A new school year is upon us! Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is a new set of students. But that also brings (for better or worse) a new set of parents aka volunteers. Getting parents involved from the beginning is the first step towards a great year together! Here are some of my thoughts on how you can do that.
1. Involve ALL Parents
No I don’t have the elusive magic trick to MAKE parents volunteer! However, I do think it’s important to make sure you’re offering a wide-variety of volunteer experiences. Keep in mind parents have different amounts of time to give along with different comfort levels with volunteering. Just because mom (or dad) is home with other kids or working full time, that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute as a volunteer. Just be creative when thinking of ways to involve ALL parents!
2. Think Outside the Box
Ask parents how they can be involved for a change! Have parents fill out a questionnaire (either paper or utilizing an online tool like Survey Monkey) asking what they’re interested in and their desired level of involvement. It’s all well and good to give the standard options–because you need those too– of reading to the class, chaperoning on field trips, and providing a special snack, but I also encourage you to have an open-ended section where parents can share their occupation and/or talents. You never know what you’ll get here (in a good way!). This is how we’ve had a dad who is a chef come and filet a fish and then fry it during Letter F week. I also know a judge who invited his children’s classes (in both preschool and elementary school) to the courtroom to “try” the case of Jack and Jill. How cool is that?!?
3. Plan Ahead
Likely you already know what holiday celebrations you’d like to have or that you’d like to have a different color of play dough for the class each month. So why not go ahead and have parents sign up to help with these types of things. Certainly some of the details can and will have to wait, but the earlier you get those spots filled, the less you have to worry about later.
4. Don’t Burn Parents Out
Yes, it is often true that a select few often do the bulk of the work. Sometime you (and those dedicated volunteers) might become bitter because others aren’t volunteering. In the meantime, others who otherwise might be willing to volunteer might actually be turned off because things seem to be so time consuming. An easy trick is to give people a general idea of an approximate time commitment up front so they know what they’re getting into. Remember, keep it simple.
5. Take it Easy
Most people aren’t going to jump right in and volunteer to coordinate your big fundraiser or Thanksgiving Feast (if they do, consider yourself lucky!). So, it’s okay to start small to acclimate parents to the school or classroom. Those occasional volunteers often do become more frequent volunteers and then might decide they’re ready to take a lead role. Just don’t rush it, appreciate the help you do get!
6. Say Thank You
I know that sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we get so caught up in getting something done that we unintentionally neglect to say thank you. There are so many cute and easy ways to show your appreciation to your volunteers. I know many of you out there are Pinterest junkies like me (if not, you MUST try it out) and you’ll find tons of ideas to show your appreciation. Having the kids make a card is always a hit, too. Most people don’t volunteer to be thanked, but thanking them does show you value their time and contributions.
7. Show a Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T
That’s right, as teachers and leaders we need to show respect to our parent volunteers. First, I think we need to respect each other’s differences. That can mean many things: different opinions, different, styles or different points of view. Just because we’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean we always have to. New volunteers with new perspective are a beautiful thing! I also think it is crucial to respect people’s time. If you have a PTA meeting planned, let people know how long it should last and stick to it! Likewise, if you’ve given people an idea of an approximate time commitment (as I suggested above), stick to it as much as possible.
The quickest way to turn off volunteers is to take advantage of them and their time.
8. Talk it Up
When you ask for help and provide a variety of opportunities, you typically garner a good base of parent volunteers, but you still need to communicate. Communicate with those who have volunteered (never have someone volunteer and not use them!!!!), but also communicate with those who haven’t yet volunteered. Don’t assume everyone (I know we can dream) knows what’s going on in the classroom or with your parent group. Use a variety of tools to reach a variety of people including newsletters, website, phone calls, and my favorite–MemberHub :), to keep everyone up to date with what’s going on. Also, in case you missed my first post here, her are 10 Ways for Schools to Communicate with Parents.
Whether you’re looking for volunteers on a smaller scale for the classroom or for a school-wide group or event, I hope you’ll find my thoughts helpful to get a great start to the new school year! As always, I’d love to hear from YOU! Please leave a comment below with your tips!
About the Author
This is a guest blog post from Beth Dickinson. Beth spent five years teaching primary grades in public school before having children. She has spent eight years as a preschool director including the last six years as the Director at Hayes Barton Baptist Preschool in Raleigh, NC.