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6 Factors in School Volunteerism To examine and describe the factors that foster or inhibit successful school volunteer programs, the committee used information gained from the review of the literature and the site visits to exemplary programs as well as the individual knowledge and experience of its members. The committee's study of school volunteers in the United States comes at a time when volunteer programs are becoming institutionalized in many school systems. That is, a school system has decided that the volunteer contribution is worthwhile and that to facilitate the use of volunteers someone has to be assigned responsibility for organizing, administering, and coordinating their activities. For convenience, the committee refers to such programs as organized programs. Its purpose is to distinguish these programs from the thousands of informal teacher-volunteer arrangements in which a teacher asks a parent for occasional assistance with some activ- ity or a parent suggests that he or she would be willing to help. Thou- sands of such informal arrangements exist, and we must assume that they usually work well or are quickly terminated. Committee members did talk with a few teachers who had made such arrangements, but the mem- bers were not able to identify and study many of them. In its review and report on those factors that foster or inhibit volunteer programs, the com- mittee focused its attention on organized volunteer programs. CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS The committee notes that the structure and operation of successful programs are varied. Recruiting, support, and recognition of volunteers take various forms. Administrative arrangements can differ, although a 92
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FACTORS IN SCHOOL VOLllNTEERISM 93 district coordinator and staff generally take major responsibility for over- all volunteer activities, including record-keeping and preparation of re- cruiting and training materials, with the aid of a coordinator, often a volunteer, at each school. The school coordinator may be active in re- cruiting parents and neighborhood volunteers and may be responsible for orienting, training, and placing volunteers in that building, as well as collecting and forwarding data on hours worked and services performed and working with teachers to evaluate the program. In some instances, programs are administered by a nonprofit organization working closely with the school district; there are a few instances (as described in Chapter 5) in which programs are administered by the volunteers themselves. Support by Top Policy Levels Strong support at the top policy and administrative levels in a school system is one of the major characteristics of a successful school volunteer program. In many cases, support for volunteers in schools is expressed in writing or regulations by the school board; a number of volunteer admin- istrators said they believe that such a board position, publicly announced, is essential. Beyond this, sincere personal acceptance and approval by the district board of education, the superintendent, and each participating school principal is apparent in successful programs. The committee also notes that teachers are more likely to welcome and use volunteers when the principal's support is clear and enthusiastic. State-level support, in the few states where it exists, also seems to help greatly. A person or office in the state education agency assigned respon- sibility for promoting the use of volunteers, plus some state funding to local education agencies for that purpose, encourages school districts to participate. In general, states lag behind their local school systems in recognizing the potential contribution of volunteers. Organization and Management Sound organization and management are a major characteristic of suc- cessful school volunteer programs. Most of the volunteer programs the committee visited are districtwide operations managed by a director or coordinator of volunteer services (titles and specific duties varied) who was a school district employee. In a few instances, highly successful volunteer programs are operated by nonprofit organizations partly sup- ported by and working closely with a school district, and there were also programs that had been organized and were still managed by volunteers. All of the districtwide programs reviewed by the committee had some form of centralized administrative structure. Most operate under written
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94 VOLUNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS policy statements; all have generalized goals; and most have practical program objectives. In these programs, the district director of volunteer services works to involve as many schools as possible in the use of volun teers. In most cases, the coordinator or a district staff member works with teachers and administrators in each school to assess the school's need for volunteers. The central volunteer office then either recruits and places volunteers directly, as a service to the schools, or trains a school team (usually consisting of a volunteer and a member of the staff) to conduct recruiting and to orient and train the school's volunteers. In well-estab- lished programs, needs assessment is not a one-time event; ongoing reas- sessment at each school allows the coordinator to shift and redirect volun teer resources as needs change. The district volunteer coordinator usually develops procedures to be followed by the schools in managing their volunteer programs. The com- mittee was impressed with the quality