Take the time to ask – Specific requests make it easier for people to commit as volunteers

When home and school members get together to talk about the challenges in their schools, at the top of the list is often the how to engage more families in home and school activities. 

Depending on the school and the year, sometimes this is expressed as a concern about the relatively small number of parents, guardians, teachers and staff who come to regular Home and School meetings, sometimes it’s about the challenge of trying to muster any interest in home and school at all, and sometimes it’s the problem of trying to run Home and School-managed projects, like breakfast programs, without sufficient volunteers.

At a meeting of Home and School members from eastern P.E.I., held in Montague the last week of January, a solution to all of these challenges was raised by a member from Souris Regional School: just ask people to help.  The power of neighbourly peer pressure, combined with some advance knowledge of where tools, skills and interests lie in the school community, can be a potent tool to get more people involved.

In the more than 60 years that the P.E.I. Home and School Federation has existed, the nature of the family has changed dramatically. Today’s families can have two parents, or one parent, or no parents. Jobs take some family members away from home for long periods of time. Children participate in a wide range of complicated activities in and out of school. The result makes the traditional approach to Home and School, focused on weekday-evening meetings at the school, a challenge. So associations need to be more creative about offering opportunities for engagement.

Experience has shown that parents, guardians, teachers and staff are far more willing and eager to participate in the life of their home and school if they’re asked to engage in specific, well-defined, project-oriented tasks; they need to understand why they’re being asked, how much time it will take, and what’s expected of them.

In other words, a note in the school newsletter than says “we need volunteers to help run the breakfast program” is far less likely to attract volunteers than a note that says “we need volunteers to come in on Tuesday mornings for 30 minutes to make toast.”

Even more effective than that, we know from Souris Regional’s experiences, is a one-on-one conversation at the school door, the rink, the coffee shop or over the backyard fence: “Hey, Bob, I’m volunteering at the school breakfast program: would you be able to come in on Tuesday mornings to help me make toast for 30 minutes?”

Home and school associations that can identify the skills and interests lurking in their school communities, and then use the power of a simple, direct request, can achieve great things. No meetings are required.

One activity that will require a home and school meeting, and one with as large as an attendance as can be mustered, is the consideration of resolutions to be considered at the April 11 Annual Meeting of the P.E.I. Home and School Federation. These resolutions will be sent to all home and schools, and should be read, discussed and voted on at a meeting in February or March. Contact the PEIHSF office if your association needs support in making this happen.

Teacher/Staff Appreciation Week is February 9 to 13, 2015. Take a moment to thank the teachers, staff and administrators in your local school for the passion they bring to their work every school day (and, for many, evenings and every weekend). Working in education is a vocation for many, and this week is an opportunity for this to be recognized.

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