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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Do you find yourself wanting (more) help from parent volunteers, but are either not getting it, or not getting the kind of help that would be truly useful to you and your students? Is managing parent volunteers time-consuming or burdensome? If so, you're not alone, according to a new survey (see infographic) of a thousand educators and parents by WeAreTeachers and my organization, VolunteerSpot. Even though guardians and teachers overwhelmingly agree that parent volunteers in the classroom are an important ingredient in student success, the study also reveals big gaps in expectations and problems with communication. These issues leave teachers feeling unsupported and parents feeling left out!

5 Teacher Tips for Improving Your Parent Volunteer Experience

1. Open New Communication Channels

According to the survey, 64 percent of teachers are still asking class parents for help via flyers and notes home. It turns out that nearly one third of parents want to receive information about volunteering opportunities online or via email. Opening new electronic communication channels via email, text and social media is your ticket for getting more parents interested and involved this school year.

2. Be Clear About Where You Most Need Parents to Help

More than half of the teachers participating in the survey (61 percent) report that they want parents to support student learning activities such as listening to students read, tutoring and helping with homework. In contrast, the majority of parents surveyed contribute by donating items to the classroom (70 percent) or helping with class parties and field trips (58 percent). Consider asking for the specific help you need, while explaining to parents how their support in targeted academic areas will boost student achievement. Cultivate your parents as important team members working towards the common goal of student success.

3. Engage Working Parents

With 73 percent of parents citing that work schedules prevent them from volunteering regularly, it's easy to see how teachers might find themselves at a loss for how to fully engage parents in the classroom community. Creative ways to involve working parents include:

  • Scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so that parents can help before work
  • Using telecommunication platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts so that parents can read to the class or help with pre-scheduled assignments without being physically present in the classroom
  • Inviting parents to update the class website and Pinterest boards
  • Preparing learning center materials from home
  • Helping in the school garden on the weekends

Just ask and see what happens!

4. Plan for Parent Volunteers

One of the things that can discourage parent volunteers is arriving at school to discover they aren't needed or aren't sure what to do. One in five parents said that they've experienced difficulty finding out what is needed of them. Almost half of the teachers surveyed (48 percent) reported that they wanted more parent volunteers, but indicated that it was hard to find enough time to prepare information or activities for volunteers.

Make it easier on both parties by establishing regular weekly sessions for parents to help out for 30 minutes. If possible, recruit a manager or "room parent" who can help assign volunteer roles, answer questions and write instructions for frequently repeated volunteer duties, such as math stations, technology lab or updating portfolios. Using an online signup and scheduling tool like VolunteerSpot.com lets parents schedule themselves for shifts and receive automated reminders, which result in fewer accidental no-shows.

5. Show Appreciation

Recognizing parent volunteers is a surefire way to grow your parent volunteer pool and keep them returning to help in the classroom. Let parents know that you and your students value their contributions, no matter how small or how involved. Consider sending them student-created thank you cards, hand-written notes from you, and short videos or photos that can be emailed and posted on the class blog or Facebook page.

Given that over 40 percent of surveyed parents want to volunteer more, why don't they? There is no simple answer. However, we do know that clear communication, better alignment of parent volunteer roles to teacher needs, and convenient online scheduling make for a great place to start.

What are your tips for engaging parent volunteers in the classroom?

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