of many of the manuals, record- keeping forms, recognition programs, and public relations materials developed by volunteer offices. As has been noted above, the major admin- istrative deficiencies are in data collection and evaluation, which are weak even in exemplary programs. The district volunteer coordinator is often responsible for cultivating community or business contacts, and effective coordinators appeared to spend considerable time trouble-shooting and problem-solving with school staff, volunteers, and business and commu nity partners. A significant characteristic of all of the volunteer programs the com- mittee examined is the energy, creativity, and efficiency with which they are administered. In most instances, very small staffs seem to accomplish near miracles in dealing with paperwork and the many personal contacts involved in volunteer programs. Many school volunteer programs are quite young, and some are still headed by the individuals who created them 10 or so years ago. Others headed by successors to the program originators continue to expand the services and to introduce new aspects to volunteerism. It is worth noting that a new group of administrators of business-school partnerships is now emerging, with some broadened re- sponsibilities that often include many kinds of business involvement in education, in addition to placing volunteers in schools. These activities- which may include material gifts of equipment, work opportunities for teachers or students, and other relationships- were considered beyond the scope of this study. Most existing volunteer programs came to their present administrative effectiveness by trial and error over a period of years. The experiences of those early programs are reflected in training materials now available, through the national school volunteer association (National Association of
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FACTORS IN SCHOOL VOLUNTEERISM 95 Partners in Education) and some state volunteer offices, that aid schools or districts in developing programs responsive to their particular local needs and resources. Volunteer program coordinators now have access to planning guides and training materials to help them organize and man- age volunteer programs. Involvement of Teachers Another significant factor in successful school volunteer programs appears to be the relationships between volunteer coordinators and teach- ers. Many volunteer activities require close cooperation between a volun- teer and a teacher. Successful volunteer programs try to deal with the issue of teacher participation by providing orientation to the objectives and potential of a volunteer program, not only for volunteers but also for teachers and other school staff. Almost all volunteer programs find that some teachers are pleased to work with volunteers, but others are unwill- ing, either from timidity and concern about being observed by outsiders or as a matter of educational philosophy. As a basic principle, most programs place volunteers only with teachers who request them and make clear that volunteers work only under the supervision of teachers. Some schools provide specific training to teachers, as well as to volun- teers, in the techniques of cooperating and developing coordinated activi- ties for students. Many of the teachers interviewed during the committee's site visits noted that they had received no training in the use of volunteers during their professional preparation and that training was very helpful in working effectively with volunteers. The attitude of teacher unions toward the use of volunteers was of in- terest to the committee. Both of the major teacher organizations support the use of volunteers in schools, with the provision that they work under the supervision of professional teaching staff and are not used to replace teachers or school aides. During several of the site visits, union leaders indicated that their members welcome volunteers as a source of help that the school system could not otherwise afford. They saw no problem that volunteers might become an alternative to paid teacher aides. In one major urban school system, the policy of the board of education in sup- port of school volunteers actually specifies that they may not be used to justify a reduction in force. Recruitment, Training, and Placement of Volunteers Successful school volunteer programs recruit volunteers from many sources: the PTA or PTO, the Junior League, the local RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteers Program), businesses, colleges and universities, some
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96 VOLUNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS times elementary and secondary school students, and, always, parents. The programs consider the human resources available in their communi- ties in determining recruiting strategies: in areas with large retirement populations, for example, the programs aim at recruiting senior citizens; those close to colleges or universities seek college students; and in some instances, contact has been made with nearby military bases. As recently as a decade ago, most volunteers were parents, and most of these were parents of children in the school. This pattern is, of course, changing as many mothers are now employed and are unavailable to help during school hours. Programs reviewed by the committee indicate that they now spread a wide recruiting net, hoping to bring in not only retired senior citizens and college and high school students but also employees on released time from their jobs in business and industry. Recruiting is conducted in many ways: with brochures, posters, newspaper