You don’t have to be the keynote speaker or run the talent show to make a difference at your child’s school as an introvert.
Every fall, there’s a list of volunteering activities at my kids’ school. The blanks on the sign-up sheet stare me down expectantly, like stone lions guarding the gates of expectation. There’s opportunities like Room Mother, Career Day Leader, or Field Trip Chaperone. Ours is a smaller school and could always benefit from more, whether it’s time, resources, or patience.
The challenge for me as an introvert — as someone who gets energy from quieter activities and one-on-one interactions — is that most of the needs are better suited to those who are extroverted by nature. Running a concession stand may be a bag of popcorn for some people, but I tend to get overtaxed by the noise and excitement of the crowd. By the final free throw, you’ll find me half-asleep and drooling into the cash register.
However, with a little creativity — and a lot of deep breathing — I’ve found ways to volunteer while using my introvert qualities to everyone’s advantage.
10 Ways to Volunteer Successfully at Your Child’s School — Even as an Introvert
1. Do something behind-the-scenes, like writing emails to promote an event.
Because we are a small — but mighty — institution, most everything is volunteer-based. If I don’t see an after-school club that needs promoting, I make sure to let the teachers and other parent volunteers know that I write fast, free, and I never mind edits. Tell ‘em this and it won’t matter if the only writing you’ve done is the grocery list. You’re in. Plus, it’s perfect for us introverts: We usually prefer writing to speaking, and we’re still helping out. A win-win for everybody.
2. Bake like a badass.
If I see bake sale volunteers needed, I happily grab for the goodies. Baking is something I dig more than groups of people, and I’m not alone. Do you know that it is just as helpful to label 682 baggies of chocolate chip cookies with a 25¢ sticker as it is to talk to the customers?
3. Ask teachers what they need (one-on-one).
Another way I’ve tried to be useful is to go directly to my kids’ teachers and ask what they need. I’ve come in early and stapled reading packets together. I’ve merrily busied myself cleaning first grade desks while the under-four-feet-club recessed. And I’ve brought more Starbucks to school than I can count. A latte goes a long way.
4. Deliver materials to students learning remotely.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been tricky for me as an introvert because a lot of the volunteer stuff has dried up. Since my little’s class is taking on a hybrid model, there are lots of kids that are home some days and at school on other days. Stuff gets left everywhere. This “stuff” would love to be rescued and restored to its rightful owner. Here comes the introvert to the rescue. Offer to deliver books or materials to kids working remotely. You can also bring things back to the schools, as well. Some superheroes don’t wear capes — they drive minivans.
5. Make it a FUN-raiser.
If the idea of being an MC at a dinner auction makes you drop loads of cash on a second grader’s handmade bust of Abraham Lincoln, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are so many pre- and post-solitary tasks of fundraisers that need doing: email reminders, silent auction descriptions, goody bag prep, and then let’s not forget that Wine Pull bottles need collecting. Perhaps you can volunteer to stuff the bags while sampling the wine. Someone’s gotta do it.
6. Be the photographer.
At least every month at our school, there’s an email asking for amateur photographers to help document the goings-on. I realized that if I volunteered, I could go to an event and not have to speak to everyone… because I was working. The school’s yearbook got photos, and I got to listen to my daughter play “Three Blind Mice” on the violin, uninterrupted. Win. Win. Win.
7. Dance before anyone’s watching.
I used to feel bad that the idea of helping out at the dance gave me PTSD of my own harrowing junior high experiences. I still cannot listen to “Lady in Red” without breaking out in hives. Turns out, there’s tons of stuff to do before and after the final ballad ends, like removing basketballs from the gym floor, pre-dance, and removing cocktail meatballs from the gym floor, post-dance.
8. Put it in writing.
I have a lot to say, but I’m not big on doing it in front of a crowd. When my son graduated eighth grade, I knew I wanted to say some things to the kids I watched grow up. A keynote speaker, I am not. A keynote writer, I can be. I typed up funny memories and stuck in some pieces of advice, like BE KIND. The kids could read it without me standing over them laughing at the funny bits. Or they could toss it in the trash. What mattered is that I got to contribute.
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9. Chaperone smaller and smarter.
Traveling 10 miles to the Field Museum with a busload of sixth graders is a one-way ticket to my room — also known as my introvert sanctuary — when it’s over. Because my introvert self could not deal, I felt like I was missing out. But what about all the introvert bus riders needing a bus rest? Turns out, there were two! I volunteered to drive them in my car so they could be in a quieter environment to and from the field trip. Zooming down the highway listening to Billie Eilish with this quiet pair was my personal Everest this school year.
10. Volunteer your own ideas.
Volunteering for me is finding the jobs that are naturally conducive to my introversion. However, if there are more than three parents that list reading, baking, and gardening as their favorite hobbies, introvert-loving volunteer slots are gonna get filled quickly. So, get creative. I’ve never heard any of my kids’ teachers or the school staff tell me that they’ve got too many volunteers. Even if you have to throw your own meatball down on the floor and volunteer to pick it up, you’ll find something.
Volunteer in a Way That Is Conducive to Your Introversion
Being a keynote graduation speaker or running the talent show might not be the introvert’s volunteer scene. Even though we have specific needs to keep in mind, it doesn’t mean that we can’t contribute and help make a difference. Think about the hobbies or interests that bring you joy. See if you can find volunteer activities that are in line with those interests. Like to cook? Volunteer in the kitchen at a Pancake Breakfast. Like painting? Help with dance decorations. When it comes to helping your school, no matter what you do quietly or behind-the-scenes, the effort will be appreciated.