If there's one thing I've learned in almost 20 years of being a teacher it's how to utilize volunteers in the classroom. As a new teacher, I never asked for volunteers. In fact, I avoided it. Having my students' parents in the classroom made me nervous and I really didn't know what to have them do.
But oh how things change! One day I realized that having parents willing to help is an amazing gift that should be accepted with gratitude. Not only that - it's quite okay to ASK for help. Don't know exactly how? Read on...
How to Recruit Parent Volunteers
I have found that the very best time to line up helpers is at the beginning of the school year - even before the first day of school. Meet The Teacher or Back to School Night is the perfect opportunity to encourage parent involvement.
Be sure to set up a "Help Wanted" station with a signup sheet for anyone who is interested and a list of volunteer opportunities that may come up throughout the year. In your student information folders, always include the background check form that most schools require of in-school volunteers.
Another great opportunity to recruit help is at your Open House event. Parents who show up are interested in their child's education and most likely want to be supportive. This is the perfect time to request help with specific things. Put out a volunteer calendar with dates marked when you can use a helping hand and more of those background check forms.
Once the school year is under way, it's a good idea to send home a volunteer letter at the start of each grading period letting families know what special events are coming up and how they can help. If you have access to an online program like Signup Genius, go ahead and include a link where parents can sign up for a time slot.
If you find yourself needing help with a last minute task, an email blast usually does the trick. It can be something as simple as this...
"Hi, awesome parents! Our Scholastic Book Club order just arrived and the kids are super excited to get their new books. But we're really busy getting ready for test week, so I'm looking for someone who can pop in for a few minutes and sort these books for me. It won't take much time, I promise!"
You will almost always get a couple of takers if parents know what you need help with and how long it will take.
➡️ Teacher Tip - I have found that I get the best response by asking for help with something specific rather than just a general invitation to come assist during the school day.
Ideas for Utilizing Parent Volunteers in the Classroom
Once you have a few parents excited to help out, start making a list of jobs they can do. Delegating some of these tasks will make a huge difference in your stress level and free up more of your own time for lesson planning, working with students, and the other important thing teachers do.
Here are some ideas for using parents as volunteers in the classroom:
One thing that takes up a lot of time in the classroom is switching out bulletin boards. If you like to hang student work or change your boards to match the seasons, holidays, or specific academic topics, you can easily assign a volunteer to take care of it for you.
➡️ Teacher Tip - If you plan to reuse the same bulletin board display next year, have your volunteer take a picture of it before taking it down and putting the pieces in a large zip-loc bag or envelope. Later, print the picture and attach it to the front of the bag. Next year it will be easy peasy for someone to hang it back up for you!
Working With Students
Why not use your regular volunteers to improve student success? It doesn't take a master's degree to listen to students read aloud or help them learn math facts or sight words. Your volunteers can also work with small groups by supervising a game, facilitating science experiments, or assisting younger students with a craft activity.
I'm not talking about cleaning here. I mean all the little daily tasks that keep a classroom running smoothly. If you have volunteers who come in regularly, they can handle many of these things:
Homework check in - collecting and checking off who completed it
Mailboxes - sorting completed work into student mailboxes
Student folders - filling with students' work and papers at the end of the day
Running errands - to the office, media center, etc.
Assembling booklets, work packets, etc.
Classroom library - tidy up, return books to their proper bins, patch up torn pages or covers
Special School Events
Throughout the school year, there are plenty of special events when an extra set of hands and eyes are extremely valuable. Consider asking your parent helpers to come help with class parties, field day, the book fair, career day, or your awards ceremony.
All of these days are hectic and full of excitement. Young children may need extra help remembering the rules and following directions. Having a few more adults on hand can really help everything run smoothly. And don't forget about field trips - the more chaperones you have, the better (especially in the lower grade levels)!
Another great way to utilize volunteers is inviting them in as guest readers. I love doing this because:
Read-alouds build students' vocabulary and comprehension skills
Kids are more focused listening to a new person speaking or reading
Having a guest reader frees you up to complete other tasks for a few minutes
Classroom Clean Out
You know all of the things that must get done before the last day of school? Taking down bulletin boards, emptying shelves, cleaning student whiteboards - these are all time-consuming tasks that can be handled by classroom volunteers. The end of the year is busy and teachers end up doing many of these jobs during post-planning. Save yourself a ton of time by asking a few parents to handle them for you.
Some other ideas:
clean out all the broken crayons and dried up markers
pack up your classroom library
collect and sort textbooks
remove labels from cubbies and mailboxes
return materials to the media center
Ways Volunteers Can Help From Home
Most parents work full-time and have busy schedules, but many of them still very willing to help their child's teacher. The good news is that there are numerous ways busy parents can be involved outside of regular school hours. Here are some tasks that can be completed at home:
If you have a website for your class, why not ask a tech savvy parent to help maintain it? Things like adding dates to the calendar or updating your weekly spelling list are easy tasks for someone to handle.
Think about all of the cutting, hole punching, and stapling you do throughout the year. Talk about a lot of work! Next time you have a pile of booklets to fold or packets to staple together, try sending them home for a volunteer to work on.
➡️ Teacher Tip - When sending materials home to a parent volunteer, be sure to include a sticky note with brief instructions and a completed example to show what the finished product should look like.
Many teachers set time aside once a month for birthday celebrations. You might also have classroom parties for holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving.
Instead of trying to handle it all yourself, recruit a volunteer to be your room parent. Whoever plays this important role traditionally serves as the contact person for special events. This includes emailing or calling the other parents to coordinate the food and drinks and line up extra hands to come in and help on party day.
Parents With Special Skills
Sometimes class parents have specific skills or talents that can be helpful in the classroom.
Maybe Sally's mom is a fantastic photographer. Invite her to come take the pictures during your next big event. If Johnny's dad has a green thumb, ask him to help start a vegetable garden during your unit on plants. Parents who speak foreign languages can make a valuable contribution by translating your newsletter for your ESL families.
Don't be afraid to ask parents about their hobbies and skills on your volunteer information form!
To get a free copy of the form I use, just click the image below:
Now that you how to ask for volunteers and have a list of ways they can help, get ready for a more productive year with a lot less stress!
Just don't forget to thank your special helpers. A small token of appreciation at the end of the school year is important. After all, these people have given up their own free time to help YOU out. A handwritten note and small gift card is all it takes.
Get ready for Meet The Teacher or Open House in no time at all with this set of printable signs, forms, and activities.
Includes everything you need to create informative and welcoming stations for your new students and their families.
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