Where Are Your Parent Volunteers?
Through the workshops and interviews with school leaders, I have been examining the role parents would like to have with their child’s school and the role that schools have traditionally outlined for them. An “us and them” dynamic tends to be dictated by the administration and activities of the parents association or PTA.
The administrators that attend my sessions are tasked with engaging parents in activities that either raise money for the school, or create community. The problem: that's not what many parents want to do.
Why not? I see several reasons that are part of a shifting societal landscape within independent schools:
1. Both parents work, or one working parent heads the household.
2. With an average of 37% of students receiving financial assistance, raising and giving money to the school is not an inclusive way to engage parents.
3. Some parent association activities do not correlate to the stated mission.
4. If the activities assigned to parent volunteers are that important to the school and critical to the brand and community promises, the school must hire staff to ensure consistency.
5. Parent volunteerism opportunities presented by the school often do not consider the talents, time, and wishes of parents.
How can we change this and meet both the school's ideal of parent engagement through volunteerism and the parent's goal of meaningful involvement that is appropriate for their circumstances, talent, and wishes?
Schools can start by looking at the activities that are traditionally assigned to parent volunteers. Are they mission aligned? For example, a school states that it is inclusive and progressive in its understanding of multiple faiths and traditions. Yet, the school is holding onto its 85th annual Christmas cookie decorating party and advertising it as a cherished event. Is it any wonder that parents feel disillusioned by the school’s expectation that they attend and buy Christmas cookies?
Consider how many activities are assigned to the parents association. With the majority of families in a duel earning household, schools must be extremely careful in how often they ask for time and the priority of each activity. Parents want to see how the activity ties to the mission of the school and how their child will benefit before committing to giving their time to the cause.
A more provocative approach is to evaluate staff allocation. Think about how many people work in the admissions and MarCom offices carefully curating every step of the admissions process, and how many people are dedicated solely to ensuring that parents continue to have a positive experience at the school? If independent schools truly want to retain their families and deliver on the brand promises that they have made to the entire family, not just the enrolled student, leaders need to consider not only the "parent experience" in admissions but through graduation.