By Karen Bantuveris, Founder & CEO, www.VolunteerSpot.com
With the school year winding down, parent groups across the country are passing the baton. Facebook is buzzing with posts by involved moms (and dads) who are both sad and relieved to relinquish their terms, while new parent leaders express everything from passionate enthusiasm to trepidation about what they’ve signed up to accomplish next year. In some schools, getting on the parent group board involves fierce politicking. In others, a dedicated mom steps up because no one else will take the job.
Planning more ways to involve parents at school yields big results in terms of parent commitment to your school community, fiscal fitness, and student success. Here are four tips to boost parent involvement at school next year.
Go Wide. Don't get hung up on how frequently a parent volunteers; instead, focus on getting the greatest number of parents to participate. Parents who are sincerely welcomed, valued and thanked for their contributions are more likely to volunteer regularly and join leadership and fundraising teams.
Think Flexible. Design a variety of ways for parents to get involved at school. This will open the door for more parents to find a job that fits their interests and schedules. Establish ongoing day-time jobs in the library or cafeteria, quick classroom opportunities like helping with a science experiment or party, weekend opportunities like helping with campus cleanups and fundraising events, and take-home projects like preparing art kits or updating the school website.
Tune in. Look around…have you cultivated connections with all kinds of families to learn about their needs and how they want to get involved? A working mom, for example, may enjoy an occasional weekend or evening volunteer activity that involves her family, such as helping in the school garden. Grandparent guardians may be open to helping out in the library but may not see volunteer openings posted on the school website. An Immigrant parent may purposely keep her distance as a sign of respect for the teacher; inviting her to a parent’s coffee or to help with a staff appreciation event may be the personal touch needed to help her engage.
Rotate parent group meetings to the evenings and providing day care to make it easier for parents with young children and single parents to participate.
Just ASK. Coach your current parent leaders to be parent group advocates over the summer. Consider dropping this one simple, effective sentence into casual conversations at the ball field, grocery store or neighborhood picnic: "Have you thought about how you would like to get involved at school next year?" Parents frequently have an answer, and once you know their interests, you can help them find the right committee or job. It’s also a perfect time to suggest they bring along a friend or two.
Congratulations to all of the new parent leaders and active moms out there! Your generous support will help teachers do their jobs and cover critical budget gaps in the coming year. Most importantly, you’ll inspire other parents to participate at school and build a strong community for our children.
About the author:
Karen Bantuveris is the founder & CEO of VolunteerSpot, a time and sanity-saving online coordination tool that empowers busy parents, teachers and grassroots community leaders by making it easier get involved. Frustrated by the ‘little things’ that often prevent parents from participating at school (“reply-all” email overload, disorganized clipboard signup sheets, and constant phone-tag), Karen launched VolunteerSpot in 2009 to simplify the volunteer experience. VolunteerSpot has quickly grown mom-to-mom and group-to-group, boosting turnout with more than a quarter-million users nationwide. Karen is passionate about increasing parent participation in schools, engaging parents to fund education technology, and using new media tools to inspire social action in the ‘real’ world. Karen lives in Austin, TX with her husband and daughter.