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Margaret Berry Wilson
Are you wondering whether to invite parents into your classroom as volunteer helpers for special projects or events? With advance planning, it's a great idea that can yield benefits for everyone: parents get to experience a bit of their children's school life, children enjoy the novelty of having their parents at school, and you get some help with projects that are hard to manage by yourself.
The following are some tips to help you make parent volunteer times productive and enjoyable for everyone:
Set expectations for parents. Let parents know what they'll do and how many children they'll work with. Also make sure that they know the classroom rules; children can become confused when parents or other adults ignore rules. One way to do this is to review the rules orally as both adults and children listen.
Maintain consistent discipline. Children often behave differently when their families come to school. They may push limits or ignore rules, use baby talk, or try to make classmates laugh by the way they interact with their parents.
Be ready to step in firmly and kindly to let children know that classroom rules apply even when their parents are present. For example, if Maria uses baby talk when her mother works with her art group, say, "Maria, use a regular voice. You can sit next to your mom while you do that, or you can sit in a different spot if that's better for you."
Handle the discipline yourself. Don't expect or allow parents to discipline other people's children! Remain the teacher at all times when parents are present in your classroom. Your guidelines for parents could include words like these: "If a student is refusing to do work or is being at all disruptive, let me know, and I will handle the situation."
Give parents nonteaching roles. Unless parents are also teachers, they likely won't have the skills to effectively coach or teach math, writing, or other academics. If any teaching is needed while parents are in the classroom, do it yourself.
Keep groups small. Parents may have their hands full if behavior issues erupt among a too-large group of children excited by their presence. How large a group is too large? That depends on where your class is developmentally.
For example, 8-year-olds, who are typically confident, easygoing, and sociable, often do well working in groups of four or five. On the other hand, 9-year-olds tend to be more inward and anxious and generally do better working in pairs. When parents visit, err on the side of caution by sticking with pairs or using smaller groups than you typically do.
Try to involve all parents in some way. Children may feel confused or hurt if their parents don't help in the classroom while others' parents do. Look for ways all parents can contribute—cutting or stapling things at home, for instance, or contributing project supplies. When you're using the material prepared or contributed by those parents, highlight their contribution to let the children know that all of their families are supporting their work in important ways.
Having parents involved in the life of the classroom will deepen the family-school connection. Just be sure you set up parents and students for success with some careful planning and explanation of what to do and expect.
Margaret Berry Wilson is a Responsive Classroom professional development specialist with 15 years of experience teaching kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. She leads workshops and coaches teachers on using the Responsive Classroom approach.
ASCD Express, Vol. 6, No. 16. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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