I’m big on positive connectivity. I’d like to see school staff members, communities, students and families working together, in a synergistic fashion, making the best possible world in which students can thrive. I believe this could go a long way toward making schools safer – probably a lot more effectively than more conventional security measures.
But how do you make connectivity happen? Teachers are, for the most part, overwhelmed with mandates, teaching to the test and serving as surrogate parent/ social worker for dozens of kids, each with their own baggage to sort. The tougher the kids, the less likely it is that teachers have enough time to extend themselves. Most would agree, something more has to happen, but what? Any effective intervention, on a pragmatic level, will have to be mighty easy, and deliver a quick pay-off, or it’s not likely to last very long.
One approach that works well is to have an enthusiastic, charismatic, driven teacher who chooses to go above and beyond the call of duty. Such a teacher calls families regularly, makes home visits, provides school supplies, clothing and food at their own expense. If there’s not enough time in the day to knock on all those doors, checking in with all those families, they may draw on new communication technologies to make this extended communication easier, whether it be through a web page, email, blogs or specialized apps, (such as Ving!, which I wrote about recently.)
Coupled with that, a lucky school might not only have the saintly teacher described above, but that teacher may also have a talent for developing additional resources, such as recreation centers, a skating rink or a skateboard park. Or they might look for opportunities for internships, after-school civic engagement and community service opportunities for students. Yesterday I blogged about the SWOTbot, which is a model example of some of the above – awesome teacher + amazing projects.
That being said, there’s plenty of room for more new tools and approaches. One I’ve been mulling over lately borrows some ideas from both Ving and SWOTbot, and is geared toward connecting with volunteers.
Volunteers can be a lot of trouble. Somebody has to screen them and place them. They may not all be reliable. And every teacher has different needs, week to week, particularly if they want to use volunteers as enrichment resources on particular topics, rather than just as generic extra help. So finding the right volunteer can be a lot of work.
This is no cake walk for volunteers either. How do you get a foot in the door with schools that are wary of disruptions, strangers,pedophiles or just plain high maintenance visitors? Background checks are expensive.
One volunteer might get things rolling with one teacher, but even arranging this can be a major project in itself. Expanding beyond that to serve other classes, let alone schools, can be way too much work.
Still, a good volunteer is an extraordinary resource that can make a huge difference for kids and for teachers. A reliable weekly lunch buddy can have a huge impact, without needing any expertise beyond a willingness to chat. A volunteer willing to sort papers can free up time for teachers, who can then provide more quality time to students. And specialized volunteers can serve as guest speakers on any topic under the sun.
But, circling around to my point here, how do you find the right volunteer at the right time, without the search requiring a huge amount of time and energy? Here’s one idea:
A searchable School Volunteer web page or blog. I’ll call it the V-LOG. If a teacher had a sudden urge to find a speaker on, say, nuclear fusion, or thought a tow truck driver could help explain hydraulics, or a Vietnam Vet could really bring a related lesson to life, they could type in a few key words and instantly find volunteers with the required skill set or experience. The V-LOG might look a little like the blog you’re reading at this very moment, crossed perhaps with an on-line dating service. Here’s how it would work:
Volunteers could post their services on the site, with the following content:
1. Who they are, and
2. What they have to offer. Using myself as a guinea pig, I might post something like, “I’m resident story teller and poet at the Family School, where I also teach social skills, drawing on Second Step and Positive Behavior Support. I’m happy to drop in on classes interested in writing, or chatting about bullying, or anything in between. Check out some of my work in the following clip, in which kids from one of my classes helped illustrate one of my Uncle Bunkle poems.”
Skills listed could include just about anything: storytelling, mentoring, tutoring, subject expertise, bi-lingual, bi-cultural, international background, single parent, addiction recovery, war vet, peace activist, civil war buff, model train enthusiast, or career experience of various kinds. Social service agencies might list themselves as a source for free eye exams, dental, counseling or medical services. They might even have opportunities to offer, including internships, jobs, driver training or music lessons. Or they might have supplies to offer, ranging from pens and paper to office or gardening equipment.
3. References/teacher recommendations (good speaker, students liked him, etc,) with a checkmark for whether or not the school district has already conducted a background check.
That’s the bare-bones version, to get things rolling. No doubt it could be expanded considerably, to include requests from students or schools, or information about what the school can offer the community. Let me know what you think!