It often takes a lot of time and patience to make use of classroom volunteers. We feel you! These smart-move tips will help you set the tone, manage boundaries and make everyone feel a part of your classroom. What you’ll get is a year of fun, function and less-exhaustive organization.
1. Get the lay of the land.
First-year teacher or starting in a new school? Ask a veteran teacher for their tried and true techniques for how the volunteer process goes down in your school community. The relationship can vary depending on the school. Get a gauge from teachers who have been there/done that before setting anything up. If different teachers within your school have slightly different approaches, that’s great too. There’s no right or wrong way about this. It’s okay to pick and choose strategies that sound like a good fit for your teaching and organizational style. Your parent volunteers are happy to be there and are willing to make it work when you need flexibility. You are their open-minded, yet practical and determined guide.
2. Assign a crowdsourcing mastermind.
If your school has official “Room Parents,” yippee! Write a call to action email or newsletter seeking a coordinator or two. This “wanted ad” should read like an exciting job description. Generally, you want someone dedicated and passionate who loves to delegate too. A Room Parent doesn’t have to be a Pinterest guru or head of the PTA. Think of this coordinator extraordinaire as your masterful middle man—the go between for you and the dozens of parents who are eager and excited to lend a hand.
3. Teamwork makes the dream work.
There are usually lots of parents who want to help in the classroom but just don’t want the Room Parent responsibility. They’re in luck—and so are you! Remind all parents there are PLENTY of volunteering opportunities! The assigned Room Parent will help organize these efforts throughout the school year. Give your Room Parent (s) as much detail as possible for your needs for any particular week, month or specific project (“We need about five parents to cut paper into tree shapes by next Thursday, 50 pieces, Will send you the paper and shape to trace.”) The Room Parent can then reach out to the families with the information, and find you volunteers. The coordinator can let you know who’s on board, in case you need to reach out additionally (or if you need to shove a bunch of trees in their kids’ backpacks).
4. Use those tools, glorious tools!
Technology is your BFF when it comes to organizing volunteers for your room. Depending on your organizing preference, you or your assigned Room Parent can control the content and delegation for any giving project, chaperone wrangling, or wherever extra hands on deck are required. A couple of free and easy choices with teachers include Signup.com (formerly VolunteerSpot) and SignUpGenius. Classroom reading helpers, hands to make copies and laminate, at-home projects, recess monitoring, you name it. These organizing apps and sign-up services make your volunteer matching and organizing easy breezy for you, your Room Parents and any parent gunning for that “A” in participation.
5. Think outside the norm—work with what you’ve got.
A “Parent Career Day” isn’t the only opportunity to make use of your classroom’s talented parents. As you get to know them, you’ll discover so many varied careers, passions and hobbies and can invite families to join classroom conversations and participate. Or, create call-outs for specific volunteers. Doing a science unit on horticulture? Ask for “green thumb” volunteers to help with planting and seeding so you have adult guides to assist stations. Be it artists, specialty doctors, bakers, robot builders, etc., the secret super powers of parents are out there—and they are ready to share!
6. Show them some love.
Perhaps this should be bumped up higher on our list, but it goes without saying. Give your gratitude to these amazing helpers! Making the effort to spread the busy work wealth might be tough at first, but sometimes you have to use your time, to make more time. Parent volunteering is an amazing opportunity for you—and your students—to make the school environment a community-driven effort. Try to send a quick personal thank you card or e-mail to a parent, no matter how big or small the effort. You want classroom parents to feel your appreciation and that you value however they can support their child and the classroom. Go, Team!
Do you have any tips for working with classroom volunteers? Please share in the comments!