articles and advertisements, spot announcements on radio and television, and, very importantly, by word of mouth. The best recruiter, program coordi- nators say, is an enthusiastic volunteer. Success in recruiting enough volunteers with the attributes requested by teachers is a constant challenge to volunteer program coordinators and requires constant effort. Most coordinators note that they usually had more requests than they could easily fill. Once volunteers are recruited, virtually all organized programs pro- vide orientation often in joint meetings with school staff, about the gen- eral nature of the undertaking on which they are embarking. For volun- teers and staff, this orientation usually includes an introduction to the philosophy and objectives of the volunteer program and the needs the program will attempt to meet. For volunteers, orientation also usually includes a briefing on practical matters, such as the physical facilities of the school (is there a meeting or work room for volunteers, where can volunteers park, may they eat lunch at school?) and school rules and expectations, including the need to maintain confidentiality about student performance and records. Commitment by the volunteer is stressed; ori- entation sessions usually emphasize the importance of punctuality, and volunteers are asked to notify the school if they are unable to keep sched- uled assignments. Most programs have also developed written guide- lines for volunteers. In programs that involve contact with students, particularly the one- on-one relationships of tutoring and mentoring, volunteers are often asked to commit to the activity for a specific period of time on a regular basis. Coordinators speak of the possible harm that can be done if a volunteer drops out of a student's life without cause or explanation, leaving the young person with a sense of failure and rejection. In addition to basic orientation, many programs report that they also
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FACTORS IN SCHOOL VOLUNTEERISM 97 provide volunteers some form of specialized training, related to the work they will perform. Sometimes this training is provided by the teacher or staff person with whom the volunteer will be working. In other cases, the volunteer program staff or consultants may present seminars on such subjects as tutoring, reading, mathematics, working with handicapped youngsters, and listening to children. The amount of training volunteers received in programs reviewed by the committee varied considerably, depending on the task assigned. In some instances, it was intense and extended over a considerable time period. For the most part, however, training amounted to only a few hours per semester. When volunteers are aiding elementary teachers by reading to children or occupying some of them in arts and crafts activities while the teacher works with others, only minimal training is considered necessary. As one teacher put it: "We need warm, caring people to listen to groups of children, perhaps read to them, or organize arts and crafts, to give us time to work with small groups and focus on whatever is needed." But a project that made extensive use of volunteers to improve thinking and writing skills provided extensive training through formally organized af- ter-school workshops for both teachers and volunteers, with experts brought in to lecture and lead the workshops. The Junior Great Books program, a widely used volunteer program, requires that volunteers at- tend training sessions for a fee. Many coordinators believe that improve- ment in training would lead to even better results from volunteer efforts. How volunteers are assigned to given activities or classrooms appears to vary widely. Most district-level coordinators place considerable reli- ance on school building volunteer coordinators to know the teachers, stu- dents, and volunteers well enough to make good matches. Volunteers are asked on application and registration forms to indicate their areas of spe- cial interest, and this serves as a general guide. Usually, the volunteer candidate is also interviewed. Despite the best efforts, however, volunteers do not always work out in specific assignments. In such cases, coordinators say they use a variety of strategies to correct the problem and will reassign the volunteer if neces- sary. Some programs noted that uncertainty about what the volunteer is expected to do can produce problems; agreement between the teacher and the volunteers as to what they hope to accomplish and how to go about it helps to prevent misunderstandings. Recognition of Volunteers Successful programs give much time and attention to the way volun- teers are treated. Retaining volunteers was high on most coordinators' agendas, and programs apparently exchange more information about rec
