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Education Leadership Perspectives

Views from the Principal's Office

By Brian Gatens

A School Administrator's Guide to Finding (and Keeping) the Best Volunteer Parents

By Brian P. Gatens

All schools attract a core group of parents who tirelessly donate their time, talents or money.  Principals and administrators grappling with the “new normal” of shrinking resources have no choice but to reach out to these parents.

How school administrators can encourage parents to volunteerWhile some parents volunteer without asking, others might require some active recruiting. The key is to get them involved in meaningful ways and to not upset the delicate boundaries that separate students, teachers and parents.  

If you’re in charge of a school, I strongly suggest that you get together with your administrative team and then your teacher leaders to find areas where parent volunteers can play a helpful and vital role. Whatever you do, don’t forget these two points:

  • Make certain your parent volunteers don’t get involved in duties normally assigned to a staff member. This can create the mistaken impression that the administration is trying to save money on the backs of the staff.
  • Review all parent-volunteer programs with your board members before putting them into action. It’s always good to give the boards a heads-up, especially when working with members of the community. 

Your top goal should be to foster a culture of parent volunteerism in your school. Here are three time-tested strategies to make that happen:

Ask For Help

After you identify the areas of the school where help is needed (volunteer lunch servers, library parents, classroom readers and so on), tap into your Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) to help publicize your new program and highlight the specific areas where you need help.

Working with the PTO adds credibility to the new program and also prevents the PTO from feeling as if you’re reaching into its domain. 

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Encourage Innovation

As an administrator, I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking parents are simply adults raising children and I forget that many parents have strong skills and attitudes that can help the school grow. Don’t hesitate to make contact and build relationships with parents who can bring a special something to your school.

The best example I can think of is the parent who offered her graphic-design services and eventually ended up designing new logos for the school, letterhead and banners that hung throughout the building. I always made it a point to say “thank you” over and over again (and memorialized my gratitude in writing) to this parent. 

Look For the Right Attitude

I’m an eternal optimist, which usually serves me well, but I do need to caution school administrators to make certain that the parent volunteers who want to get involved in the school have the right attitude about their volunteer roles.

From time to time — and definitely less often rather than more — volunteer parents will think that donating their time and effort gives them special access to the school administration. It’s vital to maintain your boundaries; otherwise you’re far more likely to alienate potential volunteers than to keep current volunteers happy. 

Coming Next Time

My next post will explore how teachers can work effectively with parent-volunteers.  

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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