Petty politics among school volunteers is driving well-meaning people away

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

The people who volunteer their time, energy and resources to our school Parents and Citizens (P&C) groups are part of the fabric of a strong society.

They strategise, enlist, arrange and give untold hours to making our schools more comfortable, well-resourced and maintained, their behind-the-scenes work unnoticed by most except when something big and obvious happens, like new playground equipment.

The broader community won't necessarily notice the school library's collection quietly expanding, or the 5am start for a team of people on the election day fundraiser everyone buys their democracy sausage from. Nor the days of organisation that preceded it.

It takes an army of people to do all this and so much more for our schools. It's an honourable thing to do for children and the school community.

Why is it then that so many well-meaning people, who enter a school wide-eyed and full of possibility - and a willingness to make great things happen - eventually turn away from it?

Petty politics is a damaging, energy-sapping scourge that affects many P&C groups and school staff. I've seen enough to recognise the subtle power plays and put downs during meetings, cliques that form, certain personalities deemed either in or out.

Once I witnessed the president of a P&C state rather brutally, that someone's (very reasonable) idea for a cocoon-like reading corner in the library would not be considered. The people who lost out here were the kids.

I found out later that the two people concerned had had a slight run-in concerning a child's party, and this turned into a power game at the P&C meetings, one becoming far more invested in using their position of power to put the other 'in their place', than resourcing the library.

I've seen P&C presidents up and leave, people become overloaded and quit altogether, and then there are those who are simply pushed out or belittled, inching out quietly until their involvement is nil.

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Power is not a motivator for those who are true collaborators, nor is game playing. The energy of new parents to a school can be harnessed to improve it for the good of the kids.

And it's important to have a good time while doing it. This can't be overstated for people donating their precious time - often with people in the background helping with the kids so they can do so. 

There are those who gently try to give and inspire ideas, share knowledge, collaborate on projects and act on suggestions, but there seems to be an inordinate amount of tiptoeing around others, namely, whether people are invading someone's 'ideas territory.' i.e They see themselves as the ideas person and base a lot of their self-worth on that.

There are of course thriving school communities working well together and that truly is the ideal. And then the are so many again that are dysfunctional, ego-driven and fraught, and those that just have an undercurrent - enough of one to drive people away from helping with the work of a school.

Why can't we all just get along? If we can't do it for each other or the school, then at least do it for the kids.

Quit the petty politics and let productive people be just that. We're all long past high school now.