Five Steps to Parent Volunteer Success

By Karen Bantuveris
September 2013, Volume 37, Issue 1

Click here to view
an infographic of the survey
by WeAreTeachers and VolunteerSpot.

As the school year ramps up, teachers and parent-teacher groups will be busy recruiting parent volunteers. But, educators say they need volunteers to go beyond chaperoning field trips and organizing parties, according to a new survey by WeAreTeachers and VolunteerSpot.

The survey of more than 1,000 educators and parents found that parents and teachers overwhelmingly believe volunteering is an important ingredient in school success. However, gaps in expectations and obstacles in communication can leave teachers unsupported and parents feeling left out. (View an infographic of the results here.)

Here are five ways principals can help parents and teachers work together to build a stronger school community.

  1. Encourage teachers to ask for the help they need.

Sixty-one percent of teachers in the study report they want more parent support with tutoring, listening to students read, and homework help. But the bulk of class parents surveyed typically volunteer by donating items to the classroom (70 percent) or helping with class parties and field trips (58 percent).

Talk to your school-parent group about the important volunteering tasks parents can support beyond fundraisers and special events. Likewise, let teachers know you welcome and support expanded duties for parent volunteers in the classroom. This opens the door for them to ask for the help they need.

  1. Make it easy for parents to sign up to help—then remind them.

Most teachers (64 percent) still send home notes inviting parents and caregivers to help out in the classroom, and three out of five teachers have difficulties with parents not showing up for their volunteer shifts. It turns out that notes don’t work best for parents. Nearly two-thirds of parents prefer receiving information about volunteering online or via email. Parents who regularly receive email and invitations on their smartphones can RSVP with a tap on a screen.

Consider using an online signup and scheduling tool such as Parents will be able to schedule themselves for volunteer shifts, receive automated reminders, and sync commitments to their calendars, which results in fewer accidental no-shows. (Take a tour of VolunteerSpot here.)

  1. Leverage working parents.

Seventy-three percent of parents say work conflicts prevent them from volunteering regularly. Find creative ways to engage working parents. These can include scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so parents can help before work, and using platforms like Skype to encourage parents to read to the class or help with assignments at a pre-scheduled time. Working parents can also contribute from home by updating the class website and Pinterest boards, or preparing learning center materials.

  1. Help teachers plan for parent volunteers.

One of the things that can discourage parent volunteers is arriving at school to discover they are not needed. Plus, one in five parents say they have had difficulty finding out what is needed of them. Almost half of teachers in the survey (48 percent) report that they want more parent volunteers, but find it hard to find enough time to prepare information or activities for them.

Make it easier on both parties by encouraging teachers to establish weekly 30-minute sessions for volunteers. When practical, recruit a lead parent who can help assign volunteer roles, answer questions, and write instructions for frequent volunteer duties, such as working at math stations or in the technology lab, or updating portfolios. Maintain an online calendar of volunteer needs as far in advance as possible. This will increase parent response rates by making it easy for them to choose the best fit for their busy schedules.

  1. When choosing fundraisers, focus on family.

Parents report that community-building events that include the whole family are their favorites. These include book fairs (71 percent), family fun nights (66 percent) and carnivals (62 percent). Share these findings with your school-parent group and fine-tune the fundraising calendar accordingly.

Over 40 percent of survey parents report that they would like to volunteer more. So, why don’t they? There’s no simple answer. What we do know is that clear communication, aligning parent volunteer jobs to teacher needs, and giving parents the convenience of online scheduling is a great place to start.

Karen Bantuveris is founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot.

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