Know Thyself

We know that schools desperately need parent volunteers, and we go to great lengths to help out whenever possible. But your skills and temperament need to be a good fit for the job. If you rely heavily on spell-check, helping students with spelling tests might not be a good match for you. Similarly, if bus fumes give you a headache, chaperoning a class field trip won’t be very much fun (for you or the kids!). Appreciating the benefits of volunteering, considering the finer nuances of being an effective parent volunteer, and knowing your own volunteer personality will help you make your time at school more enjoyable.

Know the benefits

According to the National Education Association (NEA), teachers teach better when they are freed up from basic classroom chores that can be delegated to volunteers. Some of these tasks include organizing educational worksheets, making copies, creating bulletin boards, decorating and organizing classroom activities.

Studies by the NEA also indicate that students whose parents volunteer earn higher grades, most likely because high parental involvement demonstrates to children that education is important. Research also shows that kids are more likely to attend school, have better social skills and exhibit good behavior if their parents volunteer at school.

Think about the ‘nuts and bolts’

You have a busy life with competing priorities. How can you possibly add more responsibilities to your already bulging schedule? To identify how you can help given your personal situation, answer these important questions:

– What are your skills? What can you offer? If you’re a graphic designer or writer by training, you might consider designing the class website or writing the school newsletter. If finance is your bailiwick, think about a fundraising position or volunteer for the school budgeting committee. Got great computer skills? Volunteer to help the teacher in the technology lab.

– How much time do you have? If you can help weekly, you might be best suited to work in the classroom, giving children weekly spelling practice, helping reading groups or sorting library books. If your time is limited and you can only volunteer sporadically, ask to chaperone a few field trips throughout the year or offer to tackle set-up or clean-up duties for holiday parties.

– Does location matter to you? If getting transportation is an issue, or if you have younger children at home that you care for, going to the school at specific times during the school day might not be possible. If you find yourself in that situation, ask to volunteer from home. Cutting out bulletin board decorations, sorting papers and organizing projects can all be done from your kitchen table at a time that’s convenient for you. Or, ask to be assigned tasks that can be completed on your computer. If you are a working parent, you could even use your work’s lunch hour to help with a computer-based volunteer assignment.

– Does your child want you to volunteer? Most young children crave their parents’ attention and light up like fireflies when their mom walks into the classroom. If that’s your child, seek out opportunities to volunteer in the classroom or lunchroom. If your child seems embarrassed by your presence at school, don’t take it personally! Some kids are like that. You can still volunteer. Just seek out behind-the-scenes opportunities to help, like sewing costumes for the school play or contributing items to the next bake sale.

Consider your personality and temperament

It’s best to heed Socrates’ advice to “know thyself” when choosing which volunteer opportunities are best suited for you. Not all jobs are meant for all people. You’ll be happier and more likely to continue volunteering if you consider the following four types of volunteer personalities:

The Active Aide

If you like to be where the action is, find a volunteer activity that matches your active personality. The Active Aide is physically and mentally alert, always willing to take on a challenge and a motivator for kids to do the same! You’ll find the Active Aide organizing four-square games on the playground, leading the after-school fitness program or volunteering to set up the dunking booth at the school fair. She’s always on the go, usually outside and undeterred by the heat, rain, wind or snow. When volunteering inside, she’s the one moving furniture around in the classroom, helping out in gym class and assisting teachers as they pack up books at the end of the school year.

The Social Servant

If you are naturally social, you are most likely an extrovert. Extroverts are comfortable in groups and often happiest when around a lot of people. Social Servants tend to be self-confident, enthusiastic, friendly and outgoing, which is why they make terrific parent volunteers. Their gregarious personality draws children (and teachers, school staff and other parent volunteers) to them. They often end up assuming a leadership position, overseeing other parent volunteers and coordinating major school events. When the Social Servant volunteers, she feels energized and “pumped up” after her shift.

The Creative Cohort

Are you always up for a trip to the art gallery or play? Do you long for ways to express yourself creatively? The Creative Cohort is the perfect volunteer for helping with arts and crafts projects or chaperoning a trip to the local museum or art show. Although the Creative Cohort may be more of an introvert than an extrovert, she’s always warm and inviting in the classroom. She helps children see that they have a creative side, even if they aren’t naturally artistic. She leaves a lasting impression on children who might otherwise go unnoticed.

The Technical Temp

The one area teachers seem to need the most help with is often one that doesn’t immediately come to mind — technological assistance. Through their training, teachers are typically good communicators, role models, mentors and nurturers, but they are not always computer savvy. If you have technical skills, there’s a lot you can add to the school community. The Technical Temp can provide assistance in the computer lab, set up class websites, find online instructional resources for the teaching staff, and tutor children one-on-one.

Regardless of what type of volunteer you are and how you contribute to the school community, you are sending a crucial message to your child: “I care about you and your academics. School is important. You are important.” Find a few volunteer opportunities that match your lifestyle, temperament and personality and it’ll be a rewarding experience for both you and your child.

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