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Tips for Welcoming Parent Volunteers Into Your Classroom

Voice of ExperienceIn this week's Voice of Experience essay, educator Peggy Cramer reflects on her use of parent volunteers in the classroom. Teachers who don't take advantage of parents as a resource are missing out, she says. Included: A volunteer invitation letter, activities, tips, more.

Anybody who wants to can find reams of educational research verifying that parent involvement is a critical factor in a child's educational success. To educators, that idea is a no-brainer. Over the years, I have become convinced that a positive home-school connection is an essential tool for me to have in my teacher toolbox. I look at it this way: A positive home-school relationship makes my job much easier, and it benefits the children and their families. Support from home translates into rested kids, help dealing with behavioral or academic concerns, and completed homework and projects.

Understanding the importance of parent involvement and opening my classroom doors to parents during instruction time, however, were two very different things. Even though I knew in my mind that using parents as a classroom resource could have huge benefits for me and for my students, it was knowledge that took some time to fully accept. Before welcoming parents into my classroom, I had to answer some difficult questions, including How will the children work and behave for a volunteer? and What kind of lessons, materials, and projects do I want volunteers to help with?

WHAT ACTIVITIES CAN PARENTS DO?

I use parent volunteers in my classroom for a wide variety of valuable activities related to my curriculum, including

  • helping with activity preparations (for example -- cutting, tracing, collating);
  • reading with small groups or individual students;
  • working with a child on a special project;
  • tutoring in math or language arts;
  • assisting children with homework;
  • publishing (putting together) student books; or
  • helping with special art projects or center activities.

The list of activities a parent volunteer can do -- with specific, helpful instructions -- is almost limitless.

INVITE THEM IN!

Once you have determined the value of parents helping you achieve your classroom goals, then it's time to sit down and write a letter inviting them to help. Below is an invitation I have used that might be helpful to you. Feel free to use it as is or to adapt it in any way for your own purposes:

Dear Parents:

Helping your child realize the value of education is extremely important. Your presence at school is one way to show your love and encouragement.

Our school's mission is to create an educational environment in which students are given the opportunity to reach their full potential, and the academic, social, and developmental needs of each student are met. We are looking for volunteers to help us with that awesome task.

The children and I invite you to come to school to volunteer your time and talents. We will value you as a volunteer, and appreciate your dedication to the children as a supportive aide, role model, and mentor.

We know your time is at a premium, but we hope this invitation will empower you to come in and volunteer. Please feel free to contact me with a time to volunteer that is convenient for you.

Thank you again for volunteering your time and talents! Together, we can make a difference in the lives of children.

Sincerely,
(Your name)

TIPS FOR PARENT VOLUNTEERS

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To help empower parent volunteers, and to make the most of the time they spend with the students, I have selected for them specific activities with easy-to-follow directions. All materials are prepared for them in advance. I also have provided a short list of hints, including my thoughts about
  • the length of the session (what time period is appropriate for the subject and age/grade of the student);
  • what to do if a student doesn't cooperate;
  • being positive with students ("good job," "way to go");
  • finding the next student on the list; and
  • where to locate additional materials, if needed.

Those hints aim to make the parent feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated. (They also help me look and stay organized!)

CONNECTING WITH VOLUNTEERS; APPLAUDING TOO!

To me, it is most important to connect with parent volunteers each time they appear in my classroom. Before the parent is ready to leave for the day, I make certain to take time to talk with him or her:

  • I ask about their satisfaction with the lesson or task, and about how students behaved or engaged.
  • I ask if they would like to volunteer again for the same type of lesson or if they might prefer something different.
  • I ask if they have any suggestions that might improve their, or another volunteer's, experience.
  • Finally, I have the entire class clap and say "Thank you" as a way of showing respect for the volunteer.

At the end of the year, I always thank my volunteers with a certificate and a class book full of thank-you notes and pictures from the children. It is just a small gesture, but is always appreciated.

MORE TIPS FOR USING PARENT VOLUNTEERS

Additional ideas about to maximize the value of parent volunteers:

  • Coach students in advance. Inviting parent volunteers into the classroom also involves coaching students. I make sure students understand that the parents who come into our classroom are very busy and we are honored that they are choosing to spend time with us. Most students thrive on the opportunity to work one-on-one with an adult, so they understand this and are motivated to work with volunteers.
  • Keep records. I keep records on a chart to remind me of which students have had opportunities to work with volunteers and what skills they have worked on.
  • Safety considerations. Safety in our schools is of utmost importance. As a precaution, many school districts require volunteers, including parents, to complete a background check form. The information supplied is used only for the safety check and kept strictly confidential. Volunteers might also be asked to sign in at the school office when they arrive and sign out as they leave. Many schools supply buttons or badges for volunteers to wear so members of the school staff know the volunteer has checked into the office.
FINAL THOUGHTS

If you have not used parent volunteers in the past, this might be the year to take some first steps in that direction. Doing so will help you build a positive home-school connection and strengthen family involvement; and it will help children reach their full potential.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Peggy Chauncey Cramer is a kindergarten teacher at Hamilton Elementary School in Kentwood, Michigan. She also is mentor coordinator in her building. In that role, she has developed a pilot program that matches young children with older students and community members to help ensure that all students achieve their potential. Peg has been teaching for 25 years.


Article by Peggy Chauncey Cramer
Education World®
Copyright © 2003 Education World

09/22/2003


 

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