How to Be a Quiet Leader in Your Child’s School

When I was a kid, my parents made sure I got to and from school and completed my homework on time. That was about it. They didn’t accompany me on “play dates” or know my friends’ parents. Mom and dad had their own buddies, most of whom didn’t have kids. When we had school-wide concerts at Christmas and in the springtime, my dad didn’t even come. Why would he? Mom had that covered.

Nowadays, their encouraging but generally disinterested attitude would be considered downright neglectful. Today’s parents are expected to get involved. And I’m talking at the grass roots. That means helping to fundraise. Showing up for monthly publishing parties and performances like the Hispanic Heritage Day concert, during which I waited for over two hours to see my son’s kindergarten class take the stage to sing for two minutes. Distributing snacks and goodie bags on your child’s birthday. Being an active member of your child’s educational community by volunteering as a “reading buddy.” Monitoring lunchtime, which, for a class of 5-year-olds, means wrestling with milk cartons and issuing countless reminders that forks are not for throwing.

Really, I’d rather take a page from my parents’ book and stay home. It’s not that I’m unfriendly, but like most introverts, I’m allergic to small talk and dislike being surrounded by chattering masses of people.

But then guilt creeps in. I’m a work-at-home parent, and my son’s public school is two blocks from our apartment. His teachers need all the help they can get, and as much as I’d like to deny it, I have time to give. So one day at pick-up, when my son’s teacher asked if anyone would like to be the “class parent”—coordinating between the school and parents, facilitating a community among the children’s families—I…almost said yes.

Being a class parent went against the bedrock of my introvert nature. My James Bond pick-up routine—zipping in to extract my target and sneaking out before anyone spotted me—would be ruined by socializing. And while I admire and appreciate the work of the PTO leaders, I didn’t want to meet with them or even have them know I existed, really. Especially not after I attended the first PTO meeting and witnessed the intense passion with which end-of-year field trips were discussed.

Still, I wanted to help out and be a good, modern parent. So I did the right thing and waited a couple of days to see if anyone else wanted to do it. When no one stepped forward, I finally signed my name on the dotted line.

I’ve been a class parent now for a little more than two months, and while it’s been challenging, those challenges have felt good for me to take on. I’ve had the pleasure of bonding with great people I otherwise wouldn’t have met, and I’m finding that many fellow parents also feel intimidated about making friends.

So, fellow introverts, I believe that you too can take on a class leadership role. Here’s how I manage it:

I limit my communications with parents to only the essential stuff.

The PTO asked me to gather emails and phone numbers from the parents so that I could pass along messages about their volunteering or fundraising needs. But I’m sensitive to being deluged with information: whether in real life or online, I don’t like a lot of noise. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

My son’s teachers had already organized a class website with message boards and email capabilities. So I put that to good use, posting PTO information people could choose to view if they were interested. And when I have to send important messages to parents’ inboxes, I keep them short and clear.

As a result, people pay attention to my notices. When I forwarded along the teachers’ request for art supply donations, we generated the needed funds in less than 24 hours.

I engage people one-on-one and avoid getting involved in big group discussions.

When I do need to talk with people in real time, I do it privately. I’ve come to have a good rapport with my son’s teachers, and I am comfortable asking them how things are going or what help they need from me. I’m also slowly getting to know the names of each parent and student by letting it happen naturally. I might find myself standing next to the same person a couple of days in a row and having a conversation. Or I simply wait until I have a reason to talk to a person before approaching them.

I don’t stand by the classroom door shaking hands or rounding parents together to hash out decisions. I interact in a way that feels right for me and probably many of the other parents—I’m not the only introvert around!

Being a class parent gives me a reason to meet people, so it actually helps my social anxiety.

I have found that having a role in the classroom increases my social confidence. When I ask after a parent’s child, I don’t feel nosy. I’m the class parent after all, and it’s my role to get to know everyone. I have the perfect excuse to build a connection with the other parents. It’s like wearing a sticker that says, “It’s okay to say hi to me. I work here.” I’m not simply “Felix’s dad.” I also have a function to play in the classroom community, and that gives me a shield to hide behind when I do have to meet someone.

I let my social instincts guide me so that I do what’s needed, not just what I’m told.

I won’t put myself out there in ways that don’t feel comfortable to me. As I said above, I value the parents who act as cheerleaders for school spirit or who make fundraising for the school a second job, but that’s not the role I want to play. Instead, I do what I’m able to do and say “sorry, but…” to those things I won’t or can’t do. In order for me to do the best I can, I have to do it on my terms. Otherwise, my son’s class will be out of a class parent, and who’s served by that?

I’ve learned that it’s perfectly fine to engage in the manner that feels best to me, using my strengths to organize behind the scenes. I feel good helping out my son’s teachers. So when they asked if I would read a holiday poem at the Christmas concert, I agreed. But after I read my poem and the concert was finished, I collected my family and slipped out the back of the auditorium without saying a word to anyone. After all, I’m still an introvert.