Monday, 6 June 2016

ms-havachats on about volunteering at school

It's that time of year again (in the northern hemisphere at least), when school Parent Committees/Boards transition from one team to another. Our school has already done this, and I am on the incoming Board (parent board/committee not the official Board, confusing, right?)

After a self imposed year's sabbatical, I'm ready to get back to being busy within the school community. I've learn my lesson and didn't jump in right away, but opted to peruse the scene from a short distance and suss things out before thinking 'OMG what have I done?'

I've been on school committees before, and if you've been reading for a while, you know I was VP of the IWCD. I've just taken on a role I've overseen but not done before. It's fun to see the similarities and differences, not unlike starting a new job. Lots of 'why do you do that' or 'have you thought about this' and thinking WT LOL.

Last week, a BF asked me for advice before she nominated herself for a position on her kids school board. She would like to get more involved in the school community, know a bit more about what's going on etc. While I was sending her a reply I thought what a good chat this would make as maybe there are others who are considering the same steps this school year.

So here goes, ms-havachat's guide to considering being on the School Parents Committee (or any volunteer role)


  • Don't rush in! Take time on subcommittees first as a means of sussing out how things are done; what politics (if any) are happening; learn the history of why things are done the way they are and if change is welcome/needed; Interview THEM as much as you can without them knowing. 
    • I tend to spend the best part of the first year attending as many school (or International Women's Clubs) events (that are interesting and relevant) because I wanted to, and because it was a way to meet people (i.e.: organisers) and to observe how things are done. When you're seen to be involved as a participant, people chat with you and you soon have 'friends on the Committee' even tho they may not be Friends (capital F being the difference)
    • If the opportunity to be on a sub-committee crops up during that year, take it! Another easy way to be involved without committing. 
  • Whatever role you take on, the time it takes to do that role may well be way more than you are told. Be prepared, be organised. 
    • I keep the afternoon/evening of the Monthly meeting free for any administration and follow ups needed to be done so they are attended to straight away. 
    • Respond to/write emails and make phone calls during the day; nothing past 5pm unless absolutely necessary and definitely nothing on the weekend.
  • Monthly meetings
    • Follow up meetings
    • Sub Committee meeting
  • Administration
    • Role dependant, but there are always emails (no one talks on a phone anymore)
    • Research/planning/preparation
    • For the first time my Committee email is different to my personal email (as stipulated by school), and I have it set up on my iPad, not coming into my laptop or my phone.
    • So. Much. More. Freedom!
  • Attending/participating in events
    • As a committee member you are expected to participate in most, if not all the events at school
    • In addition to encouraging friends to join in the fun too!
  • The other important consideration is how long are you going to be living where you are? If it's a short contract, maybe you don't want to be burdened with a committee OR maybe it's exactly what you need to immerse yourself as quickly as possible into your new community. 
    • Remember, rule of thumb; first 6-12 months you're really settling in, second year you know the ropes and enjoying life ..... then do you move? extend? How much travel will you be doing? What age are your kids? How much attention/support do they need?
  • Knowing who the President is going to be before you commit, is very helpful.
    • It should never be a committee based purely on friendships, but rather a committee who over time become friends. 
    • Speak with the incoming President and find out their ideas and goals for their time at the helm, find out how open they are to yours.
    • Like a CEO, or the captain of a sports team the President has a lot to do with the success of the Committee (or, the Committee learn quickly how to work around them)
  • Understand the organisational chart 
    • It might 'just be school' and you are 'just volunteering' but there still needs to be structure
  • Make sure the role you are asked to consider is absolutely the one you want. 
    • Know your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and don't be persuaded otherwise. 
    • I will consider most roles but never ever treasurer or secretary; just not my skill set. 
  • Talk with the incumbent. Listen to how they did the job, and ask questions.
    • It's just like a job interview, just with no income derived.
    • Ask lots of how? why? when? questions 
    • A great question is 'if you were to do the job this year, knowing what you know what would you do differently? Quickly followed by .... 'what would you do differently'

  • Every committee reimburses in their own way for money you might spend on it's half. 
    • Be very clear on how you are to be reimbursed
    • I have heard of horror stories of people spending huge amounts of money only for it to be challenged ........ make sure you absolutely understand this aspect of the committee and don't be scared to suggest alternatives if you don't feel comfortable. 
    • Do you need to provide a number of quotes beforehand?
    • How long does it take for the money to be repaid?
    • Cash or direct transfer (yes! I've had to bank cheques as no online transfer option was possible)

  • If school or International Women's Clubs don't interest you, or you've been-there-done-that, think about volunteering at:
    • Hospital
    • Disadvantaged kids
    • Senior Citizens
    • Community Centres
    • Charity groups (too many to name)
    • Art galleries, museums, libraries 
    • Community sports clubs
    • Church, Synagogue, Mosque
    • Youth centres
    • Community Arts groups
    • Animal shelters

  • Great way to get to know people quickly
  • Knowing what's going on and being in a position of influence at time of change is enjoyable.
  • It's a great way to 'pay it forward' 
  • As an expat, it's possibly the only way you'll ever get to use your skills and experience if you're visa is stamped in such a way you can't be gainfully employed
    • Looks good on your CV if/when you return 'home'
  • Meetings, activities etc quickly fill up a diary and helps give your weeks meaning
  • Good role modelling for your kids

Personally, I really enjoy my time on Committees. The friendships have been great, my diary has direction, my skills are being used, it's fun to give back to your community.

Please share if you have anything else you'd like to add.
What's been your favourite volunteer role and why?
Experiences - good'n'bad? 

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