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
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
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
HeavenCommittees 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:
Identification 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)?
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.
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.
Training 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.
Supervision 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
Acknowledgement Dont 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 temples members and leaders.
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
At school, volunteers
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
Dress up and roll play a character from Jewish history
From home, volunteers can:
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)
Serve as the Hebrew or Homework Help Hotline, answering questions over the
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, firstname.lastname@example.org and put
Vshinantam in the subject line. Well post some of your ideas online!