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98 VOLllNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS ognition than any other single issue. It is common for a school system to sponsor some kind of gala social event near the end of the school year, to which all volunteers are invited. In addition, individual schools and teach- ers use a variety of techniques, including notes of appreciation, pins, plaques, bulletin board postings, and the like, to salute volunteers. These practices are probably helpful in retaining volunteers. However, the committee heard from a number of volunteers, particularly corporate volunteers and professionals providing specialized services, that they would prefer recognition in the form of information from the schools about whether and how their volunteering makes a difference to students, specifically youngsters they have been tutoring or mentoring. In one case, volunteers declined to attend a recognition event that conflicted with their regularly scheduled activities with students. FACTORS INHIBITING THE USE OF VOLUNTEERS IN SCHOOLS Much of the evidence for the committee's analysis of inhibiting factors was obtained from interviews, and the information was largely anecdotal. Nevertheless, the questions raised did provide some insights as to what prevents successful use of volunteers in schools. In general, the commit- tee found that inhibiting factors can be grouped under two major catego- ries: those that prevent volunteer programs from being established or, once established, from flourishing, and those factors that inhibit success in some aspect of an ongoing program. In considering the first category, the committee attempted to determine why many schools have no volunteer programs. The data reported to the National Center for Education Statistics show that about 40 percent of schools surveyed reported no use of volunteers. Committee members attempted to identify a few such schools and to find out why, and they also questioned people with expertise in education. No definitive an- swers were possible given the time and constraints of this study, but the committee did gain some insight. Reasons for not using volunteers var- ied. In some instances, it was simply lack of awareness. In others, there was knowledge of the potential, but inertia, other priorities, and lack of know-how to go about getting started evidently accounted for no volun- teer activity. Still other comments cited hostility to the use of volunteers by local teacher and teacher aide organizations. Even though the national organizations of these groups support the use of volunteers under stated conditions, some local groups continued to be suspicious. The negative attitudes of school administrators were another reason: some school superintendents and some school principals still perceive
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FACTORS IN SCHOOL VOLUNTEERISM 99 volunteers as outside intruders and possible troublemakers. During the 1980s many school superintendents became receptive to community in- volvement as part of a public relations strategy to increase public support for education. But even in districts where superintendents gave open support to volunteerism as part of this strategy, support by principals varied from school to school, and some resisted using volunteers. The committee was also told that many teachers declined to use volun- teers for various reasons. Some teachers view volunteers as someone looking over their shoulder and watching their performance, and they do not want to be scrutinized; they do not want what they perceive as inter- ference from outsiders. Some teachers perceive volunteers as possible gossips and '`butt-ins." Others consider the time spent in training some- one who would be coming in twice a week for a few hours too high a price to pay for the help that could be received. Still others saw conflict with their teaching style or felt strongly that education should be pro- vided by trained educators and were philosophically opposed to bringing noneducators into the classroom. There was speculation that the training that educators receive in college usually does not prepare them to use outside resources. The contention is that teachers who have not had training in supervision of volunteer help worry about how to use volun- teers or are sometimes reluctant to take on what they perceive as a burden rather than a help. Volunteer coordinators, many of whom supplied some of the above anecdotes, noted that they do not try to impose volunteers on reluctant teachers. Instead they work in a school with those teachers who do want help. In attempting to understand the factors that inhibit success or even result in failure of volunteer programs after they are initiated, the com- mittee found that they are often simply the reverse of the factors identi- fied as essential for successful programs: poor coordination or sloppy management, lack of adequate orientation and screening, and confusion over objectives are among factors frequently cited. From volunteers, there were stories that the teacher they were assigned to work with did not know how to make good use of their time. Teachers have many com- plaints that volunteers do not always know what is expected of them or that they have insufficient commitment and fail to show up as planned. Such complaints, according to volunteer coordinators, can usually be traced to inadequate screening and orientation, poor coordination, insufficient training, or, occasionally, even personality differences. Good managers, committee members were told, try to anticipate such problems before they arise and deal with them quickly when they do. Inadequate assessment of the time and commitment required to accom- plish objectives was another illustration of a factor that can severely in- hibit the effectiveness of a program. Activities such as tutoring, which
