School Volunteering: "Just Tell Me What to Do"
We are in the throes of planning for one of our school's largest events and traditions, a fall harvest festival, featuring food from around the globe, cultural displays, and a midway section of carnival games. A significant endeavor, planning meetings have been occurring regularly for the past few weeks already.
At one meeting, hoping to elicit dialogue and suggestions, a parent asked the open-ended question: "What is the best way to solicit food from the different continents?"
There was silence. It got awkward. I wonder if he was looking for answers like "put a bunch of continents on slips of paper in a hat and have parents draw from it" or "use survey monkey to put together a questionnaire and facilitate sign ups" or something else? One parent said: "Just tell me what I should bring, and I will bring it."
We are all busy. We are all happy to contribute. We love an open process, but we also love to be told what to do. Maybe all we need is one visionary, one leader, and we can all follow his/her instructions.
I was the lead coordinator for this year's International Walk to School Day earlier in the month. I didn't have planning meetings, only lots of online coordination. With every email and with every update, I'd ask "I welcome your suggestions or ideas". Not too much response. I reached out to one parent, who has told me time and time again that she wanted to co-lead the effort with me. She said, "Yes, of course I will help." That was it. Again, I asked, but then I also told her that I needed help with 1) procuring giveaways and 2) procuring ingredients for smoothies.
She said "I very much like to be told what to do".
A light bulb went on. Yes! Just tell them what to do! With each subsequent email, I made specific asks: "buy 2 boxes of granola bars" or "be at school at 7:15am to set up tables" or "position yourself at the rear bike rack to hand out raffle tickets" or "take photos and videos of the event from 7:50 to 8:10".
The light bulb switched on. "Just tell me what to do." Despite being a very active volunteer at half-a-dozen schools over the past decade, it hadn't resonated as loudly as it did then. Busy parents make decisions every day, figuring things like what to make for dinner or what to give to Johnny for his 5th birthday or what Jane should bring for sharing day. When it comes to contributing at school, there is a large contingent of parents who are happy to contribute and would just like to be told what to do. Maybe that's you? Maybe it's not.
For more on volunteering at our schools, see:
- Volunteering at Schools: Cliques Happen
- Parent Volunteers at School: why?
- Parent Volunteering at School: how much?
- Mama vs. Papa: how our standards different in volunteerism