Breaking the Clique

I’ve “heard” that there is a perception among the parents at The Boy’s and The Girl’s school that the existing parent groups are “exclusive” and “cliquey.” I can understand that; after all, the same 20+ people often show up to everything. I am happy and grateful to those volunteers (like myself) who want to be really involved or really informed. But: why aren’t more people involved? How can we create a warm and inclusive parent community/culture? How to create more opportunities for involvement? And a confession: I often feel that I am on the outside of the circle.

In talking to other parents at other schools, this feeling of exclusion is common–even parents like myself who are what my friend Ami would call Super Volunteers. Last week, during a community-building session at Nettelhorst’s CPS Symposium, one parent, Patricia O’Keefe of Friends of Alcott, shared what she had done to “break the clique” at Alcott, creating a community culture that really, truly values parent volunteers. It’s simple, really, but so smart:

Everyone who wants to be a room parent, can be a room parent.

I know what you’re thinking: well, how does that work? Basically, at Alcott, they broke up all the tasks associated with classroom activities and made it more manageable for everyone to get involved:

#1 Teacher Contact. This person fulfills the normally associated duties of room parent, meeting with the teacher as-needed, assessing classroom needs, and communicating with the teacher and the rest of the room parents about what is needed. Teacher preference goes.

#2 Communications. This person does everything associated with communications: putting together a class list, helping with the directory, sending out emails to parents, etc. Some teachers at Alcott even have the communications room parent help or do their weekly newsletter.

#3 Social Butterfly. This person coordinates social time for kids, parents, moms, dads, etc. outside of the classroom: pizza parties, MNO, DNO, parent socials, etc.

#4 Volunteers. This person coordinates volunteers needed for classroom events, putting together a schedule, getting the information on classroom volunteers from the teacher contact, etc.

#5 LSC/PTA/FO Contact. This person is the liaison between the classroom and these organizations. If a classroom project needs to be done for an auction or other event, this is the person who works it out.

#6+ Ad Hoc Time. This person or people may have 4 hours/week or 1/2 an hour a year to support the classroom. They’ll work with the classroom volunteers person to make sure that the teacher has all of her bases covered in and outside of the classroom, lending a hand here and there as needed.

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