"It's always the SAME parents that do ALL the work!" This is the complaint I hear time and time again from PTA leaders across the country. This is the complaint I heard from MY PTA during my first board meeting three years ago. What frustrates me about this statement is that it's mostly true - and it doesn't need to be!
It's my firm belief that most parents want to be involved in supporting our childrens' schools, but sometimes we make it too difficult or too burdensome for them participate. When my daughter entered kindergarten, for example, I wanted to volunteer in the school cafeteria but was told I couldn't because my work schedule didn't allow me to commit to a weekly shift. You see, it was simply too much of a hassle for the volunteer coordinator to juggle schedules of parents needing monthly or bi-weekly shifts. (of course, that was before VolunteerSpot). Other parents simply dropped out because of over-communication. Rosa R., a 2nd grade parent volunteer, sums it up, "Reply-all email messages about scheduling math-station helpers were flooding my inbox - I finally had to ask the teacher to take me off the list! I'm happy to help - just tell me my shift and I'll be there."
Overcoming these frustrating obstacles and getting more parents involved in our schools, even in modest ways, builds commitment to our children, our teachers, and our community. Here are 7 ways to increase parent participation as your PTA leaders and teachers prepare for the new school year:
Get Flexible. Offering a variety of ways to get involved at school opens the door for more parents to find a volunteer job that fits their interests and schedules. Don't get hung up on how frequently a parent is volunteering, instead, focus on getting the greatest number of parents participating across your campus. Parents who are sincerely welcomed, valued and thanked for their initial or seemingly simple contributions (e.g. reading to the class, or manning a booth at the carnival) may grow into parents that volunteer regularly or join your fundraising committees and booster clubs.
Be Visible. Creating an environment where campus leaders are visible and approachable makes an inviting atmosphere for parents needing that extra nudge to get involved. Setting up welcome tables with bright signs during the first day of school and Back to School night lets parents see the variety of volunteer opportunities available. Even if parents don't sign up on the spot, they are getting information about where they are needed. At our school, all committee chairs and room parents serve as ambassadors and wear ribbons at Back to School Night that say "PTO Leader, ASK ME". Parents that may want to get involved and don't know how to initiate now have an open invitation.
Go Portable. Challenging your committees and teachers to think of small jobs that can be completed outside of the classroom or meeting room makes more openings for working parents to participate. Most parents want to be involved at school - creating small, meaningful 'take home' jobs gives them a way to do so that also builds their commitment. Examples of portable volunteer assignments include grading worksheets, preparing supplies for art or science projects, and making signs for the concessions stand. A variety of virtual tasks can also be completed from work or home - e.g. posting updates to the school website, emailing event sponsors, and uploading photos.
In-Kind is Fine. Giving time on campus is nice, but giving in other ways is also essential. Some parents choose not to give their time, and instead donate money to the school. Others gift materials and supplies such as landscaping materials, printing, or food for special events. Parents with creative or professional skills can be tapped to participate in their field of expertise, such as an artist parent designing the Carnival fliers or an accountant parent reconciling the books for the Fall fundraisier.
Just ASK. Coaching PTA leaders and teachers to ask one simple question can cultivate new volunteers and volunteer leaders. I've had a lot of luck in one-on-one conversations causally asking parents, "Have you thought about how you would like to get involved this year?" More often than not, parents have an answer. Once you know their interests, you can help them get plugged into the right committee or job. Once they are in, ask them to bring a friend!
No Extras. Being realistic about how many volunteers you need sets you up for success. Too often committee chairs and teachers expect that volunteers will miss their shifts so they schedule 'extra' volunteers. Unfortunately, this sets up a vicious circle - a parent takes time off to come help (at recess, the book fair, or classroom) and finds that her efforts aren't really needed because the shift is over-staffed. Next time she's asked to sign up to help, she doesn't, assuming the teacher already has plenty of helpers and she won't be needed. So the next time the teacher sets the schedule, she adds additional spots to compensate for no-shows.
Make it Easy. Streamlining communication, asking for specific help, and using simple online tools can go a long way to making it easy for parents to volunteer. Posting clear wish-lists on your school website, or immediate requests on Twitter, and, when possible, sending weekly messages using the school listerve will reduce redundancy. Using VolunteerSpot's free and simple calendar sign up tool is another way that makes it easy for leaders to ask for help, and easy for parents to commit to volunteering. With VolunteerSpot, the cafeteria volunteer coordinator can accommodate both weekly-shifts and one-timers, without any extra work. VolunteerSpot makes it easy for her to reach out to more parents with an email link or button on the school's private webpage. Parents can quickly see what spots are available and claim a shift with a few clicks. Automated email confirmation and reminder messages help parents keep their commitments and also make the practice of scheduling 'extras' unnecessary.
Best of luck at Back to School time everyone! I hope this post will spark your thinking about how you can make it easier for more parents to get involved than ever before.
Interested in learning more about VolunteerSpot so you can save time and make volunteering easier? Please take a live or video tour here: VolunteerSpot.com - DEMO