Enlisting volunteers in the classroom comes with multifaceted benefits. Research shows volunteers increase the connection between home and school, ease the teacher’s load, help children achieve more, and improve community-school relations.
Here are basic guidelines that elevate the experience for volunteers, teacher, and students:
First and foremost, evaluate whom to seek help from to volunteer, given that every student has different needs:
- Parents, grandparents and care givers. Start with the student’s family. Parents have a variety of skill sets, experiences and careers that can benefit students. Encourage parents to be a part in whatever capacity their life allows.
- College students. Contact a local college. If the college or university offers an education major, begin there. Speak with the department chair and ask if they would be willing to tell students of the opportunity to volunteer in your classroom.
- Other options. Get involved in PTA meetings and other events at the school in order to meet others who may be willing to volunteer. Local businesses and seniors are other avenues for finding help.
One you find help, it is important to:
- Get to know your volunteers. Find out their background and experience, what they enjoy and how much time they can commit.
- Get organized. Being organized is key. Volunteers tend to lose interest when there is down time and their skills are not being appropriately utilized. Remember, their time is valuable and they are offering it as a gift to the classroom. Be respectful of that by having tasks prepared and ready for them when they get there.
- Think outside of the classroom box. Just because a parent cannot help in the classroom during school hours does not mean that parent cannot volunteer. Create a task list of things parents can do at home. For example, cutting out laminations, cleaning and filling glue bottles, or maintaining a class website or newsletter.
Tips for Creating a Positive Experience
- Take time for training. Training takes away guesswork and makes a volunteer’s time more effective. Although many districts offer volunteer training, it is important to set up a time to train a volunteer specifically for their role. Training helps nip potential problems from the beginning and helps things run more smoothly.
- Match up volunteers with activities that fit their skill set. A volunteer will be more apt to stay if they are
engaged and passionate about what they are doing. If cleaning is their gift, then use them to tidy the room, disinfect areas, sort and straighten books, etc. For those volunteers who like more individualized hands on with the students, offer activities like tutoring individuals, helping students with projects, or providing editing help on writing assignments. Taking the extra time in the beginning to match volunteers with tasks that fit their personality will be a greater benefit in the long run. Using tools like Survey Monkey or volunteer skill inventory lists can help in assembling this information.
- Keep communication lines open and strong. Touch base with the volunteers regularly to see what is working and what is not. Be sure to communicate clearly and concisely. Also discuss timelines, classroom rules and routines, and school policies.
- Be encouraging and thankful. Remind the volunteer of the difference they are making. No task is menial. In whatever way they choose to help, makes for a more positive environment. Even something simple like easing transition times can increase teaching time. Thank the volunteers for their time and effort each time they help. Showing a volunteer value enriches their lives. Studies show that volunteering reduces depression and stress by making a person feel involved because they are given a sense of purpose.
By engaging volunteers in the classroom, a team system is created that benefits the students, volunteers, teachers, school and community.