December 21, 2018

12 Tips on How to be a Great Classroom Volunteer

Helping out in Grayson’s classroom this year.

I personally love having the opportunity to be a classroom volunteer and I would highly recommend it to any parent, if you can swing it with your schedule.  

As much as I have my own selfish reasons for volunteering (you can read about them in my post, ‘Why I Love Being A Classroom Volunteer’), I understand that I’m also there to support my kids’ teachers and the school.  So, in an effort to be the best volunteer I can be, I decided to reach out to some of my favourite teacher-friends to get some help in make this list for all of us! You might be surprised by some the tips you find on this list, I know I was!

Make sure your security clearance is complete before making any arrangements to volunteer.

First thing’s first.  In Calgary, you can’t even be considered to volunteer with the Calgary Board of Education (or CBE) if you haven’t successfully completed your police clearance.  My experience is it can take weeks, or even months, to get through the process and there is no firm commitment on the timeline of which it will be processed.  

Because the date you will receive you clearance is a bit of a moving target, it’s best to sort your clearance first, before offering your help and committing to day.  You definitely don’t want to get yourself into a situation where you’ve made a commitment you can’t keep.

Speaking of commitments, if you make one, be sure to see it through.

The chances are, your child’s teacher has put in some planning and consideration (aka precious time) to set you up for your volunteer shift.  This applies whether you will be in, or out, of the classroom.

I know one (insert ‘AMAZING) teacher who puts in the time and energy to organize an interactive activity for parents to do with the classroom students, on their first time volunteering in the class.  As an example, she creates a small group activity or a  fun one on one activity for parents to work on with the kids (think math games and science experiments).  What a blessing she is!  It’s so meaningful, as a parent, to be able to interact with the students that way.

Isn’t that so thoughtful? What a disappointment it would be if a parent no-showed after planning for that!

This is probably a good time to emphasize that, even worse than cancelling last minute on a classroom commitment, is cancelling last minute on a field trip commitment (or…GASP! …a casino shift!).  Please try very hard not to do this!  Teachers and schools are obligated to ensure they have certain ‘adult to student’ ratios during outings, so if you cancel, you could be compromising the entire field trip.  You definitely don’t want to be ‘that’ person – because field trips, generally, cost money – and so do the busses that are used to get there.  

It all started with volunteering in the twins’ preschool classroom.

Speaking of field trips, please don’t lose children while you’re on them.

I know this sounds totally obvious (in fact, I wouldn’t have thought to put it on the list) but…more than one teacher mentioned this to me, which tells me it happens more often than we might think.

So, my experience is this: Generally, teachers will assign you a small group of students to keep track of when you volunteer.  Keep a very close watch on them and don’t be afraid to recall them if they are getting too far away from you – remember, you are responsible for them.  

If you have a student that you aren’t able to stay on top of (maybe they’re having trouble listening), don’t be afraid to tell the teacher.  Better they have a stern word with the child, or swap a kid with you, than have them be put at risk of getting lost or getting into harms’ way.

More about Field Trips…

Field trips were brought up by all of the teachers I chatted with.  Here is what your child’s teacher wants you to know about them:

  • Follow instructions carefully.  

Field trips aren’t usually intended to just be a drop in playtime, they are intended to engage kids and elevate their learning experience.  So, if your teacher asks you to complete an activity with your group, you should take care to do it.

  • Respect teacher requests

Another big point that was brought up is the importance of following instructions around purchasing items, while offsite.  If your teacher asks you to not purchase items, they mean please don’t purchase ‘any’ items.  Buying special treats, or souvenirs, for your group (or worse, only your own child) is not fair for the other kids who are on the field trip with you.  Even buying a coffee for yourself can leave a teacher feeling disrespected or put in an uncomfortable position. 

Ask about teacher expectations.

Every teacher likes to have their classroom operate in their own way and it’s usually their own ‘well-oiled-machine’ of some sorts.  So, what little Sammy’s teacher liked last year, might not be what this year’s teacher likes.  Asking this question can help you make sure that you are being helpful to the teacher (which is, after all, the whole point of why they are having you). 

The teacher likely will have some projects, or activities, for you to work on.  Stick with your list and be sure to check in with the teacher if you have questions or if you get through it all.   Who knows, your teacher may have a laundry list of back up projects that they would love to send your way if you finish up faster than they expect. 

