Introduction to School Volunteering


Working With Students

Whether you are a beginner or a pro at working with students, here are a few tips and tricks to help everyone feel more comfortable. Volunteers will first benefit by observing a classroom teacher, club leader, or coach's interaction with students. How does the teacher organize material? How does the teacher react to disruption and misbehavior? What language and gestures does the teacher use to get points across? Observation will allow you to learn successful ways for connecting with students. You will also understand the students you will work with and notice how they interact with their peers and authority figures. When you begin working with students, remember these basic tips:

  • Remain in charge. Do not let the students take control of a situation.
  • If appropriate, discourage and reprimand bad behavior.
  • If appropriate, reward achievements and good behavior.
  • Reflect and Revise. Consider how well your strategies work and how they can improve for next time.
  • Remain flexible. Sometimes something unexpected will happen; do not let it ruin your experience or your goals.

Be sure to always follow the rules and procedures. Teachers, leaders, and administrators set them for a reason. Even if you do not agree with the rules and procedures, you must follow them in order to maintain a coherent message. There may also be instances where it is not your place to reprimand or reward student behavior. Speak with the teacher/leader and establish a plan for how to handle certain situations such as when students are misbehaving.


When interacting with students you must recognize and respect personal boundaries. Boundaries include ways in which you interact with students both verbally and physically. As a volunteer, you are an important part of a student's life. Schools and districts often have rules and policies for appropriate interaction with students. Some schools discourage personal interaction such as hugging or pats on the back. While these actions may seem harmless, an outside observer may perceive them differently. You should always check with the principal/teacher to make sure you fully understand the rules.


Rules of discipline must be taken into consideration. Learn what school officials do with misbehaving students. Classroom teachers often create a system for misbehavior. When disciplining a student, it is the job of the teacher to apply adult physical force unless absolutely necessary (when actions may endanger others). Grabbing or pulling a student is not appropriate. Verbally abusing a student is forbidden. Discuss boundaries before you begin. This will ensure clarity and avoid repercussions. Also, remain open with your students and let them know what is appropriate and what behavior you will not tolerate.


Schools have strict confidentiality rules when it comes to students. Do not discuss the student, his/her work, achievement record, or any other personal information with anyone but the student's teacher or principal. You can of course, talk to others about an interesting detail or an exciting moment you experienced while volunteering; just leave out the name of the student.

Physical, Mental, Sexual Abuse

If a student tells you of any harmful incident that happened to him/her or anyone around him or her, you must report this to a teacher or principal. The teacher/principal will report the information to the correct person. Confidentiality is extremely important. If a student wishes to tell you something, let them know that he/she can trust you, but do not promise to keep everything a secret; you may need to retell the story to a proper authority. Do not take matters into your own hands and do not approach an alleged abuser.


Schools contain a collection of students from diverse backgrounds and circumstances. As a volunteer, you must prepare yourself to work with students from different backgrounds and families. Students often have set value and belief systems taught to them by their families and guardians. Types of values include ethical/moral values, doctrinal/ideological (religious, political) values, social values, and aesthetic values. Schools are a safe place to exchange ideas and concepts. It is not a volunteer's place to attempt to correct or change a student's beliefs that are otherwise not harmful to him/her, you, or others. If a student disrespects a classroom's diversity, it is appropriate to teach him/her why their words and actions are harmful. Remember that diversity challenges values, adds perspective, and supports growth and development. You may find students eager to learn about those different from them. It is healthy to support curiosity, understanding, and compassion.

Dimensions of diversity include (but are not limited to):

  • Age
  • Abilities
  • Education
  • Ethnicity
  • Family circumstance
  • Gender
  • Geography
  • Family structure
  • Nationality
  • Political opinion
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Socio-economic status
  • Values
  • Language

It is important to respect and learn from each other. You should be aware of your own values as the foundation for your judgments, decisions and actions. These values may be in conflict with the values of others, including the children in the school where you volunteer.

Common Characteristics Of Students

Adults and students play different "roles" depending on personal characteristics and levels of trust. Some students are let down by adults at home and in school. These students may act out in a variety of ways. Questionable behavior may not be directed at you personally but may be a defense mechanism. Below you will find some characteristics of students that you may come across.

The "Silent" Child

This child may be taking some time to get to know you and seeing how you react in different situations. Until he/she is sure that you are sincere about being a friend, this child may assume an inactive role, which can be construed as disinterest or boredom. The behavior often has nothing to do with you personally. Be patient, give plenty of opportunities for the student to give his/her opinion and don't push the child to talk.

  • Use fun or interactive activities, such as games, to take the pressure off the child and make conversation. It will come naturally when you are having fun.

  • Always follow through on your meeting day and time unless there is an emergency. The child may be expecting you to let them down like other adults have.

  • Ask questions about their week, school, or if their pet has done anything funny.

  • Share your own fun stories that might interest the child.

The "Love You to Death" Child

This child may hang on you and seem to want all of your attention. If he/she doesn't get attention, he/she may use negative behavior to be noticed. This child is probably starved for attention and needs the one-to-one attention that you are giving. Some children's boundaries are not within the norm because they have not been taught. In the case of a clingy child, set limits after discussing with the teacher about what is and isn't acceptable behavior.

The "Give Me" Child and Gift Giving

Some children expect adults to buy them things to express that they care. Don't feel that you must spend money on a student in order to have fun or to make up for all they go through at home. Emphasize the "intangible" aspects of the relationship such as friendship, encouragement, and caring for each other. Many teachers and parents often prefer that you not give students a large amount special gifts and prizes.

