Volunteering at school is one of the most important ways that parents can influence their child’s learning climate and make a difference in his or her classroom. Whether helping with homework or chaperoning field trips, parental involvement is critical to their child’s overall success and engagement at school.
Still, recruiting and engaging parents can be a difficult and frustrating task for teachers. The good news is that digital tools provide an array of benefits for organizing, scheduling and communicating with parents about volunteering. Here’s how to take advantage of these systems and tools to get more help from parent volunteers.
Create a System
One way to make parent volunteer experiences better is to create a system for soliciting volunteers, delegating tasks and communicating effectively.
A self-running system ensures that parent volunteers actually save time for the teacher, rather than making things more complicated, educator Angela Watson points out. One of the best ways to instill such a system is to designate a space where parent volunteers can work while they’re in the classroom.
Watson adds that she kept a running list of things that needed to be done, then marked the most important tasks and placed the list on the parent volunteer table. “This way volunteers could choose things that they enjoyed doing and were good at, and could get started immediately without having to interrupt instruction to find out what I needed,” she writes.
Rebecca Davies at The Third Wheel Teacher agrees that an organized system is key for efficient parent volunteering. She suggests drawing up a list of materials that might be needed and then making those worksheets available when needed. Sign up sheets, to do lists, instruction sheets, videos and notes are all examples of materials that might be useful.
Designate Leaders and Tasks
Chances are there will be one or two parents who are particularly passionate about volunteering. Use these eager people to your advantage by assigning them organizing roles for the next project. We Are Teachers writer Jenn Horton suggests writing a call to action email to a few of these standout volunteers. “Think of this coordinator extraordinaire as your masterful middle man—the go between for you and the dozens of parents who are eager and excited to lend a hand,” she says.
This email should be written like a wanted advertisement that details an exciting and rewarding pro bono job. The right person will be ready to assume the role and take on the responsibility.
Clearly separating tasks and leaders can also keep the workload reasonable for volunteers. As the team at School Volunteer Share points out, one of the main reasons people don’t volunteer is that they’re afraid it will become too much work. “Some parents worry that the help they can offer is not enough to make a positive difference, or that others will not think it’s enough, so they just skip it completely,” they explain.
They might also worry that once they say yes to one thing, the requests will never end. When parents can clearly see who is responsible for what, this fear will dissipate and it’ll be easier to keep them engaged.
Improve the Experience with Digital Tools
Sign up sheets, job descriptions and other volunteer materials can be kept online so they’re always available to edit, update or print. There are a number of cloud storage apps that teachers use for such purposes. Opting for a tool that helps you share is a good idea as well: You can share volunteer handbooks and classroom guidelines with parents before they arrive at school to help.
Dropbox, SugarSync, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are all examples of tools that allow teachers to store and share documents, according to TeachThought. Google Drive is especially useful for teachers because it offers free storage to 15 gigabytes, and makes sharing with specific audiences easy.
Schoolwork is another app teachers can use to share digital files with parents. As TechCrunch reporter Sarah Perez points out, Schoolwork allows teachers to create and distribute handouts, collaborate individually with students or parents and assign specific activities. For the tech-savvy teacher already using iPads in the classroom, Schoolwork and its sister app, Classroom for Mac, can make it easier to delegate volunteer tasks and create schedules seamlessly.
Boost Communication with Parent Volunteers
When it comes to communicating, there are a number of ways teachers can get in touch with current and future parent volunteers. Skype and video chatting can be helpful for parents who aren’t able to visit the classroom physically, explains Curtiss Strietelmeier, Ph.D., K-12 business development strategist at technology solutions provider CDW. He says social media can help these parents keep in touch and stay updated with volunteer activities and daily happenings too. Keeping parents in the loop may make them more comfortable to reach out regarding volunteering when they are in town.
Messaging between teachers and parents should be quick and efficient, says Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. at The Tech Edvocate. Streamlined communication can facilitate the volunteer process by alerting parents of what needs to be done and how they can help. Teachers can use these platforms for sending reminders and creating signup sheets, for example.
Lynch notes that Classdojo, Bloomz and Remind are all examples of tools leading the way for facilitating better communication between parents and teachers. These tools are also helping break down socioeconomic, linguistic, and scheduling barriers that have traditionally prevented certain parents from volunteering, says Edutopia assistant editor Emelina Minero.
In particular, Remind and ClassDojo use text messaging to remind parents that they’re scheduled to volunteer in the classroom. In addition to helping parents stay up-to-date with school activities, these texts can be used to ask parents for help in a quicker and more direct way. This results in parents that are more engaged and students that feel like their parents care more, which can in turn boost learning outcomes.
Elliot Gowans, senior vice president at edtech solutions provider D2L, believes that digital-powered communication is the key to more engaged parents and teachers. “With the help of technology and digital portfolios, parental engagement and communication is now able to take place beyond the confines of the classroom walls,” he writes. “This is paving the way for a much more streamlined, collaborative relationship between the student, parent and teacher, which will, ultimately, lead to more skilled, capable and well-rounded children.”
How to Maintain Parent Engagement
Getting a parent to volunteer once in school activities is only half the battle. Getting them to volunteer repeatedly proves just as difficult. Focusing on creating a positive experience for parents can make them more likely to return. Rose Hamilton at PTO Today spoke to a number of teachers about how they engage more parent volunteers.
One said that it’s important to always follow up after events with anonymous online surveys. These questionnaires can ask what went well, where improvement is needed and how the overall experience was. People respond well when their feedback is taken into consideration. Therefore, asking parents for their opinion can improve the process for next time while increasing the chances that they’ll return.
SignUpGenius is one tool that makes it easy to create sign up forms and send them to parents online. Sign up sheets won’t get lost as can happen with paper forms, so you’ll ensure everyone is contacted and given an opportunity to sign up. This tool is also great because volunteers can swap and change schedules with each other without having to contact you.
Possip is another tool for teachers: This one helping teachers solicit feedback from parents. The idea of possip is to improve learner experiences by making it easier for parents and teacher to communicate. Frequent and timely feedback allows both sides to work together to understand what students need and why.
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