Parent-volunteers represent a valuable classroom resource. Their helping hands, skills, and talents can benefit students in many ways and make your job a little easier. For instance, when my daughter's teachers learned that her biologist dad had recently returned from a trip to the Galapagos Islands, they wasted no time in scheduling a special slide show and program. All they had to do was ask, and he was more than willing to share his expertise!
Of course, it's important to check your school's policies regarding parent-volunteers before you extend any requests for help. For safety and security issues, most schools now have paperwork for parents to fill out. Here are some suggestions on ways in which students' family members can help at school:
- Tutors – With individuals or small groups, parents can listen to children read, give spelling words, play math games, read aloud, or help out in learning centers.
- Aides – Parents can supervise individual reading time, project time, or other independent work periods.
- Field trip assistants – Let parents organize some of your field trips as well as chaperone during the trip.
- Room parents – Have parents help with special parties, school activities, and book club orders.
- Lunchroom, recess, and free-time monitors – Parents can be an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands during these more relaxed times of day.
- Clerical helpers – They can photocopy materials, make teaching aids, and help type or edit class newsletters.
- Room coordinators – With an active volunteer program, you'll need someone to juggle schedules, make assignments, and find last-minute replacements.
- Presenters – Let parents share their special expertise and knowledge with students in class demonstrations, workshops, and programs.
Don't forget that volunteering can occur after school hours and on weekends, too. Parents who work full-time can get involved by helping out at home: cutting out bulletin-board displays, counting soup can labels to exchange for free classroom supplies or equipment, organizing special events, planting classroom gardens, building bookshelves, and so on.
Research shows that parents are more likely to volunteer if they know the teacher, have already been to school and inside the classroom already, and receive regular communication from their child's teacher. Here are some ways to recruit volunteers:
- Ask for parent-volunteers during parent conferences.
- Send home a letter requesting volunteers. Describe some of the roles.
- Call and personally invite several parents to do a specific task.
- Ask parents already volunteering to encourage other parents to get involved.
There are many roles volunteers can play at school. But no matter how you involve them, remember that they will need some training and guidance. It's also important to give your volunteers choices about what they'd like to do. Some parents are nervous about tutoring and would rather make photocopies, while others hate machines and want to be with the students. Like anyone else, volunteers do best at what they like best!
This article was adapted from Learning to Teach...Not Just for Beginners: The Essential Guide for All Teachers by Linda Shalaway, © 2005, published by Scholastic.