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100 VOLUNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS take place over a period of time, require considerable planning and a clear understanding of what is required if they are to show success. Confusion or mismatch of objectives can also result in program failure. One illustration given was of an offer by the corporate officers of a televi- sion station to adopt a school. The volunteer coordinator saw this as an opporunity for a school to work with a glamorous organization, one that could interest and motivate students. What was not perceived, however, were the differences in objectives. The school administrators and teachers wanted a sharing of expertise in the curricular sense, with station volun- teers serving as mentors, providing career guidance, motivating students, and sharing their knowledge in what many perceive as a glamorous field. But the corporate officers of the station perceived the relationship in a very different way: they were interested in establishing good public rela- tions with the community and saw this in a promotional sense. They offered tickets to concerts and other events, T-shirts, materials, and even an occasional speaker; they were not thinking in terms of releasing station staff to work with students in the school or to bringing students to the station on a regular basis. The result was disappointment on both sides. The volunteer coordinator who described this problem assumed the blame for not recognizing the conflicting objectives. As a result of this experi- ence, such business-school relationships are now planned more carefully in this district. Probably the most important of inhibiting factors is loss of support at the top policy or administrative level. Since volunteer programs are usu- ally not mandated by states, they may be dispensed with or cut back at the discretion of a superintendent or school board. Thus, when a change occurs in school superintendents or in school boards, volunteer adminis- trators must often justify their activity and persuade others of its value. Because most volunteer programs have very small staffs, any cutback can severely inhibit a program. OBSERVATIONS ON NATIONAL VOLUNTARY YOUTH SERVICE During the course of the committee's study of school volunteers, the U.S. Congress became actively involved in introducing and debating leg- islation to set up some kind of voluntary national service for young people, in some instances providing for incentives such as stipends for service. A major component of the proposed legislation would be volunteer service in community agencies and organizations. Such an approach could make large numbers of additional volunteers available to schools. From its study of school volunteers, the committee can make some suggestions about voluntary youth service that may be helpful in the debate. Following the site visits by committee members to the exemplary
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FACTORS IN SCHOOL VOLlIN7rEERISM 101 programs, follow-up contact was made with the volunteer administrators and with others to ask their views as to the possible effects on their pro- grams of national service legislation. Virtually all volunteer administrators or coordinators told us that to be successful, national voluntary youth service programs would require an administrative infrastructure at the local level to assess the needs of schools and classrooms, to match volunteer skills and interests to needs, to moni- tor volunteer activities, to address issues such as liability and insurance, and to maintain records and evaluate the effects of the program. They considered it most important that local agencies be able to provide thor- ough orientation and guidance and ensure appropriate supervision of vol- unteers, especially those in activities involved with the instructional proc ess and dealing directly with students, such as tutoring or mentoring. These latter activities and some others often require training as well as orientation, and volunteers may be ineffective without it, particularly since those volunteering as a result of the legislation are likely to be young persons, many of whom have just finished high school. Virtually all of those interviewed said that their agencies could absorb and effectively use additional volunteer help, but most said they would need funds for additional staff to handle them effectively. It was pointed out, however, that Congress should be aware of the many areas in the country that do not have organized volunteer programs and where no local administrative infrastructure exists. The likelihood that persons volunteering as a result of national service legislation would be available on a full-time basis was considered another challenge. As already noted, most volunteers provide part-time help, usually only 3 to 4 hours, 2 to 3 days a week. How to use full-time volun- teers effectively is a question that would have to be addressed. Moreover, availability of such full-time service may raise objections from teacher aides organizations, which are likely to view such volunteers as possible substitutes for full-time staff. The committee urges Congress to consider such issues in connection with any voluntary youth service legislation. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS As a result of its examination of school volunteer programs, the com- mittee has concluded that volunteers do make significant contributions to education and that schools have need of and could not otherwise afford many of the services volunteers can provide. The committee believes equally strongly, however, that volunteer activities should be thought- fully planned, organized, and focused. The committee therefore makes two recommendations:
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102 VOLUNTEERS IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS · The committee recommends that educators, school boards, com- munity leaders, and state and federal public officials become in- formed about and support the development of school volunteer programs. · The committee recommends that volunteer programs be designed to complement and support the educational objectives of schools.
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