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6 Ideas for Success in Classroom Volunteering

By: Yael Calhoun, co-author of School Volunteer Handbook: A Simple Guide for K-6 Teachers and Parents

My mother used to say, “Don’t set people up for failure.” A positive spin on that advice is five ideas to “Set up for Success” for classroom volunteers.  The key is communication between the teacher and the volunteers, and these ideas will help.

1. Encourage Volunteering:


Do what you enjoy:  Share your enjoyment of doing something you like with the students.

Be flexible: There may be ways to help at the school level or with another class.


Identify your volunteers.

Send home a note outlining your needs. You may identify a pool of untapped talent.

2.  Communicate a Positive Attitude: 


Establish that you are there to offer assistance.

After introducing yourself, let the teacher know that you would like to help.        Remember, you are a guest in the classroom.


Communicate with your volunteers.

It is important that a teacher communicate her needs to the volunteer so she has a clear sense of what is expected.

Be receptive to parent ideas.

When a volunteer presents an idea, an encouraging response could be, “That fits in with our unit on plants,” or “The students would enjoy that activity since we don’t have time to do much with poetry.”

3.  Be Considerate: Common courtesy creates a positive experience for all.                                     


Be on time: In fact, always arrive ten minutes early.


Make the volunteers feel welcome.

Have the class ready at the time the volunteer is scheduled to begin.

Let folks know in advance if class plans change.

Say “Thank you”: Everyone likes to be thanked for participating – teachers, students, and volunteers.

4.  Establish Clear Boundaries


Set clear boundaries: Students will know rules are to be followed and a safe place is being created.


Remind students that the parent is going to be in charge.

Make it clear that students need to be polite and listen.

5.  Plan to be Prepared


Have the materials you need: Coordinate collecting supplies or books with the teacher.

Have “Sponge” activities ready to use.  Madeline Hunter coined the term to mean that no valuable time is wasted in the classroom.  *Some ideas include:

 List as many states as you can.  How fast can you do it?

 How many countries and their capitals can you name?

 List as many nouns in the room as you can.

 Write one kind of food beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

 How far can you count by 6’s?  Write it down.

 How many animals can you list that begin with vowels?

 Scramble five spelling words, trade with someone, and unscramble them.


Support your volunteers.  Provide whatever support you can.

Check with your volunteers.

Send volunteers a note or email the day before the  activity to confirm the activity.

6. Be Professional: A teacher is a professional whose goal is to provide enriching classroom experiences.


 Keep your comments constructive: Remember your job is to improve the experience the students are having that day.


Stay with your class.

The volunteer is there to offer assistance, not to take responsibility for your class. Show your support by staying in the room.




Adapted from: School Volunteer Handbook: A Simple Guide for K-6 Teachers and Parents by Yael Calhoun and Elizabeth Finlinson.  http://lilapress.com/NewReleases/


About the Authors:

Yael Calhoun, MA, MS, RYT, is an author and educator with over 30 years of experience. Currently, she is a cofounder and the Executive Director of GreenTREE Yoga (www.greentreeyoga.org), a 501c3 nonprofit committed to bringing the benefits of yoga to diverse populations and to those who work with these populations.

Elizabeth Q. Finlinson, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has worked as a school therapist, volunteer coordinator, and as a private practitioner specializing in children and families.

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