With the lives of 21st century parents getting busier and busier every year, parent support organizations are often the first to suffer from parents’ busy schedules. These essential school support groups lose participants to other obligations, a lack of knowledge about the group’s role, or a lack of appreciation for the group’s importance. Not only does less involvement in these parent groups mean less funding for the school, but it also hurts students since they are open to fewer opportunities than before.
Nowadays, 10% of parents seem to do 90% of the volunteer work at their children’s schools. When Ocean Beach Elementary School’s PTA leaders saw this very disheartening trend hitting their school community, a small percentage of parents made a concerted effort to turn things around to improve parent participation on their campus. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of a few parents who were determined to counter a downward trend, Ocean Beach Elementary School’s PTA is thriving more than ever before.
Like Ocean Beach Elementary, your school too can reverse this growing trend of non-participation. We must view parents and teachers as partners in education. When both groups are inspired to facilitate learning, children are winners. Through parent-teacher partnerships, students can benefit from collaborative learning experiences both in the classroom and at home. And in the words of the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, “A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
We would like to offer a few practical tips to help your parent group bolster involvement, regain momentum, and support collaborative educational experiences for generations to come. Follow these practical guidelines, and you too can be well on your way toward a thriving, participatory parent group:
Give a warm welcome to new families – New families, particularly parents who are sending their child to school for the first time, can be overwhelmed with the learning curve that a new school environment creates. As a parent group leader, it is important to make new families feel welcome by lending a helping hand to parents and students as they arrive. New parents are an excellent source of volunteers, so making the parent group visible as a welcoming party is essential to ensure a great first impression and promote participation in your parent group early on.
Mix ‘n’ mingle – Creating casual opportunities for fellow parents to get together is an important way to connect with potential parent group participants. Furthermore, it shows that volunteering to help out the school can be fun. Plan a casual family-friendly cookout for newcomers or host a coffee chat to share information about a new campus development or upcoming event. Personally reaching out to new parents prior to significant school events or fundraisers are also great ways to connect with others who may be interested in participating.
Enlist the help of teachers – Of all people, teachers value the time and effort spent by parent volunteers and benefit from a flourishing parent organization. Ask your child’s teacher to act as a mouthpiece for your organization during parent-teacher conferences, and emphasize the importance of parents staying connected to their schools. In return for a teacher’s help in spreading the word, ask how your group may best help in the classroom by asking them where your group’s services are most needed.
Recognize volunteers – Time is money, and parents who donate so much of their precious time should be recognized for their contribution. Whether you nominate a particularly hard-working parent for a local volunteer award, recognize volunteers in school newsletters, or simply issue a personal ‘thank you’ to someone you are particularly thankful for, showing even the smallest gesture of gratitude can be the greatest reward for one’s services.
Tap into individual skill sets – Like all human beings, parents have certain skill sets that differ from one another. Some parents are better with technology, while others are better at art. Get to know the parents at your child’s school and discover where their talents lie. Everything from hands-on talents to intellectual or creative talents are needed for myriad roles, so pinpointing the right roles for the right people are a great way to ensure parents make a difference without skill-based limitations.
Don’t ask too much – While some parents are tireless volunteers who will diligently complete any task asked of them, others may be discouraged by the thought of committing too much time all at once. Parents have many responsibilities and time commitments, so make sure you don’t push them too hard during a volunteer role. Stick to the agreed-upon time limit they have committed to, and do not demand more of your parent volunteers than necessary. When parents don’t feel like their time is being taken advantage of, you are more likely to gain a greater number of volunteers for the long-run.
Sell parent involvement as an investment — Studies have shown that parents who are involved in their children’s education promote academic success, increase attendance and graduation rates, and augment a child’s desire to pursue higher education. Being a strong advocate for your child by becoming a parent volunteer has too many positive benefits to pass up. Emphasize these benefits to the parents at your school so they know that their involvement does more than just improve the school, but that it is also an investment in their child’s future.
Establish a family involvement committee – Dedicated parents are the glue that binds your parent group. For that reason, one arm of your parent group should be focused entirely on planning and executing programs that engage more dedicated parents in your school community. The sub-group should arm themselves as much information as possible about new or existing recruits. Have them start by drafting a database of volunteers who have described talents, occupations, preferences and skills, so the group can quickly access the most appropriate volunteers for a particular role.
Changing the face of your parent organization is not something that comes easy or effortlessly, but making the case for parent participation through these initiatives, may just be one of the biggest returns on your time investment your group can achieve.