Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI)

A community’s well-being depends critically upon its residents’ active engagement in civic life.  In particular, parents possess critical knowledge of children’s needs and special insights on the resources needed to solve community problems.  Unfortunately, this expertise is often undervalued and parents are underutilized in community efforts to address disparities in children’s outcomes.  When making decisions impacting children and families, policymakers and school leaders are much more likely to consider budget implications or input from lobby groups than to listen to families’ perspectives1.   Agencies are much more likely to be looked to for input on behalf of families, rather than leaders engaging with families directly.  And, agencies too often have an approach of providing service to parents, rather than partnering with parents.

Founded by Elaine Zimmerman, the Parent Leadership Training Institute was intentionally built to provide a different approach to engaging parents in civic life to improve outcomes for children and families.  We have been pioneers in the field, bringing to life the mantra “Nothing About Us, Without Us”.  We refined the prototype for increasing parent leaders’ knowledge, skills, and actions into a gold standard, the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI). 

In 69 communities across the United States, the National Parent Leadership Institute has partnered with local teams to implement the proven Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) model.

What we have found: PLTI increases the civic skills and impact of diverse parents to improve child and community outcomes by embracing a cross-race, cross-class, parent-informed, and pro-social learning approach to parent leadership and civic engagement.

Intentionally building trusting, collaborative relationships between leaders and parents, offering opportunities to grow skills, and providing parent forums produce results2.

Our 15+ years of independent evaluation consistently show the critical elements – ensuring that parents

  •  have a civic toolkit for engaging with leaders;
  • have knowledge on child and family policy; and
  • have sufficient capacity to work across difference.

By empowering parents with leadership and civic skills, community health is promoted through personal efficacy.  By creating new networks across race and class and by building a sense of commitment to collective well-being, social capital increases.  By expanding problem solving, goal setting and critical thinking skills, civic engagement and collective action increase.  Through PLTI, parents increase their presence, voice, and power at community tables, becoming problem solvers, advocates, and leaders.  

Parents’ leadership growth in their civic lives reinforces and grows leadership in their home and family lives.  PLTI Parent Leaders are taking action to improve their financial situation, pursue new job opportunities, further their education, and make positive changes to their family situation.

In PLTI communities, results have included increased policy impact, positive neighborhood impact, policy makers (Government and School) making pro-family policy, funding, or programmatic change(s), as well as communities institutionalizing opportunities for parent input.  For example:

  • In Rochester, the School Board President created a new seat for a parent representative at the School Board table, and it was a PLTI alum who was selected for the spot.  Persistent parent advocacy resulted in a new recreation center in an under-served neighborhood.  From this experience, the Mayor called for the County Executive and State representatives to join her in opening the doors to government to parent input.  
  • Alexandria, Virginia City Council leaders created a pipeline from PLTI graduation to seats on City Commissions and Boards, and PLTI alumni now have presence, power and voice at the tables who are making decisions impacting city neighborhoods. 
  • The Colorado State Department of Health hosted a statewide Family Summit to engage PLTI alumni from 5 PLTI sites to give input to family-centered health care policy issues.  It has become an annual event because of the value received. 

The PLTI curriculum also offers a two-generation strategy for the children of the parents in training, which uses interactive learning, play time, and children’s literature to teach parallel content.  This create a full family civics approach, which bolsters parental involvement while promoting the lifelong health, safety and learning of children. The curriculum braids child development, leadership, and democracy skills together.

1Bogenschneider, 2014.
2For example, the School Development Program approach to site-based management teams in schools has been found more successful than standard site-based planning teams because its shared decision-making structure openly addresses the culture shift that must happens, builds capacity in parents and leaders, bridging the chasm between them, resulting in increased dialogue and shared problem solving, resulting in solutions that are more effective.