Can Parent Volunteers aid in my Students’ Success?
Posted on: August 2, 2018.

Author: Mrs. Radhika Mohan, Educational Consultant

My greatest forte in my school is the huge number of parents who are always eager to volunteer themselves in all our school activities – both scholastic and non-scholastic. Right from sending fruit and lunch in turns for my KG kids to lending their hands in our organic farming program, I only seek the support of my ever-willing parents. Anyone can find reams educational research verifying that parent involvement is a crucial factor in a child’s educational success. Having been practising this happening for many years now—almost 15 years—I know that a positive home school connection is an essential component in the growth of my school and of course, my students’ development in all aspects of their personality.

This kind of a pleasant intervention makes my job much easier and benefits the children and their families. Children of parent volunteers seem more ‘at home’ in school; they help dealing with behavioural or academic concerns and completed homework and projects. Yes, it was initially difficult in understanding the benefits of parent involvement and opening my classroom doors during my instruction time, but my mind won over my head. Of course, a lot of tricky questions must be answered; most importantly, “How will the children work and behave towards a volunteer?” and “What kinds of lessons, materials, and projects would I choose for volunteers to help me with?” or “What activities can parents be entrusted with?”

Then I got on to doing things with them like helping with activity preparations (for e.g., cutting, tracing, collating, etc.,), reading with small groups or individuals, working with a child on a special project, tutoring in math or language lessons, assisting child with homework, helping students compile journal/diary writing, helping with art, craft, music, theatre, gardening, cooking, and festival celebration activities. All festivals in our school are parent volunteering events. With specific helpful directions – the list can be endless. Inviting them to help needs to be a very thoughtful and genuine effort so as to make them feel comfortable and excited, coming inside.

We also need to empower our parent volunteers to help them make the most of the time they spend with the students. I always select the specific activity list for them very carefully. My teachers prepare all materials needed for them well in advance. I also prepare a shortlist of hints, including my thoughts about: the length of the session (what time period is appropriate for my subject, and age/grade of the students), What to do if a student doesn’t cooperate, being positive with students (“good job”, “well done”), finding the next student on the list and where to look for additional material, if needed. They will help parents feel comfortable, valued, and appreciated.

It is very important that we connect to the volunteers EACH and EVERY time they enter our classroom. Before he/she is ready to leave for the day, we should certainly take time to talk to them – ask about their satisfaction with the lesson/activity / task and about how students behaved and engaged. Also, we need to check if they would like to volunteer again for the same type of work or if they might prefer something else. We also need to solicit their suggestions that might lead to their own or other volunteers’ improvement.

Finally, we rope in the entire class to clap and say “Thank you” as a way of showing our respect for the volunteer. At the end of the year, a THANK YOU certificate and a class book full of ‘THANK YOU’ notes and pictures from the students would make them proud and happy. It’s just a small gesture yet well appreciated.

“Before inviting parent volunteers, our students need some coaching”, says another teacher Peggy Cramer. I began following her. Students should be made to understand that a parent volunteer is a very busy person and we are honoured they’re coming here, choosing to spend time with us. Most students love to work one-on-one with an adult, so they see this as an opportunity to keep themselves motivated to learn. It’s important we also keep a record of which student worked with which volunteer and on what.

The safety factor in the school shouldn’t be neglected. Any volunteers who come, including parents from other schools, should be subjected to a written background check. “We will use the information only for a safety check and keep it strictly confidential”, says Cramer. Volunteers may also be asked to sign in at the school office when they arrive and sign out when they’re finished for the day. School may supply badges or buttons to volunteers to wear so members of the school staff know the volunteer has checked into the office.

For schools who have not used parent volunteers in the past, this year could be the first one to take small steps in that direction. Doing so will help our students build a positive home-school connection and help strengthen family involvement. This will undoubtedly gear our students to reach full potential.

And in all this process, what do I stand to benefit from?

I look, feel, and stay more organized, myself!

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