Sunday, June 26, 2011

Getting Past "No" and Building Healthy PTA-Teacher Relationships

Have you met resistance when you tried to bring a new and exciting workshop or assembly program into you school? Does is sometimes feel as if no one is listening when  you talk about how great this program would be for the kids?

In this article, we’re going to talk about the two reasons why your school might not be greeting your new idea with open arms and what you might do to turn a “no” into a “maybe” or even a “yes”. 

Alright, let's get started. Here’s the two problems:

  • They  might be satisfied with what they’ve got  
  • They might fear change


First of all, let’s give those teachers some respect. Sit them down and ask them a few questions so that you can learn why they are content with their current cultural arts programs. Listen to their answers as if you were an interviewer, not disagreeing with their thoughts and feelings. When they are through, see if you can repeat back to them what they told you. This is called “mirroring” and it’s always a successful way to make sure that both people in any relationship are heard and respected. You may find that you are in agreement with them or that you still think that your program is better. In either case, you’ve opened the door to a better working relationship where both parties can get their needs met. 


Someone who is afraid of change might appear on the outside to be angry or dismissive. So, my first advice is to meet their resistance armed with the opposite of fear: love. In addition to the above mirroring, you should prepare yourself with an extra dose of TLC. Oftentimes, fear of change is in response to an experience where they trusted someone and felt betrayed. This might be another cultural arts representative who didn’t do their homework and brought in a terrible program. In this case, it may have made the teachers feel embarrassed, neglected or angry at the PTA.  When I get a level 10 reaction to a level 1 problem, I am usually in the presence of a trauma, so I try to be extra kind. 


Your spine or main idea is to provide the children and the teachers with arts programming that will support the curriculum and the whole development of the child. Any program that does not meet those standards is not worth the money or the time. In this era of standardized tests, it’s almost impossible to bring in programs just because they’re fun or entertaining.

Your first step to “yes” is to know that teachers are already overwhelmed by students being pulled out of class for specials, individual needs, assemblies and so much more. Therefore, your program had better be worthwhile and you might have to prove it. Here’s what I’d suggest to get that great program approved:

  • Take the long view. You may have to wait 2-3 years before you have developed buy-in on the part of the teachers for a big program. Start small and develop a track record of success
  • Do your homework. Know the learning standards and be able to point to specific areas of the curriculum where the arts program can support the school’s goals.
  • Get testimonials. The artist should be able to provide you with concrete evidence that their program has been “teacher tested and approved”.
  • See the program in action. A good teaching artist will be happy to have you witness a program in progress and a good school will gladly allow you to attend. Just don’t bring your kids!
  •  Choose artists who respect students and teachers. Creating art in a collaborative environment is the brass ring of arts-in-education. Everyone wants the children to be lifetime learners and passionate, creative individuals. The best artists exemplify this in everything they do.
Our two richest programs, Creating a New Hit Song and Creating a New School Song are highly beneficial to schools, but that doesn’t mean that they sell themselves. It takes a dedicated cultural arts representative to champion them to the principal, music teacher, classroom teachers and your fellow PTA members. The payoff, though, is huge. The “School Song” program leaves behind a life-long legacy and “Hit Song” is usually booked for five years or more. 

These workshop programs – and ones like them offered by other artists – can leave a lasting effect on the teachers and the students we all serve. In fact, it might change one or more child’s life forever!  In the end, we believe that’s an additional reason to be persistent, respectful and understanding of everyone’s opinions and needs. Good luck!

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