Net Exchange Response
Title: Special Issue on Volunteers at Schools
Date Posted: 7/13/2015
Question: I'm really interested in the training component of
learning supports for school professionals (including teachers, aides, volunteers). I loved
the idea of incorporating volunteer networks and community agency partnerships to
address gaps in school care - but would there be a training process for volunteers and/or a vetting
process for agencies? What would training look like for volunteers who will be in classrooms (1
day seminar, coaching, feedback, observation etc)? As a background to this question - I
volunteered for an after school program in my community that partnered with a local public
school, and although all the volunteers/employees cared about the children - no one had formal
training in teaching and program planning was always disorganized. In this context, this was
better than these children going home to empty apartments and watching tv... but it definitely
could've been improved upon. I also worked in public school special ed classrooms through a
research study and worked with teachers who had never had any formal training in autism
(despite having multiple children with autism in their classroom).
Response: Thinking about recruiting, welcoming, orienting, preparing, and
maintaining volunteers to work in classrooms and throughout the school is a great focus for
the summer. Here are some resources to use in reviewing what a school has planned and
considering what might be added.
To link to a broad range of resources, start with our online clearinghouse Quick Find on
There are several resources listed there that will be a good stimulus for planning and development.
One example from our Center work is
Here’s an Excerpt:
Volunteers can be a multifaceted resource in a classroom and throughout a school. For this to
be the case, however, the school staff must value volunteers and learn how to recruit, train,
nurture, and use them effectively. When implemented properly, school volunteer programs can
enable teachers to personalize instruction, free teachers and other school personnel to meet
students’ needs more effectively, broaden students' experiences, strengthen school-community
understanding and relations, enhance home involvement, and enrich the lives of volunteers.
In the classroom, volunteers can provide just the type of extra support needed to enable staff
to conference and work with students who require special assistance.
Volunteers can be recruited from a variety of sources: parents and other family members;
others in the community such as senior citizens and workers in local businesses; college
students; and peers and older students at the school. There also are organized programs that
can provide volunteers, such as local service clubs. And, increasingly, institutions of higher
education are requiring students to participate in learning through service. Schools committed
to enhancing home and community involvement in schooling can pursue volunteer programs
as a productive element in their efforts to do so.
Few teachers have the time to recruit and train a cadre of volunteers. Teachers can work with
student support staff and the school administration to set up a volunteer program for the
school. Initially, a small group of volunteers can be recruited and taught how to implement and
maintain the volunteer program (e.g., how to recruit a large pool of volunteers, help train them,
nurture them, work with them to recruit replacements).
The cost of volunteer programs is relatively small compared to the impact they can have on
school climate and the quality of life for students and school staff.
We discuss the many roles for volunteers in the new book we have put online to stimulate efforts
to transform student and learning supports. See Chapter 7: “Community Outreach and Collaborative
Engagement” in Transforming Student and Learning Supports: Developing a Unified,
Comprehensive, and Equitable System – http://smhp.psych.ucla.edu/newinitiative.html
Here is a Exhibit that is presented in that Chapter:
The Many Roles for Volunteers in the Classroom and Throughout the School
Welcoming and Social Support
In the Front Office
Greeting and welcoming
- Providing information to those who come to the front desk
- Escorting guests, new students/families to destinations on the campus
- Orienting newcomers
Staffing a Welcoming Club
Connecting newly arrived parents with peer buddies
- Helping develop orientation and other information resources for newcomers
- Helping establish newcomer support groups
Working with Designated Students in the Classroom
Helping to orient new students
- Engaging disinterested, distracted, and distracting students
- Providing personal guidance and support for specific students in class
to help them stay focused and engaged
Providing Additional Opportunities and Support in Class and on the Campus
Helping Enhance Positive Climate Throughout the School –
including Assisting with "Chores"
Assisting with Supervision in Class and Throughout the Campus
Contributing to Campus "Beautification"
Helping to Get Materials Ready
Of course, when it comes to students who need special assistance, teachers can really benefit from
opening the classroom door and bringing some good volunteers. We discuss this in:
As emphasized in that resource, if all students are to have equal opportunity for success at school,
teachers, administrators, and education support staff must learn to open up the school and especially
the classrooms and invite in a variety of forms of assistance. Volunteers are one invaluable form of
assistance. Properly prepared, volunteers can enhance social and academic support and work in
targeted ways with students who manifest problems. In doing so, they can help make the classroom
a more caring context for learning and enable teachers to develop a classroom infrastructure that
transforms a big class into a set of smaller units. They can also help increase the array of strategies
for accommodating and teaching students in ways that compensate for differences, vulnerabilities,
and disabilities, which enhances equity of opportunity and can prevent many problems.
In general, then, volunteers can be especially helpful working under the direction of the
classroom teacher to establish a supportive relationship with students who are having trouble
adjusting to school.
Volunteers may help students on a one to one basis or in small groups. Group interactions are
especially important in enhancing a student's cooperative interactions with peers. One to one
work is often needed to develop a positive relationship with a particularly aggressive or
withdrawn student and in fostering successful task completion with a student easily distracted
Volunteers can help enhance a student's motivation and skills and, at the very least, help
counter negative effects that arise when a student has difficulty adjusting to school. The
majority of people who seek out the opportunity to volunteer at school are ready, willing, and
able to get into the classroom and interact well with students. These individuals are naturals.
All they need is a clear orientation about what is expected, as well as ongoing supervision
designed to help them learn to be increasingly effective in working collaboratively with
teachers and dealing with problems.
There are some volunteers who are not naturals. However, many of these individuals can learn
rapidly and be extremely helpful with just a bit of investment of time and effort.
For strategies on preparing volunteers to come into the classrooms, see