Teachers, you have a million tasks to accomplish between September and June. Oh, and you also have that group of kids to teach! Wouldn’t it be nice if each teacher had a partner who totally gets the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish? Someone who shares the same mission? Someone who can confidently take over little parts of your job, so you can focus on what you do best?
Hiring assistants has become a trend among different groups of professionals. For many, this is not a company perk, but something individuals are seeking independently and paying for out of pocket. Why? It helps them manage their workload and it frees them up to focus on the parts of their jobs that they really enjoy.
So, just for fun…
Which parts of your job would you like to delegate if you could? What do you wish you could do better as a teacher? If you had a professional assistant, what kind of person (or people) would you hire to help you run the business of teaching? Would you like to be free of making copies or decorating bulletin boards forever? Would you love to find a way to easily incorporate more art into your already jam-packed day? Would you love it if every student could get more one-on-one time with an adult to reflect on their learning or to practice a tough skill?
As you know, hiring a full-time professional assistant is not in the budget for most teachers or schools. (Sigh!) Fortunately many teachers have a group of willing parents who want to pitch in and help at school, and with the right system in place, they can be truly helpful assistants!
Desperate for a professional assistant? Maybe rethinking the way you organize your parent volunteers will help. Try this…
- Think about how you could best use an assistant. The key is to think of your big picture vision for the year. Identify your greatest areas of need. (Think of the things that would add up to make the most difference for you and your students.) Try identifying five big objectives or tasks that you could realistically delegate to the right person.
- Now, think about the reliable parents who typically volunteer in your classroom each week or each month. Imagine what each person would need in terms of information or materials to manage one of the “big five” tasks you’ve brainstormed.
- Consider how you can communicate this vision to recruit and train your volunteer parent “assistants.” Think about how to get parents to want to help; and consider how to share your vision and make sure understand the plan. Could you have a meeting at the beginning of the year to ask for their help and train them to carry out a specific task? Make a goal to recruit a few parents who could really help you, and make a plan to communicate your ideas with them at the beginning of the year.
It’s all about dedicating a little bit of extra time early in the year to communicate with parents, providing them with more insight, (and probably a little training), related to what you would like to accomplish and how you need help over the entire year.
Here are a few ideas:
- Learning helper: Do you have small groups of students who don’t write legibly, or who need to master their math facts, or memorize grade level high-frequency words, or work on reading fluency? Recruit a parent (or several parents), to work with a particular group each week. Gather materials and provide a bit of simple training, so they feel confident and so they don’t need directions each time they arrive to help. Set up a communication binder, so you can check in as needed and remove kids from the group when they’ve mastered the skill or shift the focus of the group as needed. Focusing on one consistent group each week makes it easy for parents to build rapport, identify individual needs and spot growth. (Rather than working on a different task with a different group of kids each week.)
- Bulletin board parent: Communicate your general themes for each part of the year, arrange when they should change the bulletin board, show them where to gather materials in the workroom and point them to Pinterest to find some great bulletin board ideas for the year.
- Special event planner: Most teachers already have a room parent who coordinates class parties and recruits other parents to help with special events. Think of any other special events for the year that this parent could also coordinate. For example, do you celebrate the 100th day of school? Is this something the room parent could also take over?
- Clerical work: Find a parent with great attention to detail. Set up a system where they can just show up at a scheduled time, look in a particular bin in the hallway and find all work to be copied, cut or filed.
- Special Expert: If you have a parent who is awesome at art, or engineering, or someone who knows a lot about history or other cultures…recruit that person to be your special expert for the year. Using your curriculum map for the year, schedule some dates for the parent to come in and work with the whole class or do a small group rotation activity to enrich the curriculum.
If you work in a school with many active parent volunteers, this process is easy. But even in schools with lower volunteer numbers, it’s doable. If parents understand a clear and specific need, and they understand exactly what to do to help, they are more likely to step in because they feel more confident and invested. Plus, as you identify your five needs, you’ll consider how your parent population is most likely able to help. Maybe working parents can’t come in to set up bulletin boards but they could be in charge of weekly do-at-home prep work, like cutting out materials for the bulletin board or for an upcoming art project. Or they could look up the reading levels for the titles in your class library. Parents with limited language skills could be in charge of making a monthly batch of playdough or they could work with you to support ESL learners in your classroom.
Hiring an actual professional assistant is unrealistic, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed with your workload, maybe reframing the way you think about parent volunteers could help! Obviously we’re not talking about getting parent volunteers to do your job for you, or to be privy to confidential information about students, or to pick up your dry cleaning, or to hand you a vanilla latte every morning. But by planning ahead, identifying your big areas of need, and communicating the overall plan with your core parent volunteers at the beginning of the year, you might just get some real assistance tackling those big objectives. –Ultimately leading to an even more successful year for you and your students!