EducationWorld is pleased to present this article contributed by Cynthia Osterman of WordWow Editing, a writing and editing service. Osterman is a journalist, editor and mother of two boys ages 9 and 13.
The best schools work in close collaboration with parents. We’ve all seen research showing that parent involvement results in better school achievement for kids. In an era of extremely tight budgets, it’s more important than ever to maximize the value of parent volunteers. But attracting and organizing the help can be overwhelming. And even parents who want to help can easily tune out if the outreach is chaotic or they feel overburdened.
Here are six tips on how to recruit parent volunteers without burning them out:
1. Make it welcoming, not punitive.
Some schools are requiring parents to commit to a certain number of volunteer hours a year. There’s a debate about the wisdom of that. Whether or not you oblige parents to participate, they will be much more motivated if they see the value in their work and feel appreciated. And don’t make judgments about parents who aren’t volunteering already. Some parents may “feel intimidated by principals, teachers and PTA leaders. Educators and administrators can reinforce these feelings,” reports the New Jersey Parent Information and Resource Center. “Extend a personal welcome to parents who appear to be uncomfortable.”
Successful strategies that principals have used to help parents feel part of the school’s mission include:
2. Communicate effectively.
Everyone is leading busy lives these days, so you can expect to command only a limited slice of parents' attention. That means you have to make clear how and when you’ll be communicating. Whether it’s a weekly printed newsletter or an email bulletin, tell the parents which channels are important to you so they take notice. At all costs, avoid the endless loops of “reply all” emails, which try parents’ patience. And anticipate your needs so they can be communicated in advance and clustered together, not in a scattershot of random announcements. Parents get turned off by anything that suggests a crisis atmosphere or lack of organization.
3. Embrace technology.
There are tools that can make the job of marshaling volunteers easier. Father of two Richard Hall, a product manager in the San Francisco Bay Area who has worked for Netscape and Sony, was daunted by the administrative ordeal of volunteering at his children’s schools, which required parents to participate. “Parents would have to go to a back room in the school and transcribe their hours into a folder. Then some poor person at the PTA would spend hours and hours tallying up people's service hours,” he remembers.
Inspiration struck, and he developed an app called Parent Booker that works via website, iPhone or Android. It communicates the school’s needs to parents -- filtered by classroom -- signs the parents up, reminds them and tracks their hours. Six schools are using the app so far with great success, and Parent Booker is offering schools a free trial.
4. Use parents’ time wisely.
No one likes to feel as if his or her time has been wasted. So make sure to recruit parents for jobs to which they are well suited or in which they have expressed interest. Tap into their natural talents or areas where they have expertise.
Take time to clearly define the volunteer's role. If it’s a recurring job, write down instructions and tips – what materials are needed, where to go, who can help with questions, etc. This helps the volunteer get oriented and learn the job quickly. Once a parent has performed a task, take a few minutes to check in to hear how it went, what she liked and what she didn’t. You may find out that the person is better suited for another job, but that’s OK. You might have prevented her from not returning at all.
5. Set the right tone.
To make the volunteer culture thrive at your school, you have to keep it positive. Here are some ways to do that:
6. Cast a wide net.
Parents aren't the only good source of volunteers. Grandparents and other family members – even older siblings – can be a great help. Also, look more broadly in your community. Service organizations, businesses and university students can add more hands and new skills to your effort.
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