Let me be upfront with you.
This blog post might not be for you. It might not even be for the majority of those who read it. But for a small subset of readers and for the students they will impact, it could be a life changer.
Here it is; the thought that could change everything:
What if you volunteered in a school?
What? Was that anticlimactic? I warned you that this post might not be for you.
But what if you did?
Why This Post Might Not Be For You
- You work during school hours. And all of your evenings are taken up with other responsibilities. (This one represents a LOT of you. It’s ok.)
- Your past keeps from passing a police check.
- You hate kids.
- You already work at a school.
- You have a real phobia of narrow hallways crammed full of smelly teenagers.
All of these are legitimate circumstances that would keep you from volunteering in a school.
Why This Post Might Be For You
- You love kids and know how important it is for them to have caring adults in their lives.
- You have flexible working hours and/or some free evenings/weekends.
- You realize that the number of kids coming out to your church’s youth group represents only a tiny percentage of the number of kids in your community.
- You have a skill. (Have you seen the list of courses and clubs that students can choose from these days? Nearly any skill is an asset.)
- You long for kids to experience the love of Jesus.
- You long for teachers, school administrators and other school staff to experience the love of Jesus.
A few years ago, I was volunteering in a local church youth group as one of the jr. high small group leaders. There was a student (let’s call him Joey) in the small group who was disrespectful, disruptive and highly confrontational. Some other local youth groups had already banned this student from attending their weekly events.
I did not know what to do with Joey. I was so frustrated that after one particularly difficult evening, I prayed, “God, either help me to love Joey or make him someone else’s problem!”
If you know anything about God, you probably know which option He chose.
At the time, I was also volunteering in a local school. Once a week, I went into the resource room (where students for whom school is particularly difficult spend a lot of time) and worked with one or two students to make a baked good that could be enjoyed between classes by students who might not have sufficient lunches.
One morning I walked in to see Joey chowing down on a bowl of cereal. He didn’t acknowledge me and I didn’t want a confrontation, so I didn’t acknowledge him, either.
The teacher in charge noticed me. “Oh, Janna! I think today we’ll get you to bake with Joey.”
My heart dropped, but I tried not to let it show. Gee, thanks a lot, God. I hear you, loud and clear. Joey sauntered into the kitchen area with his educational assistant (EA).
I don’t remember what we baked, but it went surprisingly well. As we were finishing up, I asked, “So, Joey, will you be at the youth group sports night tonight?” Joey seemed surprised.
“How do you know about – oh, hey! I know you!” I guess he hadn’t taken a good look at me until then? Or maybe it was just because I wasn’t in my “usual” location? Either way, I think it was the first time I’d ever seen Joey genuinely smile.
We baked together several more times. As I watched Joey interact with the EAs and with other students, I saw him thriving in a way that he never did at youth group.
I realized that, as much as we (the volunteer leaders) loved Jesus and wanted to love our students, there were ways in which we simply weren’t equipped to help students like Joey thrive. But by getting into his everyday environment, I learned how to better be able to show him the love of Jesus through my actions. I earned trust that could be used to tell him about Jesus at youth group. And I gained a love for him that urged me to stand up for him when other youth group leaders were frustrated.
Joey is just one kid that I got to know through volunteering at this school. He did also attend youth group. But for so many other kids, school is the only place they know to go where they can be known and loved and cared for.
If we say that we love kids, we need to care about all of the kids, not just the ones who go to church, like we do. And do you know where all of the kids are? At school.
School is a place where you can go to meet kids, to get to know them, to care for them in real, practical ways.
Hear me: I am not saying to show up at your local public school and start handing out Bibles or verbally sharing the Gospel or inviting kids to youth group without having any sort of relationship with them. That’s a sure way to get thrown out and never invited back.
While you might be able to do those things eventually, you first have to earn trust and build relationships with both the school and the students. And that comes through meeting their needs.
How to Get Started
If you’ve gotten this far and think that volunteering in a school might be something you’d like to do, then here’s what I want to do:
Sit down and get clear and what you can do.
- What sort of hours could you offer?
- What skills and abilities do you have?
Next, find out what opportunities there are to volunteer in your local school.
School websites often have lists of clubs and extracurricular activities. Volunteers are often welcome to help in these areas.
School board websites might list ways that people commonly volunteer. You’ll probably need to visit this website anyway in order to submit a volunteer application.
Talk to staff at the school
Who do you know who works there? Teachers and guidance counsellors in particular might have some ideas of how you could get involved and if they know and trust you, could be the people who provide an official invitation for you to volunteer in the school.
If you don’t already know someone at the school, try talking to someone who works in the office and ask what the needs are. Or ask who else would be a good person to talk to. If possible, do this in person. Learn the names of every staff member you interact with. (Learn both names if possible. I.e. “John” and “Mr. Smith”.)
Now match up what you have to offer with the needs that you’ve heard about.
From this point on, every process might look slightly different, but should contain the following elements:
- Connect with the staff member in charge of the program you want to volunteer with
- Fill out a volunteer application
- Submit a criminal record check that includes a vulnerable sector check (Do NOT try to do this in September…trust me, there will be a backlog)
- Receive confirmation that the office has received both the volunteer application and your police check and has approved you to volunteer in the school
Now you’re ready to get started! How exciting!
Before you walk in as a first-time volunteer, there are 4 things you need to be prepared for:
ONE // The moment that you start making your way through a crowd of teenagers on their way to or from class, all of your old teenage insecurities will flare up. Whatever you do, do not take a deep breath; you never know when you might step into a cloud of Axe body spray. But do try to stay calm. You are loved by God and equipped to do the work He is asking you to do.
TWO // People are going to ask why you are there because it really isn’t that normal to volunteer in a school. Just be prepared to give an answer. It can be as simple as, “Some students from a youth group that I volunteer with attend this school. I wanted to get to know them better and had some free hours, so I thought I’d volunteer.”
THREE // Because it’s not normal to volunteer in a school, people will make all sorts of assumptions about who you are and why you’re there. I’ve been handed a lollipop and told to vote in the upcoming student election. Both students and staff have assumed that I’m a substitute teacher or EA. It’s ok, just laugh it off and correct them gently, pointing them to the right person if you know who that is.
FOUR // Unexpected things will happen. You may arrive in the middle of lockdown. You may arrive on a day when school was cancelled because of an impending storm that didn’t end up hitting. You may walk into a school on the day that it has been announced that a student died. The teacher you work with might forget to tell you that they called in sick that day. You need to be able to go with the flow and have grace for yourself and those who could have told you what was going on, but didn’t think to.
So… Was this post for you?
Because if you are interested in partnering with schools then you should watch the on demand webinar recording we did with Intervarsity all about how to partner with schools. You can watch it on demand by clicking this link.
You can also get more free resources for working with students in your local school by entering your email below.
We’ll send you things like…
- “42 Week Mission Trip” – a condensed, worksheet format of the suggestions in this post
- “Walking with Jesus Prayer Exercise” – helps students dream with God about how He might want to be at work in their school
- “Planning a Lunchtime Meeting” – we share one option of what it could look like
- And more!