Being asked to be a homeroom parent can bring all sorts of fears to the mind! There are questions of… What does that entail? How much time will that take? What responsibilities will I have?
I have been a homeroom parent many times for my kids’ classrooms, and although I can’t share a specific protocol, I can tell you what I have done to make it manageable and rewarding.
Each time one of my kids begins kindergarten, I don’t know the names of the kids in their class, let alone their parents. Most public schools won’t release any information about other students, and have some very detailed rules about how much they can help you connect with others in your child’s class. For some this anonymity might be nice, and don’t get me wrong… I could easily move to the country and live down a dirt road where I couldn’t see another house for over a mile. I actually grew up in a neighborhood like that, but I lived in the mountains… two miles up a dirt road, no neighbors in sight – unless you count the lone house about a mile away. I could see a small corner of that house’s roof, from the top floor of our house – yes I grew up in the boonies! I digress…
However, I don’t live in the boonies anymore… I want to know the kids and families that comprise the classroom where my kids spend a better part of their day for 9 months a year. I don’t want to feel like a stranger in the very place my kids spend most of their waking day. So, as a room parent I do a couple of things to encourage the classroom to become a community within our school. I start by sending out a voluntary request that families provide basic information for a class directory. Here is the form I use to request that information. CLASS DIRECTORY
You will see that it is carefully worded to make sure that no parent thinks they are required to provide this information, or that this request is coming from the school itself. I created this form about 4 years ago when my son was in kindergarten, and there is a version of it that my kids’ school now uses as the “approved form”. If you would like to use this form I would suggest that you first present it to your building principal and get their permission to distribute it, which is what I did the first year I used it.
I then create an excel spreadsheet with the directory information and distribute it to the class via email – using the BCC (blind carbon copy) field. I also distribute the directory to students that did not provide an email address, through their homework folders.
I have a copy of this directory that includes students that did not respond to my request for their contact information, and any students that ask me to keep their information private – this is my master list. I can quickly refer to this list when I send out information to the class as a whole – so I know who needs a hard copy sent home through their homework folder. To do this I simply write their name on the paper and send it to school with my child.
Once a directory has been established I use that information to distribute an invitation to a class party when my kids are in kindergarten. (this could also be done through homework folders) I organize a gathering of students and their families at our neighborhood park during the first couple of months of school – before the weather gets bad. This means I don’t have to host something at my home or pay for a “party location”. The whole point is simply to give families an opportunity to meet one another and begin to have at least some kind of a sense of community. At least we will hopefully recognize one another as we run into each other at school or in the neighborhood.
Last year we did a gathering just before Halloween and these were the invitations.
I did a snack for the kids, a cup of trail mix…
I also brought drinks, sidewalk chalk and some bubbles. It was not expensive and was easy to set-up / clean-up. The mess stayed at the park!
A pre-packaged snack would be just as good, or omit the snack altogether. Really, a park and 20+ kindergartners is all it takes for a good time!
Another thing I do that I think parents really appreciate is that I send out an email explaining my intent to (or not to) organize a class gift prior to Christmas. Many families want to do something nice for their kid’s teacher, but aren’t sure if a class gift will be coordinated or not. If no one knows what is planned or not planned, a teacher can end up not getting very many gifts due to the confusion, not because of how their students and parents feel about them.
I generally send a note to parents in early November letting them know if I will be organizing a class gift for Christmas, Teacher Appreciation Week, or the end of the year or some combination thereof. This allows parents to plan what they would like to participate in, and budget for what they will be able to contribute. Again, it also allows parents to make the decision if they would like to contribute something on their own, and have time to do so.
