What Do I Need Next?

With 11 days left until graduation, I’m still finding it hard to answer the most frequently asked question around this time – “What are you doing after City Year?”

What am I doing next?

While cleaning my room, finding my planner from last year, I didn’t think that I was going to discover something that felt humorously coincidental. I found a list titled: 5 Things I need Next. When I wrote this in January of 2016, I had no idea what I wanted to do and didn’t know where to start in figuring it out. I had ideas floating around, but didn’t know what my heart or mind was really telling me. It makes me chuckle a bit that that’s where I am again. Right now. Less than two weeks away from graduation.

It was my Program Manager at the time who told me to make this list to help me narrow down and hopefully get a better idea of what I wanted next. She told me to think about how I want to grow and what I would need to have in what ever I did next to feel like I was growing. In all honesty, I don’t recall how I came to write down the items on the list, but when I recently reviewed the list, I asked myself, “did I get this from my year as a Team Leader?” Here’s the list and how I think I did:

Five Things I Need Next:

  1. Development of Communication Skills – in person and other media
    • Yes, I certainly got this. Every single day, I’ve had to adapt my communication to the wide range of people that I’m interacting with. From sweet Kindergartners who don’t know how to form a line to fifth graders who are just misunderstood. To near-peers who had to be gradually released into the work and to professionals who have years of experience under their belts. I’ve also developed my communication skills through this blog! I wanted a way to remember my experience and also be able to put into words what I’m going through in this second year of service.
  2. Mission involves empowering others through knowledge and self-awareness
    • Yes, most definitely. I love that everyone really wins in City Year. The people in City Year are always seeking ways to grow through knowledge and self-awareness. I’ve learned more about myself this year in so many ways – both the good and the bad. I’ve embraced it all and my confidence has grown tremendously. Now, I try to incorporate ways others can learn more about themselves through casual conversation or through deep reflection. Or both!
  3. Value teamwork, creativity, and communication
    • Yes, to the max! Any time I’ve worked with others in planning an event, facilitating a meeting, or even coming up with a warm-up – teamwork, creativity, and communication have always been the key to success. Through it all, I’ve learned who I work best with and also how to adjust my approach in working with others who I don’t work so well with. Always learning!
  4. Opportunity to receive/provide mentorship
    • Ohhhh yes. I’ve had an official mentor and also informal mentors who offer just as good of insight and advice on anything related to work, relationships, and overall life. I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by so many great individuals who come from all walks of life. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be surrounded by such quality people in a work community ever again, to be honest. I’ve also been able to provide mentorship to the team that I lead. Each month, I had one-on-ones where I would take advantage of the time I had with them to get to know them and have them talk to me about in and out of service topics. The amount of trust, productivity, and joy that resulted from each one-on-one is something I’m definitely proud of.
  5. Utilize my skill in relationship-building and prior experiences
    • Yup yup! This sort of goes off of the previous one. My first-year experience in City Year definitely prepared me in working with students once again and I was even able to share some of my strategies and previous work with the team and even the entire Corps at times.  My experience as a Peer Mentor in college prepared me in building relationships with near peers and allowing them to trust me enough to be led by me. I think leveraging my strengths has allowed me to stay true to myself and lead authentically in a way that’s unique to me and who I am.

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All in all, I thought it was pretty bizarre that the answers were so easy to answer. It was as if I wrote down exactly what I knew I would get from a year as a Team Leader. With that being said, excuse me, I’m going to write down the next five things I need next…

Leading Leaders

Around this time last year, I applied to be a Team Leader for City Year Seattle/King County. I remember thinking about how much I had grown in just 8 months of service already and how I could grow even more staying with the organization and working with others who already knew my strengths and also areas of growth. I also knew that I wasn’t sure what was next for my career path and that I wanted to stay in Seattle. I applied and thought I knew what the Team Leader role entailed.

It’s now 9 months into my service year as a Team Leader and I can say that it hasn’t been what I expected because I really didn’t know what to expect. I’m in a different school, working with a different team and a different Program Manager. My Team Leader role also looks different from the other Team Leaders at other schools. This year, I’ve grown as a leader and coach and it’s been challenging.

