By Ash Russell, Service Leader serving on the Hallsville Elementary School Team.
In this current age of productivity, professionalism, and deadlines, the role of the mentor feels like it is slowly disappearing from our workplace toolbox. Mentors – whether we see them daily or once a month – can easily be relegated to the attic of our mind by the whirlwind of the day-to-day. However, by capitalizing on the opportunities offered by these individuals, we can not only ease our own professional lives, but also learn how to be mentors ourselves. Through one-on-one meetings, gradual release of responsibility, and feedback sessions, City Year coaches efficiently lead AmeriCorps members through each stage of the mentoring process. My service at City Year has done much to teach me about how to be not only a better AmeriCorps member, but also a better person – and most of that personal growth is due to those individuals who took the time to coach me, and my fellow teammates, to be the best that we can be.
Although each school team has a different way of doing face-to-face leadership meetings – often affectionately referred to as ‘one-on-ones’ – they all share the same purpose between teams. These check-ins between the Impact Manager or Service Leader and AmeriCorps member are integral to City Year’s mission to develop our AmeriCorps members into powerful leaders and change-agents. It starts by taking a step back from in-class service and finding a quiet spot to reflect upon the ups and downs of the past week or so. The AmeriCorps members are prompted to not only to recognize the difficulties in school, but also to examine roadblocks in their team dynamics, or even home lives, that may alter how effective their classroom service is. One-on-ones allow us to unburden ourselves with the minutia that clutters our focus most of the day, and let us concentrate on what larger, more sweeping changes we can make to jumpstart both ourselves and our service.
Last year, during a particularly rough month of service, my Impact Manager, Jenna, and I scheduled a one-on-one for about nine-thirty in the morning. Jenna and I talked for a bit longer than our usual forty-five minutes, however. During our discussion, she didn’t give me a direct solution, but instead we reviewed tools at my disposal to help with some of my personal and professional struggles. I returned to my classroom a few minutes before scheduled to set up for my behavior lunch group.
My leadership lunch group was full of characters – a bubbly, rambunctious ball of energy that had trouble with staying still; a thoughtful girl who struggled with believing in herself because of a precarious home situation; and a kiddo who would doodle the most extraordinary cars, often during math. At the time, the fourth member of my leadership lunch hadn’t really opened-up to me quite as much as the others. Many of our lunches were spent with his hoodie pulled far down his forehead, with minimal participation in the games and activities shared with the group.
That day, I brought the lunch group up to the classroom and opened-up the activity, my hooded friend began his usual routine – taking slow bites of his cheese pizza and yoghurt with one ear listening to our opening conversation. However, as we pressed deeper and deeper into the activity – a game designed to teach self-management – his face began to lift from his arm, and I saw that our discussion had caught his attention. By the end of that lunch, he was leaning over the table, enraptured with creating scenarios to test what behavior is applicable when. During our debrief, instead of the coerced mumbled answer to our question of “What did you learn today?”, he remarked on the tools at his disposal that could help with some of the troubles he was having with his mom at home.
This experience taught me how to use what I learn as the basis to what I teach. While I had been given tools to point myself in the right direction, I had never used those same tools in the classroom. From that lunch, I learned how to turn my own lessons learned from Jenna – and other mentors inside and outside of City Year – into lessons for those in my lunch group. City Year, not through trainings and lectures, but through human interaction, honest and heartfelt communication, has taught me how to be an effective mentor to these kids. I have no doubt in my mind that Jenna, in our one-on-one, showed a tremendous amount of love and caring: the same kind of love and care that I want to impart on my students every single day. From that day, I have continued to challenge every one of my students, former and current, to use what they learn - not only from me but from every mentor in their life – and spread that to those around them. City Year’s mission is to help not just individual students, or individual schools, but to make the entire community a better place. I believe that harnessing the power of mentorship can truly build a better community, and hopefully what I’m doing is working towards that ultimate goal.
If you or someone you know is interested in serving a year with City Year, get in touch with a recruiter today! Our next application deadline is March 1st.