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Cultivating, Running
A Great Parent
Volunteer Program

Planning and organization are key to successful parent volunteer programs, according to author and former teacher Rhonda Jones. Teachers should designate parent jobs early in the year then make it easy for parents to offer their help. Included: Advice for setting up an effective parent volunteer program.

Former teacher and parent involvement coordinator Rhonda Joness book Turning Parents Into Volunteers is designed to be a comprehensive guide for educators for recruiting, training, and maintaining parent volunteers. The book features more than 175 pages of step-by-step instructions, tips, ideas, and forms for creating and executing a successful parent volunteer program. A years worth of ways to encourage and recognize volunteers also is included.

Jones talked with Education World about how to approach parent volunteer programs to make them more welcoming and organized.

Rhonda Jones

Education World: How do educators need to change their approach to improve parent involvement?

Rhonda Jones: According to the research, one of the greatest hindrances to parent involvement is teachers attitudes. Many teachers, especially in less affluent areas, believe that parents dont care about their childrens education and they equate lack of involvement with lack of interest. Those unspoken attitudes make many parents feel unwelcome or unequipped to get involved. Therefore, having a welcoming and caring attitude is most important.

Statistically, the number one reason parents dont participate is lack of time -- 86 percent. That means educators have to think outside of the box. Most parents may not be able to work in the classroom on a weekly basis, but may be able grade papers at home or help out for a special event. That is why planning your program is essential. Teachers need to know ahead of time what their needs are and communicate them -- in-advance -- with warmth and enthusiasm.

The next greatest reason parents dont participate -- according to about 32 percent -- is that they feel like they have nothing to contribute. Teachers can change that by orienting and training volunteers to do a variety of learning activities as well as clerical duties. In a nutshell, you must be warm, organized, and willing to train your volunteers.

EW: What are some of the key elements of a successful parent volunteer program?

Teachers need to know ahead of time what their needs are and communicate them -- in-advance -- with warmth and enthusiasm.

Jones: Planning and organization are key. First, before the school year begins, decide how and when you need parent volunteers and make it easy for parents to participate. Make the volunteer program an integral part of the school program. Host several recruitment fairs, provide an ongoing column in the school newsletter that lists volunteer needs, and create a binder of available volunteer positions that includes the description, dates, and time commitments. Also, have a bulletin board just for volunteer information, spotlights, and opportunities, and assign a parent involvement coordinator.

Second, dont make parents jump through hoops to get involved, which happens too often in many schools, especially those that dont value parent participation.

Third, once you have parents interested in helping out at school, organize a volunteer orientation and training program. Each year I hosted an afternoon training [session] with my grade-level team that began with a group meeting and ended with parents rotating through teachers rooms and the school office learning various activities like using the copier, working with small groups, and conducting fluency testing. Parents at the end of the training always commented on how helpful the training was and stated on evaluations that they now felt more equipped to volunteer.

EW: What are some of the primary obstacles to recruiting and utilizing parent volunteers?

Jones: As I stated earlier, teacher attitudes, which usually reflect those of the administration and lack of planning, are definite obstacles. Of course, no matter what you do teachers will never get every parent to participate; some cultures think its the teachers job to educate and they rarely get involved. But for those [parents] who have the desire, even a little bit, with a little forethought and planning teachers can make use of every [interested] parent. Dont discount parents who can offer only several hours out of the year or can prepare materials at home. Teachers must plan their program so that everyone can make a difference. Also, be patient; if parent participation hasnt been highly valued or encouraged in the past, dont expect it to turn around overnight. Begin to communicate with parents and build relationships that will encourage more involvement in the future.

EW: How has the role of parent volunteers changed over the past decade or so?

Studies prove that just having parents on campus makes a big difference in the school climate.

Jones: The research continues to pour in on the importance of parent involvement to student success and many districts are realizing the need to make this a reality. Unfortunately, lack of support staff and professional development in the area of parent participation keeps many schools from making parent involvement an integral part of the school program. Its one thing to say that schools need more parent participation, but administrators and teachers need the practical know-how as well. According to research, most teacher programs dont even include a course on working with parents and, believe it or not, many teachers are very uncomfortable working with them. Somewhere a bridge must close this gap, and that begins with education and ongoing training.

EW: How can schools assess the effectiveness of their parent volunteer program?

Jones: What a great question. It is somewhat difficult to assess school-wide improvement as it relates to parent participation because there may not be uniformity in the use of volunteers from one class to the next. Some teachers may have a plethora of volunteers leading reading groups while others may depend more on volunteers who help from home. In order to assess, individual teachers will need to create their own rubrics to measure progress in a specific area. For example, if you have volunteers who lead reading groups, you can measure student achievement from the beginning of the school year to the next or set a goal for each student; that is, students will increase reading vocabulary by 25 percent. In my book I have forms where teachers actually plan their volunteer program based on goals for the students and their class in general. Once teachers identify goals, they can assess what role volunteers played in meeting their objectives. Also, overall, effectiveness may not only be seen in student achievement but in behavior and motivation of students as well. Studies prove that just having parents on campus makes a big difference in the school climate. In addition, all parent involvement isnt the same and you will receive different outcomes based upon your use of volunteers.

This e-interview with Rhonda Jones is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


School Issues Glossary
Parent involvement

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 08/10/2009
Last update 04/29/2010