As a new school year gets closer, you may be pondering a very common question: How can we get more room parents involved at our school?
It’s a good question, especially since room parents are such an important factor at many independent schools. You may be worried about bombarding prospective room parents with too much information, but it’s actually a lack of information that drives many would-be room parents away.
Think about it: Their biggest fear, in most cases, is that being a room parent will be an overwhelming, draining time-suck that they simply can’t afford to take on right now. If you don’t go out of your way to explain that that’s not the case, they will (reasonably) assume that their initial fears were correct.
Here’s a simple 5-step process for attracting new room parents to your program (or even starting a brand-new program) and keeping them happy and engaged:
1. Kick Off the School Year with a Fun Event
This could be a family picnic, a meet-and-greet over coffee and bagels, group tickets to a minor-league baseball game, or whatever else strikes your fancy and suits your budget. The only condition is that it be genuinely fun for everyone who attends. You should also make sure you have plenty of current room parents in attendance, too, to answer any questions the newbies might have.
2. Make it Low-Pressure to Help
You may be desperate for new faces in your room parent program, but a high-pressure approach will only drive people away. Instead, design a flexible program that allows even the busiest parent to get involved on a limited, but still helpful, basis. Multiple-choice questionnaires can be very helpful in both clarifying expectations and allowing parents to choose their desired type and degree of involvement.
3. Highlight the Benefits
It’s one thing to be open about the time commitment. It’s quite another to emphasize the “hard work” and “sacrifices” involved in becoming more involved at a child’s school!
Focus on the rewards, both for the kids and for the school community, rather than on the sheer amount of time and effort a successful program requires. (A successful room parent program does require a lot of time and effort, to be sure, but you want to emphasize that the burdens on any one participant are manageable.)
4. Provide a List of FAQs
If you’ve been running a room parent program for any length of time, you’ll probably find that new and prospective room parents have the same questions over and over again. A prepared FAQ list, with detailed answers, will save time and also reassure parents that the time commitment isn’t as bad as they initially feared. Good communication is key.
5. Build in Opportunities for Appreciation
Impromptu expressions of appreciation from teachers to their individual room parents are always wonderful, and should be encouraged. You may even want to provide each teacher with a specific annual budget for just this purpose.
However, your program as a whole should also incorporate formal opportunities for room parent recognition – at least four times per school year is a good target to shoot for. Even something as simple (and low-cost) as a “Room Parent of the Month” bulletin board can go a long way toward turning your room parents into passionate volunteers. And always remember that actions speak louder than words when it comes to effective appreciation.