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October 7, 2015 | 24th Tishrei 5776

Volunteers and the Jewish Classroom - No I, 5764

Volunteers and the Jewish Classroom
No I, 5764


Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed:
Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.

The world depends on three things:
on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds.
- Pirkei Avot 1:2

This year each issue of V'shinantam will be dedicated to a specific aspect of building classroom community. Our operating enduring understanding is that building classroom community creates opportunities for educational success. Each issue will be written with input from another department at the UAHC.

V'shinantam is organized around the three pillars of Torah , Avodah , and G'milut Chasadim . We interpret each heading to focus on a different aspect of our work. Under the heading Torah, signifying the mind, you will find a teaching from our tradition; under Avodah (heart), a context to give us the proper intention for our work; and under G'milut Chasadim (hands), practical ideas for implementation.


From the Department of Synagogue Management

We learn from the Talmud that "It is not the place that brings honor to the person, rather it is the person who brings honor to the place." ( Ta'anit 21) As teachers in congregational religious schools, you can help fulfill this dictum by providing volunteer possibilities for congregants within your classrooms.

You can begin by recruiting your students’ parents to volunteer in the classroom. Look for ways to identify parents' strengths and interests so that you can match them with your classroom and curricular needs. This not only provides you with much needed assistance, but also offers temple members an opportunity for involvement, thereby building and strengthening the entire congregational community. In addition to the important and valuable gifts you give your congregation by teaching in the religious school, you can help bring honor to that special place by helping congregants to connect in meaningful ways.

Dale Glasser, MS, MA, MSW, Director
UAHC Ida and Howard Wilkoff Department of Synagogue Management

For more information, go to



The school is an integral part of the organizational system of the congregation. Therefore, the philosophy and culture of volunteering in the school must be examined in relation to the culture of volunteer integration, recognition, and development that exists in other areas throughout the congregation. You could face frustration in recruiting volunteers if your congregation does not have a culture of volunteerism. On the other hand, some congregations rely on their volunteers to eventually assume leadership positions in the congregation.

In For the Sake of Heaven—Committees in Congregational Life , the Department of Synagogue Management has identified five stages of leadership development in congregations. As a classroom teacher, you can be directly involved with these stages. Remember that classroom volunteers may be candidates for leadership positions within the greater congregation. School volunteers are often the ones who are committed, dedicated, and willing to work hard and give time to make a difference. Incorporating volunteers into your classroom can benefit not only you as the teacher, but also the students, parents, and other congregants.

The five stages of leadership development are:

Some religious schools have a sophisticated volunteer system in place. Others rely on the classroom teacher to define the need for volunteers and design valuable volunteer opportunities. Identify opportunities that will enrich your classroom as well as the congregational community.

Clarify your expectations for volunteers and assign responsibilities carefully. Make sure there is a fit between meaningful work with which you really need help and your own comfort level delegating responsibilities. Are you willing to have a volunteer read a story or teach a segment of class? Could a volunteer help you with some record keeping or logistics? Would you rather have someone help you from home (making phone calls, preparing supplies, organizing other volunteers)?

Where do you begin? Create and prominently display a recruiting poster describing the specific ways parents/congregants can help. Send a letter inviting volunteers to your classroom. Find out if the religious school committee recruits volunteers and how they expect them to be integrated into the classroom.

Many parents/congregants want and need to be asked for their help. However, parents and others may be reluctant to volunteer because they are unsure about what they can contribute or if they will be integrated into the classroom. Create a place where children and adults are welcome and can build positive Jewish memories together. This kind of environment and the chance to connect can inspire adults to agree to volunteer.

A little time invested in training in the beginning can save you time later on. Provide written and oral direction for parents and others who volunteer. Explain school and class policies. Let volunteers know when and how they might best communicate with you or your volunteer coordinator. Give volunteers a chance to observe in the school and your classroom before they volunteer, and plan some time to follow-up with your volunteers. These strategies will help volunteers become more knowledgeable about their tasks as well as the classroom and school.

Careful supervision of volunteers helps make their time worthwhile. Make sure that people who sign up to volunteer are contacted and trained. After they volunteer, take a few minutes to reflect and evaluate together (in person if possible). Next time the volunteer returns to your class, s/he will be better prepared.

Don’t forget to say thank you! Give recognition and express appreciation. Volunteers can be recognized and thanked in a number of ways: in person by the teacher, by the students, by the entire congregation, with a certificate or plaque, with an article or ad in the synagogue or class bulletin, or on the synagogue Web site, for example.

Volunteers in the classroom serve as Jewish role models for our students. Think creatively about ways students can recognize volunteers. Students can: welcome the volunteer, introduce him/her, and then thank him/her; interview the volunteer and publish the interview in the synagogue newsletter; create a special certificate and present it; or choose and give a small gift. The class may present the volunteer with a special award. If the school or synagogue has a service devoted to volunteer recognition, make sure your volunteers are included.

Acknowledge the personal lives of your volunteers, their reasons for volunteering, and their valuable contribution. Get to know them by asking about their families and interests. Be open to their suggestions on how to make improvements and strengthen classroom success and community.

When you work with an outstanding volunteer, be sure to let the Director of Education, Rabbi, and/or synagogue president know about this person. This system serves as a vehicle for building community and temple leadership and also encourages the sharing of ideas among the temple’s members and leaders.

To read more, download a copy of For the Sake of Heaven—Committees in Congregational Life at



In order for teachers to work with volunteers, sometimes they need to get over the fear of being judged for asking for help or the concern that parents in their classroom will evaluate and critique them. Start out small. Volunteers often just want to be a part of making the school great, and they can become important advocates for the teachers and the school within the synagogue community.

First, identify areas in which you really could use some help that would be appropriate for a volunteer. Also, find out from parents what they feel they have to offer and what they would like to do for/with the class. Below are some ideas to get you started.

At school, volunteers can:

  • Supervise seatwork, games, and learning centers
  • Work one on one with students who need extra help
  • Serve as an extra set of hands for projects
  • Help students working on computers
  • Set-up and run computer and AV equipment
  • Keep attendance and tzedakah records
  • Record grades or test results
  • Take photos of special events
  • Construct bulletin boards
  • Plan and coordinate class holiday celebrations
  • Chaperone field trips
  • Read stories
  • Dress up and roll play a character from Jewish history
  • Guest teach

From home, volunteers can:

  • Keep records
  • Design a system to keep student records or to communicate with parents
  • Create games, puzzles or work-projects
  • Cover and/or catalogue library books
  • Help prepare big class mailings
  • Pick up supplies
  • Prepare materials or complete art projects (cutting, ironing, sewing)
  • Bake
  • Do research
  • Serve as the Hebrew or Homework Help Hotline, answering questions over the phone
  • Coordinate other parent volunteers

Do you have a unique or especially successful experience integrating volunteers into your classroom? Send an e-mail to: Irene Bolton, and put “ V’shinantam ” in the subject line. We’ll post some of your ideas online!

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