happen if the presiding officer of the PTA said the following:

     “There is a PTA membership enrollment table outside the door.  By joining PTA you become part to the largest child advocacy association in the world and part of the millions of today’s PTA members dedicated to making a difference in the education, health, and safety of America’s children.  As such, you are empowered, informed, and responsible members.

     “If you wonder what you get for your money, let me tell you.  You are part of the largest volunteer child advocacy organization in the nation, the conscience of the country for children and youth issues.  Through advocacy, the PTA has established programs and called for the creation of Kindergarten classes, child labor laws, hot and healthy lunch programs, juvenile justice programs, immunization, arts in education, school safety, and many other programs. 

     “When you join with millions of other members, the PTA is a powerful voice for children, relevant resource for parents, and a strong advocate for public education.  When you join, your membership entitles you to a voice at the national, state and local levels of PTA.  At the national level, the PTA is working toward the reauthorization of the ESEA—The Elementary and Secondary Education Act—No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which brings federal funds to school districts to address disadvantaged populations;  the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities with Education Act (IDEA); and the Family Engagement in Education Act which would support effective family engagement strategies here needed while encouraging and  identifying programming that works best, and supporting incentives for high quality child care and preschool programs that are affordable and accessible.

    “At the state level, the PTA is involved with not only supplying members with resources, publications, and leadership training, but engaging in coalition work around school finance reform, arts in education, and school reform issues.

    “At the local level, the potential for involvement is even greater.  You not only have the opportunity to become involved here at your local school with projects, but with your voice.  Your voice, in essence, then extends to the state level and national level.  The potential is unlimited.” 

    However, the legacy left by our founders is not enough.  The first six parts of this series illustrates the magnificent strides made by remarkable women dedicated to improving the lives of children.  Let’s not forget that.  Those early decades must be enhanced by the inroads made by today’s leaders who are constantly moving forward with new projects and initiatives.

    The challenge for today’s leaders is this:  We don’t buy anything we can’t see or know about.  Right?  What are we doing to tell the PTA story?  We know that people are moved to purchase products when they are moved by their benefit and what it can do for them.  Parents have endless opportunities on where to place their time, talents, and commitment.  Can you sell the PTA story about decades of amazing accomplishments?

    But how do you lessen the gap of how the organization really exists and how others see it?  That is the challenge for the legacy of today’s leaders.  Is the local PTA telling the story of the founding of the PTA in 1897 and how its significance is important?  Is the PTA showing how the historical importance is relevant to today’s leaders?  Better yet, are today’s PTA leaders up to the challenge?  I think they are!

    If you aren’t telling the story of the PTA legacy, why would anyone buy the little membership card?  

    Seriously, pick a card, any card, but is it the right one?  The PTA card is the right one!