Try to be open to whatever the teacher assigns for you to work on.  What they may really need help with might not be what you have in mind or love working on. That’s okay!  You’re there to help ‘them’.  

Also, who knows?  You just might see a pay off when you get first dips on volunteering for that super cool field trip you’ve been eyeing!

Speaking of teacher expectations, you’re best to put your phone away.

In case your teacher forgets to mention this, while you’re discussing expectations, here’s one he or she meant to tell you:  Please stay off your phone.

First of all, it’s totally inappropriate for you to be using it while volunteering.  The role modelling isn’t very good and it shows a disinterest in what you are working on.

If there is something you see that you would like to take a photo of (most certainly NOT a child that isn’t your own because that could be a huge FOIP issue), just ask the teacher first.  They likely won’t mind if you would like to take a quick photo of your own child, or of some cute artwork you found hanging in the school, but again…just be courteous and ask.

If you’re working with kids, don’t neglect those that don’t share your DNA.

If you have been asked to work on an activity with the kids, try not to focus on your own child too much and definitely be careful not to give them ‘special’ treatment.  Of course, they will be excited to have you in their classroom, and may try to spend extra time with you, but it’s important to give all of the kids a similar amount of focus.

One teacher I spoke with has experienced parents trying to ‘help’ their own kids a little too much (I think the word she used was ‘hover’).  Unfortunately, if you get too involved, you can actually interfere with your child’s learning so, just let the professional (your child’s teacher) do their job.  

Be mindful of physical touch 

As sad as it is, this is definitely something we need to consider and be mindful of.  If you aren’t sure, what is or isn’t appropriate, check with your classroom teacher. I have even asked if it was okay to give a six-year old a hug after having a huge fall on an icy-sidewalk. Yes, it totally went against my ‘mom’ instinct but you can never be sure!

Don’t try to have parent teacher interview while volunteering

These were the exact words that one teacher said to me when I was interviewing for this post, and it totally makes sense.  If you have specific questions about your child, it’s best to save it and set up a meeting or send a quick email.  

Cover up

I feel like this should go without saying but, I heard otherwise….so…cover up, my friends!  No child (or teacher) wants to see too much of your bosom.

Not all teachers love having classroom volunteers.  

This one is tough, especially for a pretty-engaged parent like me, but it’s something that we need to consider!  If your teacher hasn’t made a request for volunteers AND you are feeling like your teacher is avoiding your requests to help out, just let it be.

Several teachers I spoke with expressed that they can sometimes feel ‘fish bowled’ when parents are in the classroom and some teachers just don’t like that feeling.

That’s okay!  If that’s the case, you can also offer to help out in other ways.  As I mentioned earlier, field trips almost always need volunteer help and there are other ways you can support the class, or school, as well.

Check in to see if the school librarian, teacher specialists (Physical Education, Music, French, etc.), or office staff might like some extra help.  One of my good friends, who is a very experienced volleyball player, is helping to teach a volleyball program as a volunteer in her child’s school.  I think that’s so cool and out of the box – and how lucky for the students in the school to have that kind of calibre of instruction!

You can also offer to help from home.  Some teachers might be happy to send home some craft supplies that need prepping, get help with organizing their Scholastic book orders, or enlist you as a snack parent.  

A word to the wise…if you do step up as a snack parent, be sure to consider the school rules around allergies and also think about the ease of which the snack will be distributed.  One teacher I spoke with shared a story about how a whole cake was sent in for a birthday.  The trouble here is: Who will cut the cake?  What will they use to cut it with?  How will they plate it?  …and what teacher has time for that anyway?

A fun perk to volunteering in the classroom – Getting an invite to the Volunteer Tea!

Coffee anyone?

This is a tip that is totally optional, and not expected, but will totally get you brownie points!  

Find out what your teacher’s favourite daytime drink is (hint: it will usually include a crap-tonne of caffeine) and pick one up (in a very big size) when you stop for your morning coffee on your way in to the school.  They will thank you for it!!

Hopefully, you find this list helpful and have maybe picked up a few tips.  I know I learned several things in preparing for this post that I had never considered – and I’m happy to know them!  My theory is that if we make it easy for our teachers, maybe they’ll have us back!

A cute centre-piece I discovered at the school’s volunteer tea last year – this is a photo of me and Avery while I was helping her class with home reading. This was one of my favourite volunteer tasks!

Have I missed anything?  If you think I have missed something on this list, please feel free to add your comments below.  

Happy volunteering!

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