Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.
Working With Parent Volunteers
Who among us couldn't use a little help every now and then? It was the least popular Beatle, Ringo Starr, who sang, ''I get by with a little help from my friends.'' It was, of course, obvious to anyone who knows anything about the Beatles that Ringo got by with a lot of help from his friends. The point I'm trying to make, in an extremely roundabout manner, is that having a little help can be beneficial to all involved. Nowhere is this more true than with parent volunteers, adults from outside of the school coming in to help in the classroom. You, the teacher, get some much needed assistance, the students get another caring person to assist them, and the parent volunteer gets the satisfaction of knowing they are impacting children's lives.
There are some classic ways that parents have volunteered in the past. I've always been a fan of the bake sale, but in today's health-conscious schools, that might be going the way of the dodo. We're also all familiar with parent chaperones for school activities, from field trips to dances. This is extremely helpful, but these aren't day-to-day activities. So, for this lesson, we'll focus on ways that teachers can encourage and help their parent volunteers in the regular classroom.
Tips for Teachers
First of all, many parents do want to help, but are unsure how to help or in what capacity. How you communicate with, work with, and show your appreciation to your parent volunteers will make a huge difference on how often you will have volunteers. Let's take a look at a few tips that can help you to make the most of your parent volunteers.
One of the most important parts of getting parents to volunteer is letting them know you need them! In today's digital age, you may find that many parents prefer receiving e-mails instead of notes to home or newsletters. It's not crazy to ask for your student's parent's email address or, at least, whether they have a preferred method of communication. It might be a great idea to keep a social media page or a website for parents to follow along with.
Many parents want to help, but are unsure as to how they can. It can be helpful to set aside a little time every month to figure out what activities you need parental volunteers for, how much time you might need, and how many. This way, if a parent asks you if you need any help, you can have a very direct answer, and they can schedule it then. Also, another great parental volunteer opportunity is to help you by coordinating and scheduling other volunteers.
The reality is that most parents work, so their time is not often available. Working around these parents' schedules can be a bit difficult, but you'll have a much greater pool of resources if you can. A few methods involve having early shifts, prior to their workday starting; incorporating telecommunications (such as Google Hangout or Skype); or letting them volunteer from home by preparing materials. Also, though it's not in the classroom, if you have weekend tasks, such as a class pet or garden, this is a great opportunity for working parents to get involved.
Every parent has some sort of talent, and many of those can be incorporated into the classroom. Having your students' parents fill out a basic information card with their training, education, and special skills is a great way to figure out who can help with what. My parents, for example, both worked in the banking industry when I was younger. Not really useful, right? Wrong! When we were learning about geography and other countries, my mom (who worked in foreign banking) was able to bring in foreign currency for all the students to handle. It helped reinforce the lesson by bringing the foreign countries right to the students.
Not all parents are able to arrange the time to come into class. Often, these parents are willing to help in other ways, whether it is a financial donation for school supplies, donating some books or craft supplies, or using their connections to help support the school in another manner. Have a parent who works for a computer company? They might be able to get discounts on computers or software! Many times these parents are more than happy to help in other means because they know how important it is to be supportive of their child's learning environment.
A common occurrence is that children's grandparents provide a lot of support outside of school, and they are a great resource. The older generation brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom and often enjoy the interaction with their own grandchildren and others. They typically have much more time on their hands, especially if they are retired, as many are. You may also be happy to find that they are even more patient with the children, are more forthcoming in offering help, and may have diverse skills and talents that many people no longer often invest time in (baking and sewing come to mind).
Probably the most important tip of all is to make sure you acknowledge the valuable contributions these volunteers make to you and your students. Many of them would greatly appreciate thank you cards made by the students, a handwritten note from you, or a video message from the class. If you have the time and resources, you might even consider hosting an appreciation event at the school for all your volunteers.
These suggestions are but the tip of the iceberg. (Get it? Tip, because this lesson offered tips? I know, don't quit my day job.) Remember, it's important to communicate directly with parents, be sensitive to their other commitments, take advantage of their talents, and allow them to help in ways other than in the classroom. Also, don't forget about grandparents! They are a great, often untapped, resource. Finally, always remember to show the volunteers that you and your class are grateful for their support.
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