Most recently, my professional resume consists of one particular category: School Volunteer.
Since my son began Kindergarten, I have dedicated my spare time to the PTA and his various schools. My roles include things like Room Mom, Communications Coordinator, Vice President, and Membership Coordinator. I’ve chaired events, organized fundraisers, and gotten my hands dirty. In my time as a school volunteer, I’ve helped duct tape a principal to a wall, learned how to shave and flavor snow cones, and painted a giant boulder.
“Involved” is my middle name.
Volunteering in your child’s school can be a privilege and a pleasure, but it’s a role that can be complicated to navigate. From time management to interpersonal relationships to egos to feelings, it’s a lot to handle, but with the right attitude and expectations, your experience can be rewarding and wonderful.
How to be a fabulous volunteer
Follow the rules of the school. From signing up for the background check to adhering to the dress code, school rules were not made to be broken. Most schools will offer a volunteer orientation to review everything expected from its helpers As the school’s guest, set a good example with your behavior and demeanor.
Practice discretion. Being a school volunteer puts you in a unique position of access to students, teachers, and staff most parents won’t ever have. Your observations of school interactions should never become neighborhood page gossip or idle chatter over coffee, especially since you are dealing with the privacy of children. If you happen to come across a behavior that doesn’t sit well with you, go directly to the teacher or principal and resolve the situation, rather than stir up rumors.
Don’t use your volunteer position for personal gain. Having your foot in the door at your child’s school does not make you privy to extra favors or privileges. Networking can be great, but school is not the time. If you are entrusted with a classroom email list, for example, it’s never appropriate to use those addresses for your e-newsletter or to solicit business (Most schools have some kind of school sponsor or business partner program, where you can advertise without violating propriety.)
Respect your children’s teachers and classrooms. Volunteer time is not the time to visit your student or conference with their teachers. If your commitment requires time in the classroom, stay on track, and don’t be a disruption to your child or his peers.
Be reliable with your commitments. While it’s very tempting to say yes to all the things, people are counting on you to get the job done. Be realistic about how much you can comfortably commit and don’t promise a donation of goods or time if you can’t follow through. It’s ok to say “no”.
Embrace the role. Not every volunteer opportunity is going to be glamorous, but every role is helpful. Don’t take it personally if you aren’t selected as the primary room mom or if your duty at the big dance is breakdown and cleanup. Of course, we all want the “fun” jobs but the truth is, there are only so many of those fun jobs to go around. Signing up early and being reliable will certainly help you get the positions you prefer but also understand that things need to get done, and sometimes the ends are greater than the means.
How to be a fabulous volunteer leader
Positions of leadership require plenty of balance. Presidents and chairpersons must establish control while understanding their teams are comprised of people giving up their time to work for little more than good feelings and personal accomplishment. It can be tricky, but a strong leader is up to the task.
Follow the rules. PTOs, PTAs, and other variations on the theme have rules, guidelines, and acceptable practices. Stick to them like glue. File taxes, follow the protocols, and maintain integrity at all costs. It’s a big responsibility but it’s vital to the existence of these programs.
Be inclusive. We all know the rumors about PTA Mom Cliques and it’s not a good look. Granted, we can’t always control drama or spin, but we can welcome new members with open arms. Volunteer leaders do want things to run smoothly and will often reach out to those they know and trust, but newcomers can bring great value, too. Give them a chance.
Delegate. Micromanagers are beloved by exactly no one. Set the expectations with your team and then trust them to make it happen. You can’t be everywhere at once, so use your resources to be even more effective in your position.
Say thank you. Often. Your team is sacrificing their time and effort to help you and they deserve it. Gratitude is free to give but can mean the world to a school volunteer.
Recognize your team. Give credit where credit is due. The members of your team will surely offer up some great ideas and even new ways of doing things. Claiming their ideas as your own or not acknowledging their efforts will create hurt feelings and division and continue to perpetuate the “Bad Mom” PTA image we fight so hard to dispel.
Resolve the conflicts. Anytime you are dealing with groups of people, conflicts can arise. Rather than let disagreements fester and take a life of their own, nip them in the bud as soon as you can. Be empathetic but direct and don’t be afraid to reach out to your principal or administration for backup if needed.
Our schools, students, and teachers rely on volunteers for their efforts. Fundraising, event planning, and classroom assistance are critical to our children’s school experiences and it’s great to get to be there for them. Whether you take on the role of leadership and take charge of your school’s entire PTO or pop in from time to time to help shelve books in the library, the gift of your time is always appreciated and valued.