It really does take a village to keep a school ticking along. Not only do teachers, administrators and the School Leadership team work tirelessly on delivering core educational outcomes, there’s loads of other work happening behind the scenes to make sure students are fully supported to do their best. But today School Stream is going to focus on the lifeblood of any school – parent volunteers.
We’re here to support schools. Keep reading on for our deep dive into the motivations and barriers to parent volunteers, or click through for a demonstration for how School Stream can communicate news to your parent community – in an instant.
Parent volunteers are crucial to any school community. You can find them working in canteens, ‘doing’ the reading with young students and baking cupcakes for the fundraiser. We’re going to be looking at what motivates parents to volunteer at their child’s school, the barriers that might prevent them from doing so, and strategies to find and keep parents involved in school.
What motivates people to volunteer at their child’s school?
Parents are motivated to volunteer at their child’s school for a variety of reasons. For some, the chance of seeing their child ‘in the wild’ during a school day is just too tempting to pass up. Others might well be altruistically inclined or like the social aspect of being part of the school community. Still others may like the idea of being able to exercise some agency in the decision making direction of the school or the status that comes with being part of the school community. Here are some quotes from our network that highlight the range of motivations at play:
“I volunteer to give back. That’s just a really important part of our family culture and I want the kids to see me here at the school, living that. I also like to keep an eye on things (laughs) and you get a pretty decent coffee from the canteen if you volunteer!” Mark
“Why do I volunteer at the school? For my daughter, mainly. I just love to see her during the day when I am doing canteen and I think it’s good for her to see me giving back and helping too. Sometimes it’s hard to squeeze it in around work, but I like to do it when I can.” Josephine
“I think if you want to be part of the decision making processes at school, then you should be involved in volunteering somehow. If you’re going to give feedback about something the school could be doing better, then you should be involved.” Margot
What are the barriers preventing people from volunteering at school?
As we’re all aware, research has consistently shown parental engagement to be a significant factor in a child’s success at school. If a child sees their family valuing school and taking an interest, chances are high that the child will value their education too. Having said that, it doesn’t automatically follow that every parent will be beating down the door of the school to volunteer their time with excursions, making cakes or Reading Recovery. And it doesn’t mean that parents don’t want to volunteer. Most parents love their children dearly and would lie down on the Pacific Highway if they thought it would help get them the best start in life, but the reality is, there can be a range of factors that stop parents from raising their hands to volunteer:
- Both parents work full time.
- The stay-at-home parent is busy with younger siblings who are not yet of school age.
- People might worry they don’t have a skillset that is useful to the school.
- Cultural differences in newly arrived migrant families can play a role in inhibiting volunteers. This is especially relevant if families come from a country where there is a strict separation between home and school life.
- Parents are not aware the school needs volunteers to help.
- Families are worried about having the capacity to volunteer in ongoing roles over the length of the school year.
How schools can find parent volunteers – and keep them
The good news is that once schools understand what motivates parents and families to volunteer and what prevents others from doing so, they’re in a great position to craft compelling communications that will connect with parents. Here are some strategies schools can use to overcome barriers and match parent volunteers to opportunities to help that work for everyone.
- Give families and parents a job to do. If students are catching the bus to school and parents have little physical contact with the school or teacher, they may not even be aware they are needed. And we all know what happens to the school newsletter. Reach out to your parent community via your school app to ask for help with particular roles that are coming up.
- Advertise ad-hoc volunteering opportunities via the school communication app. Research has shown that the best way to generate a pool of passionate volunteers is to create ad-hoc volunteering opportunities (short term, one-off tasks) that give parents the opportunity to get to know the other parents and the school better.
- Provide opportunities for people to volunteer remotely at a time that is convenient for the parent. Maintaining the school’s social media page is a good example of this kind of role.
- Communicate clearly around the volunteering role so everyone’s expectations are clear. Schools need to be clear about how much time the role will actually entail. If parents are informed from the outset, those who do commit will be more likely to continue. Check in with parents and make sure there are opportunities to give and receive feedback with a consistent school representative.
- If you have a diverse student population with lots of families from a non-English speaking background, access community guides and others who can explain that Australian schools welcome family involvement in education. Community projects like kitchen gardens are great ways to get these families involved.
- Acknowledge and celebrate your volunteers. Positive feedback makes the (volunteer) world go round.
How does your school find school volunteers? What are your strategies for keeping parents involved?