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A Helping Hand for Teachers

By Detra Davis

There is no secret that volunteering activities at the school level enable families to share their time and talents to support the school, teachers, and students. It matters not if volunteers are working at the school, in the classroom or in the community, they are essential to promoting parent involvement and student achievement.

It's no secret that some teachers can be territorial when it comes to letting someone into their classroom or accepting assistance from individuals not employed by the school district. Sometimes it is easier to just do everything alone or ask family or friends to help out on weekends or after school hours. What would happen however if a teacher took a chance and decided to consider working with one or two committed volunteers?

Various strategies may be used to recruit and train volunteers and to match their time and talents to the needs of teachers, students, and administrators. Two years ago a middle school in Michigan recruited six parents as "Den Mothers responsible for contacting parents about issues and concerns addressing the grade they were assigned. Two sixth grade parents would create flyers for the sixth grade teacher concerning field trips, remind parents about upcoming parent meetings and conduct fundraisers used to purchase items the teacher needed in her classroom. There were two parents assigned to the seventh grade and the eighth grade. The group of "Den Mothers met twice a month to talk about parent communication methods and met once a month with each teacher. Additional correspondence was made via email and phone calls. The principal met with the teachers and their assigned "Den Mothers every six weeks.

Each "Den Mother was responsible for creating a Parent Resource Directory for their assigned grade. The directory was used to solicit volunteers for field trips and special school events. There is little doubt that parent volunteers who serve as assistants and contributors to school and classroom programs and as audiences at school activities and events help strengthen school programs. By organizing and training volunteers to assist in the schools, educators are sending a clear message that parents and others are welcome and that their time and talents are valued.

Here are a few rules you might want to remember when planning a volunteer initiative.

- In operating a volunteer program, it is important to keep a broad view of potential volunteer involvement. Do not assume that the only people who are likely to volunteer at your school are the same types of people who previously volunteered.

- Program planning and design begins with an initial assessment of why the school wishes to use volunteers and what benefits and problems are likely to be resolved with the use of volunteers.

- What are the benefits of having school volunteers? Delivery of service at a reduced cost - There are a number of volunteers that will be able to assist the school in areas that might otherwise topple a school's budget. If the school in able to create a pool of retired volunteer teachers to help in the reading or math lab, or with students one-on-one sessions, this is a great benefit to students, teachers and parents at virtually no cost.

- Teachers and parents can not do everything that is needed to increase student achievement. Volunteers are needed to assist in listening to a poor reader, acting as hall monitors, walking through the neighborhood before and after school and planting flowers so the school and community can take pride in their school.

- Additional eyes and ears in the school and in the community - Parents, business owners and other community members are the eyes and ears of the school community and when something is not what it should be; rest assured someone in the community knows the story.

- "Training" is the process of instructing volunteers in the specific job-related skills and behavior that they will need to perform their particular volunteer job. This is particularly important in a school setting because staff and students will focus on the task and behavior exhibited by the volunteer in the school setting.

- Volunteer training at the school level should be practical, and tailored to the individual needs of the volunteer. If a parent is not a good reader, do not have her read to a group of 2nd graders while the teacher is administering a make-up standardized test.

Contact your principal or a school district administrator to see how to start a parent volunteer initiative at your school. If you do not have a volunteer initiative plan, contact the Red Cross. They wrote the book on volunteer initiatives and will be able to create a skeleton plan for your school. Remember to include parents and community members on your school volunteer initiative planning committee.

About The Author
Detra D. Davis is a certified Parent Educator with the North Carolina Parent Network and has been a writer for over 25 years.


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