Best Practices for Volunteering at Your Coop Preschool
Choosing a cooperative preschool for your family? You’ll be making a great choice for you and your children as you are introduced to a truly collaborative learning environment. Coops are known for their strong sense of community and family bonds that are built during the preschool years. While traditional coops require additional hands-on parent involvement, they provide a wealth of opportunity spending time with children in the classroom working side by side with the teachers. Coop parents love this glimpse into their child’s new world!
Successful coops are a happy blend of parents, teachers, and children working together. Sustaining a well-oiled coop machine and cohesive parent community can be difficult, however, as participating families come and go year to year (yes, one day your child will go to kindergarten!). Relying on volunteers for hands-on support with school functions while finagling differing personalities and new input into how to operate and organize, well, let’s just say maintaining harmony can sometimes be a challenge.
Director of the Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School, Lesley Romanoff, shares that a “clear purpose or vision” as well as a “formal outlining of member expectations” are key foundations to lay for any effective and sustainable coop board. Find these and more best practices below for strengthening your volunteer operations today as well as laying the groundwork for future success:
- Strong Foundation: Does your board have bylaws? It is a good idea to dust these off every year and ensure they are still applicable, current, and in line with your school’s mission.
- Leadership: Does your executive team serve 1 or 2 year terms? To maintain continuity, consider 2 year roles for executive positions with overlapping terms to avoid starting from scratch each year.
- Effective Committees: Create committees that will best serve your school, maintain classroom and school operations, and be enjoyable for your parent volunteers. Popular committees include: Teacher/Staff Relations, Development /Fundraising, Family/Community Events, Public Relations, Facility Management, Membership, Health & Licensing.
- “Vices” & “Elects”: Establish your leadership roles with a successor in mind. Many organizations have “vice” or “elect” officers shadow and support the current officer and move into the title role the following term. Keeping consistency at the board and committee level will help ensure there are no gaps or steep learning curves to overcome.
- Talk to the Parents: Ask parents what they are interested in – poll parents at the beginning of each school year to learn about interests, hobbies and skillsets. Ask parents to rank their top 5 assignments – this makes it easy to place volunteers in activities they enjoy!
- Committee Assignments: Don’t burn out your hard workers by continually asking the same parents for their leadership. Many coops require that all parents serve on a committee as part of their obligation to the school – this is a great way to rotate leadership and get everyone involved. Free online signup sheets make it easy to help parents express interest in the committees they would like to be a part of. With computer and mobile access, VolunteerSpot’s free scheduling tools and committee picker get more parents involved; and automated reminders keep everyone on track!
- Set Expectations: Be sure to let your volunteers know what they are getting into! Keep job descriptions up to date, and discuss goals, objectives of the committee, and anticipated time commitments in advance.
- Document and Organize: A necessary evil that luckily is made much easier in the digital age. Ditch the dreaded, out of date binders and turn to time-saving online resources – like Dropbox or Google Docs – to save on money as well as paper! You’ll be able to prescribe which members have viewing access and which members can make changes to your documents.
- Embrace technology: Preschools today have access to an amazing number of free resources that can help make board and committee responsibilities more efficient. Be sure to check out free online signup sheets and mobile apps from VolunteerSpot to get your parents organized, collect contributions and make your committee planning a breeze!
- Board Bonding: We all enjoy working with people we know – don’t wait for school to start to get to know one another. Consider a board retreat several months in advance of the school year for planning AND to build camaraderie between members. Carving out large chunks of time can be difficult so summer planning playdates can also be effective and fun for kids.
Preschool is a magical time and coop organizations let you play magician. Your participation in school committees and volunteer efforts ensure the success of the school and the students. Following a few best practices can make it enjoyable and successful for all – now and in the future.