With that being said, Corps Members currently in their first year are starting to think about applying for the Team Leader position. In January, the position is publicized and people start talking about their interest in applying. Staff even host two open house events where they inform Corps Members more about the role and what it entails. I attended two of those last year and found them more beneficial hearing from the Team Leaders I knew and not just the staff. I found that the few present Team Leaders were more open and honest in how they spoke about their varying roles. I wanted Corps Members of this year to feel the same from our Team Leader team.

So I thought what if our TL team hosted our own event where we provided that open and honest conversation to the Corps Members interested in being a Team Leader? No staff. Just Team Leaders and Corps Members.

I pitched the idea to my Program Director with a simple text: What do you think about an Open House hosted just by the TLs? Just an idea!

She replied with: I love it! Keep me updated with the details you work out.

And the rest was truly history because it had never been done before at our site.

I pitched it to our Team Leader team and all 9 of them were on board. Because everyone was enthusiastic about the project, it wasn’t hard getting support in planning the different components of the event.

Long story, short: The event came together so easily! It was at my house with food and all 10 Team Leaders were present, which I thought was important! It was well-structured and thought out. The Team Leaders felt great about it and the Corps Members all left with smiles! I kept getting ‘thank you’s and ‘great job’s at the end of the night! With our saved planning, this is now an event that can be done for years to come with other Team Leader teams. With all of this, I felt successful in not only the event, but my leadership.

Through the planning process, I felt reflective, innovative, and collaborative. Being fueled by my own enthusiasm and passion for the event, I think I was able to have the same carry on to my fellow Team Leaders and even the Corps Members. The number one thing I made sure to share with the prospective TLs was that your role is truly what you make of it and I used the event, itself, as an example. I took an idea and made it come alive with some thoughtfulness, dedication, and work. From this, I am definitely valuing this experience as a leader.

Who can brighten your day?

As I mentioned previously, City Year is a unique experience. It’s challenging and rewarding. At times, it’s easy to think that it’s just challenging. When I need to be reminded that it’s also rewarding, I know that I can count on others who are going through this unique City Year experience as well. Particularly a Team Leader and particularly a good friend of mine – Deanna.

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Taking a moment from power greeting to take a little selfie together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

When I first met Deanna back in August of 2015 and found out she was also from North Carolina, I was excited to have that connection, being that I moved across the country not knowing anyone. It was even cooler finding out that our hometowns were just 25 minutes apart from each other. As Corps Members were assigned their school teams, oddly enough, the two of us were assigned to the same school team and were both assigned to work with the third grade team in English Language Arts. Out of the 84 other Corps Members, it was about as close as two people could work together in City Year. Same City Year site, school team, grade level, and down to the same subject to tutor. With this, we were given opportunities to collaborate, considering that our work was similarly aligned.

As the year progressed, I learned more about Deanna. I learned about what she was interested in, how she spent her time outside of work, and who she was a person through quality time and collaboration. We ran our after-school group together. We were responsible for a program, catering to our 10 third graders, with high quality and effectiveness. We did this by making sure they understood not just the ELA lesson, but also some social and emotional skills along the way. It went without saying that we had high expectations for ourselves and our students and working together was not only easy, but enjoyable.

Deanna and I both serve as Team Leaders this year and I still find it easy and enjoyable to collaborate with her. We may not be on the same school team, working with the same students, but I love that we both make time to self-care with each other by spending quality time with together. I’ve always admired her patience, integrity, empathy, and ability to provide perspective. There have been countless times where she makes me think about another way to think about a situation with care and authenticity. Not many people have this ability and I consider myself lucky to call someone like Deanna a close friend. She helps me be my best self and I really can’t thank her enough for just simply being her. So when time’s get a little challenging, you bet I can count on Ms. Deanna to brighten up my day with her light. Who can brighten your day with their light? Let them know.

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Deanna, I’m so grateful that City Year has brought the two of us together because knowing that I have a lifelong friend is pretty freaking cool. Thank you for being you.