Volunteering at Schools: Cliques happen
Hard to believe, but it has almost been ten years since my first experience volunteering at school. We were planning for a (pre-)school auction, and we had a required number of volunteer hours to fulfill. I figured: Might as well get them all done with an auction activity.
Our leader for the auction that year - I will never forget her. She was a mama to two and she was amazingly gifted at being welcoming, empowering. She was a strong leader without being overly directing or bossy. She delegated well and elegantly. I crawled out my shell and took on a big role organizing all the "easel parties", the sign-up events where attendeeds would typically pay-per-person to participate. It was a great first experience with a school auction, a great first experience with volunteering at school.
The following year, we had a different leader for the big event. She was domineering. She had a vision, and it felt like no one else's ideas could compare to hers. I tried to volunteer for the same job, but all my products and ideas were met with criticism and were denied. I cringed, but I got the job done. I felt like my efforts were all for nothing, but at least I fulfilled those doggone required volunteer hours.
Fast forward almost a decade and several schools later, many, many volunteer hours (most of them, not required) later, I found myself co-leading an art project at my daughter's school, where she was a new student that year. I had read the instructions on how to present the project. I had prepared our art materials. I offered to my two other co-leaders that I would take the lead for the first section. The presentation divided easily into three portions we could each take turns in presenting, I suggested.
When I started off, I could hear one of the other parents say, under her breath, "Oh. We're doing it like THAT?" She sounded sarcastic, either mocking or critizing my approach. I think I stuttered, but I continued on. I had no idea why it seemed like I was doing it wrong. As I prodded through the presentation, trying to engage the kids in a bit of discussion as we went along, I could not stop thinking of my two co-leaders, how I felt them whispering about me, my style, my errors, my flaws in presentation, my inability to connect with the kids.
Was it me? Did I have it all wrong? Or, was it that "cliques happen"? Even if we are working toward a common cause?
I have to believe that my time is valued when I offer it to our classroom. I have to believe that I am open to constructive criticism and that I am welcoming of new ideas. My co-leads that day never did approach me with how I might have erred in the lesson, so I continue to contribute my time toward leading art projects every month. The other parent that had initiated that snarky comment (well, it sounded snarky to me) hasn't volunteered alongside me in a couple of months now, and I honestly feel more at ease without her. Our teacher hasn't corrected me or discussed a way that I might be doing this all wrong. So, I just keep at it, even though I recall that moment of disdain, and I feel it gnawing at me each time I prepare for a project.
Are we not too old for this interaction? Do we have time for riffs like this? Have you experienced this too?