Our school asks teachers to complete an “about me” form at the beginning of the year, so parents have a starting point for gift ideas. If your school doesn’t do this, you could easily ask your teacher to answer a few questions to utilize in gift giving throughout the year. (Favorite: food, restaurant, cookie, magazine, ice cream shop, soda or drink, flower, candle scent, leisure activity…)
Last year I organized a class gift at Christmas. After my contribution deadline I went to Hobby Lobby and bought a holiday gift box for easy wrapping/presentation. I also picked up some gift card holders, a candle and some candy while I was there. I then assembled a collection of gift cards and put them together as a class gift. Here is the email form I have used to collect class gifts: CHRISTMAS GIFT
Now, a point of great personal debate!! I also include a simple card to the teacher, thanking her/him for all of their hard work and sign the name of each student that has participated in the class gift. I have debated many times that if it is a class gift, should I really sign individual names? After a few years of this debate, conversations with other parents, and numerous email exchanges I have decided – yes. Yes, those that chose to contribute a class gift can kindly include a note that makes sure the teacher knows they have contributed to the gift, communicating individual appreciation for their efforts. If no names are included the teacher really doesn’t know if the room parent just generously provided a class gift, maybe with the help of a couple of friends. I think it is nice for them to know how many parents and students appreciate them!
During Teacher Appreciation Week I try to do something each of the 5 days, to let our teachers know how much they are appreciated. I sprinkle in small gifts, bigger gifts, sentimental gifts, gifts that require monetary donations from students, and gifts that simply require a commitment of time.
Last year this is the letter that I sent to parents outlining my plan to demonstrate our appreciation throughout the week, providing them with the opportunity to participate in any way(s) they would like. TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK
A few thoughts on these gifts…
1) I like to do one gift that allows students to actually bring something to the teacher as they arrive to school. (This is also a great idea if your teacher is leaving on maternity leave, has experienced a personal loss, has had a medical issue…)
I have provided a vase with 6 flowers first thing in the morning, and then requested that each student bring in one long stem flower to contribute to the bouquet. I love seeing the faces of students and the teacher on that morning as each student proudly presents their special flower to their teacher. In the end the teacher has a large and beautiful bouquet of flowers – for only $1-$2 per student.
Likewise, I have sent in a basket of office/school supplies and asked that each student bring in one item in the morning. Each student can contribute a small item and your teacher will end up with a wonderful collection of much appreciated supplies!
Last, I have done this with a teacher leaving on maternity leave. Many schools, our district included, no longer allows baby or wedding showers for teachers. I simply let families know that on a specific day any child wishing to participate could bring in a book to “shower” our teacher with “appreciation”. These books can be a $1 book, or a collection of classics. This allows each child to participate, regardless of their resources.
2) I like to do a second gift during Teacher Appreciation Week that students can participate in by simply taking a little time to express their appreciation – no money necessary. This is usually the opportunity for something crafty and sentimental. (I like a good excuse to do something crafty!) Last year I had students respond to the question, “how has your teacher helped you grow this year?”. I then took what each child said, wrote it on a petal of a flower and created this piece of art for their classroom.
3) On two days I simply compile a couple gifts for about $20 each… a collection of favorite treats, a relaxation gift (gift card to ice cream or a coffee shop, a candle & a favorite magazine).
4) I then use most of the monetary funds to present the teacher with a larger collection of gift cards all on one day. I collect 4-5 gift cards in varying amounts that are for school & personal use. I try to get a gift card for our local teacher/education store, a general card for target or Amazon, one for a restaurant and then something they are interested in. (a clothing store, Sports equipment store, spa…) I like to show teachers that we are supporting what they are doing for our students, but also allow them to have something for themselves in appreciation of all that hard work in the classroom.
The last job that is often required of a room parent is coordinating the planning of class parties. For our school the room parent coordinates the party volunteers for each party, but not the actual party. I have a form letter that I slightly modify for each party giving parents important school guidelines, (some parents may be new to your school) and a suggested format for the party. I also let parents know that I will not actually be involved in the planning of the party unless they need assistance. I can help collect donations from other parents if needed, and they should send an email to me and the teacher prior to the party with a basic outline of the party plan. This is a way for me and the teacher to know that the party is actually planned, and the teacher will know if there are any things he/she needs to do to reconfigure the room, etc. Here is the letter I distribute to facilitate this party planning. CLASS PARTY EMAIL
This may make it sound like being a room parent is a ton of work! It is a lot of work, but I have also found it to be a great way to get to know other parents and my children’s teachers better. Now that my work schedule has gotten busier I have actually stepped back from the room parent role – so no judgment if you never volunteer for that role! I will say however, that with these forms and procedures in place it is very manageable to be a room parent and feel like that role brings a lot of value to your child’s classroom community, and teacher.