George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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 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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tammibrowning's picture

Everyone benefits when parents become involved in school life. There are many ways to do this. Most importantly you can support your children by talking to them about school, by encouraging them and by maintaining regular contact with their teachers. Parents involvement is compulsory in my kid's midtown private school.

Josephina's picture
preschool teacher from New York City

Thank you for your post.It gave me some great ideas in having my parents be part of my classroom component. Thank you for sharing.

John Edelson's picture
John Edelson
Founder of and

I heard some of the best ideas on technology and communication in education this week from Matt Gomez's online webinar. He makes Twitter and his class blog the center of many of their activities. "Lets each draw a picture of that cat and then we'll post them on the blog!" Or, "Let's tweet about how much we liked that new book that we read." Pretty soon, all the parents are following the feed and blog. With that level of communication, it should be much easier to solicit parental help whenever and exactly how you need it.

Karen Bantuveris's picture
Karen Bantuveris
Founder & CEO of VolunteerSpot (

Thanks for sharing, John! I ADORE Matt's innovative work. He's the one who told us about using FaceTime/Skype to have grandparents and parents traveling read to the class - and the kids find the location on the map - double learning experience!

Andy XU RUNYUN's picture
From Shanghai, China. A volunteer in Walnut Valley Unified School District.

Parental involvement is of crucial importance to students' academic achievement performances, as well as the effective development of entire school/school district. Recently, I've read so many reports and articles which focus on the importance of parental engagement. I applaud to the opinion that since parents have their own occupations also, it is unrealistic to call them to participate in school or district-related affairs all the time, we can use multi-media technologies instead to inform them of their kids' latest performances at schools, e.g.: We can tweet them through Twitter, or inform them via E-mails, Google+, or through other useful social medias.

Leslie's picture
Kindergarten teacher

This is a really great blog. I never thought of doing some of this stuff. I have the hardest time to get parent volunteers and like you said above it is hard to plan. I also don't always know what my parents feel comfortable doing. We send out a parent survey in the beginning of the year but most parents just say to call them, and don't give specific times or days they may be available. I have sent out numerous flyers and parent notes home and a few emails and still get the excuses. I always have the same parents helping over and over again and the rest don't say anything. I am going to think about this blog that you created and try to figure out how i can use it for the future.

Karen Bantuveris's picture
Karen Bantuveris
Founder & CEO of VolunteerSpot (

Thanks for visiting, and for your comment, Leslie. I hope you give VolunteerSpot a try - if you create an online signup sheet with specific dates you would like parent helpers (weekly readers, math stations, special projects) - and then invite parents to sign up, hopefully they will see a direct spot they can help with and choose it. If most of your parents work, think of a quick activity after drop-off or take-home projects you need help with too. Best of luck!

Take a demo here:

jojo nepomuceno's picture

Thank you for your suggestions. I am working on a course project on how best I can have parents more involved in the program of their child. I learned from your inputs and will use them. There are a lot of advantages not only for us teachers but especially for the students when parents and in our case immediate family is on board when it comes to education. Your ideas, as well as inputs from the bloggers, will be helpful.

MWilson's picture

I truly appreciated this article. As a development professional at an independent pre-K-5th grade school, one of my most important roles is engaging with parent volunteers. Although my work with these parents is not in the classroom, all of the fundraising that we do supports our teachers and students. I am constantly amazed by the passion and energy that our parent volunteers possess. Every year, our school manages two large fundraising events---an annual campaign (The UCDS Fund) and an auction gala. Because many of our parent volunteers work full time, my colleagues and I know how important it is to create opportunities for them to participate meaningfully. One way that we engage working parents is to create jobs/tasks that can be done remotely. For example, one of our volunteers works to improve our online auction website, which she does at home with flexible deadlines.
In addition to creating opportunities for working parents, the author makes a great point about showing appreciation to parent volunteers. I don't think this factor can be stressed enough. Volunteers are giving you their most valuable asset--their time. Being a parent today can be incredibly stressful and demanding. For many families, it would be much easier to let volunteering at their children's school fall to the wayside. So for those parents who do step up, a small token of appreciation (we love to find local gifts made in Seattle), a warm greeting in the hallway, and a hand-written thank you note goes a very long way!
Michelle Wilson, Development Specialist, University Child Development School, Seattle, WA

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