To avoid obstacles as you move forward with your church-school partnership, recognize that developing a trusted relationship requires time, consistency and patience. Many basic challenges can be avoided through the use of thoughtful planning and sharing of information with your volunteers. Here are some tips to help your outreach be successful:
Find out what the school you want to work with needs most and meet those needs. Recognize that school leadership and staff know what is necessary at their site. Communities of faith may initially be viewed with skepticism, so approach the school as a humble listener and work to fulfill their requests.
Make it clear that your work has no strings and no agenda.
Start small. Churches build credibility in their partnerships by doing small things well. You may want to initially focus on meeting a basic need to build relationship, overcome potential barriers and build trust. Establish credibility and display that we are people of our word by “under promising and over performing”.
Understand from the outset that this is a long term commitment, especially in partnerships that include one-on-one mentoring and tutoring relationships with individual students.
Volunteers are key to the success of your program and need to be well informed. Ensure they are up to date regarding school events and activities so they feel connected. Help them to know everything from the names of the office staff to the location of the restrooms. Never assume they know the details! Here are some specifics to share with volunteers:
A clear vision regarding why you are initiating this outreach
County processes for signing up to be a school volunteer
School map and parking information
School sign in procedures
School calendar, contact information and hours
School demographics and data
Appropriate attire policy
Cell phone use policy
Child protection and safety policy
Cultural awareness of the student population
An understanding that volunteering is not one size fits all-help volunteers find the most appropriate and fulfilling role
A clear understanding that proselytizing is never the goal of your efforts
Tutoring or mentoring require longer term commitments. Tutors and mentors must know what materials for instruction and sharing are appropriate and can be brought into the school. The content of materials must be secular, neutral and non-ideological.
Have one key person be the liaison with the school leadership and find a primary contact at the school to simplify communication. Those individuals should plan for ongoing communication throughout the school year.
Keep your congregation informed about your successes.
Honor volunteers in big and small ways and readily affirm their work.
Share volunteer stories to demonstrate the difference they are making.
Have happy, engaged volunteers recruit other volunteers.
Collect data whenever appropriate to evaluate your program objectively.
Evaluate your work annually and have your partnering school review progress annually as well. Use this information to enhance your program.
The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church
450 Martin L King Jr Ave
Lakeland, FL 33815
(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011