The "I Don't Care" Child

When responding to questions, this child responds with "I don't know" or "Whatever you want." This leaves the volunteer wondering if the child wants to spend time together. The child may be lacking self-confidence to make suggestions. One option is to make two suggestions and have the student select what they want to do.

The "I Won't Show Any Feelings" Child

The child is reluctant to show that they really care to spend time with you. Often this means he/she has been let down before by an adult who did not keep a promise. Be patient and remember you can be a positive role model.

With all children, remember to:

  • Follow through with your scheduled plans.

  • Contact the school and explain when you have to cancel due to an emergency and express your disappointment at not being able to volunteer.

  • The next time you see your mentee/student ask him/her how they felt about your absence, apologize and explain what happened.

  • Remain open and honest. Children are hurt if they are told a fabricated story or lie.


Successful volunteers embody many of the following traits: flexibility, patience, acceptance, care, trust, openness, hope, respect, active listening, inspiration, non-judgment, focus, and positivity. You can maintain a healthy relationship with students, teachers, staff, and fellow volunteers by using positive statements.

Examples of positive statements:

  • That's great!

  • That was helpful

  • I believe in you

  • Would you help me?

  • Thank you

  • You can do it!

  • I had fun today

  • I am really proud of you

  • You did it!

  • You must be so proud of yourself!

  • Good answer

  • Congratulations!

  • Look how much you have improved

  • Keep Trying!

  • I agree

  • I see, exactly

  • Please

  • That's right

  • Good idea

  • Very clever

  • Excellent

  • I understand

  • That's interesting

  • How considerate

  • I'm glad

  • Good job

  • I like that

  • Give it a try

  • I can tell you're working hard

  • Your work is impressive

  • Will you show me how you did that?

  • You can help me by...

Unsuccessful volunteers often exhibit the following traits:

  • Impatient

  • Inflexible

  • Apathetic

  • Dominating

  • Self-focused

  • Authoritative

  • Boredom

  • Demanding


A mentor will act as a guide to the larger world outside of school and home by helping students make positive life choices, opening their eyes to new ways of thinking about the world, setting good examples, and talking about all the possibilities life has to offer.

Mentors are a special type of volunteer, committed to helping students academically, socially, mentally, and physically. Mentors are committed to spending the time and energy necessary to help young people by being a role model. Mentors will often work closely with an individual or small group of students. Becoming a mentor is a big commitment and requires more time than an ordinary school volunteer.


  • Listen effectively. In many cases, the mentor is the only person that the student has identified as one who will listen to his/her concerns and problems.

  • Help the mentee set short and long-term goals.

  • Help the mentee identify the positive things in his/her life.

  • Convey that there is always "hope" and that the student's situation can be turned around.

  • Help the student develop personal interests outside of school.

  • Help the student become involved in all aspects of school.

  • Are sincere, committed, and punctual for scheduled meetings.

  • Develop a level of trust with the student. The trust relationship established between the volunteer and the student is the foundation for a successful relationship.

  • Are a positive role model. The student may not have any others in his/her life.

Mentors have many possibilities to positively affect a student's life. They may help guide or direct a young person toward thoughtful decisions, help the youth practice new skills, provide positive reinforcement, or listen to concerns and interests of the young person.

Help students to help themselves

There is a big difference between offering solutions and helping a student discover his/her own options. Helping students develop positive decision-making skills will allow them to become independent and self-sufficient. They will develop leadership skills and come to realize they are indeed in control of their future.

Help students with their problems

A mentor is there to assist with problems a student may be experiencing. These may include: lack of self-confidence, poor attendance, peer to peer communication, or setting goals. This doesn't mean that the volunteer plays the role of counselor, social worker, or parent. Volunteers are there to offer support, encouragement, and to give positive reinforcement. This may require talking about a problem, asking lots of open-ended questions, listening, and giving the student some time and space to work it out for him/herself, while gently guiding them along.

Help students build self-confidence

Students are often unsure of themselves. They do not know who they are or what they want to achieve. Students are learning constantly about the world around them. They balance cultural issues between home and school while contemplating the past and future. When volunteers care about their students and make them feel important, they can encourage students to take on new habits, ideas, and expectations.

Use statements to help build self-esteem:

  • I like how you handled that!

  • I see that you are making a real effort or trying very hard.

  • I know you can do this!

  • What are your thoughts or ideas about this?

Help students develop interpersonal skills

Mentors should model appropriate communication and behavioral skills to the mentee. Students often do not know how to properly interact with adults who may look, speak, or act different from their peers. A volunteer can teach little things such as looking someone in the eyes when speaking to them, speaking clearly, practicing good manners, and appropriately addressing adults. Remember, students will learn by watching and interacting positively with role models.

Why do schools need volunteers?

Volunteers can:

  • Enrich children's learning experiences

  • Increase children's motivation for learning and self-esteem

  • Assist teachers to provide more individual attention for children

  • Provide a variety of positive role models for students

  • Strengthen school-community relations

  • In today's strained financial climate, take a major role in many important activities that the school staff simply does not have time to address.

How do school volunteers serve?

  • Provide one-to-one or small group basic skills assistance to students

  • Give aid to students with special needs

  • Enrich the curriculum with their special skills and unique experiences

  • Assist with off-campus trips, special projects and programs

  • Relieve school personnel of non-teaching duties

How do volunteers benefit from being in schools?

  • Opportunity to be involved with young people and serve as role models

  • Opportunity to make a contribution to the community

  • Make new friends among staff and other volunteers

  • Improve communication, management, and interpersonal skills

  • Improve problem-solving skills and increase self confidence

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