By Molly Haig, AmeriCorps member serving on the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care team at Hennigan School
I wasn’t sure what to do after college. I felt like a melting ice cube on a flat surface—spreading in many directions but not fully committed to any of them. Research? Go abroad? Graduate school? Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I just didn’t know. So instead of choosing a grad school or a career, I chose an idea: I would do something exciting, challenging and meaningful, and just see what happened.
I’m glad that idea brought me to City Year, because while I’m still not sure what’s next, this year I’m developing professional skills that will help me in whatever I do, wherever I end up. Here are three skills City Year is helping me to build.
Skill 1: Collaboration
Usually, I try to figure things out myself, but this year I’ve been finding that that’s often not the best solution. If I have questions about how to support in-class instruction, it’s best to ask my teachers. If I have 16 giant letters to cut out for a bulletin board, it’s best to recruit a teammate.
Even informal conversations are a great source of inspiration and support. When I have a question, I know I can turn to my fellow 6th-grade teammate, Natasha. She has creative ideas for literacy interventions and lesson plans, and is always willing to discuss behavior, math, or whatever might come up.
Collaboration is a vital part of being on a team, but it’s also an important leadership skill. I was planning a family math night for my school. This seemed daunting until I explained the event to my team, split them into committees, and gave them time to brainstorm. They came up with ideas I never would have thought of on my own—like having paper tablecloths with math problems written on them, and giving guests markers to write solutions.
Skill 2: Give the BEST High-Fives
You might not see this as a "professional" skill, but in the world of building relationships with students, it most certainly is one. “Hey! It’s you! You’re here! That’s great!” we chanted. My student William* and his younger sister entered the school and I gave them double high-fives. “Good morning!” I called out as the next swarm of students approached. Of course, there’s a lot behind those high-fives than bringing morning joy to the school. They’re a sign of the confident communicator I’m beginning to become.
In college, my to-do lists consisted of things to do by myself: essays, research papers, reading responses, drawings, event posters, choreography. In contrast, my daily to-do list at City Year is riddled with names and initials: check in with Mr. E, meet with team leader, remind S., J., and L. about lunch buddies, Call C.’s mom, attend math committee meeting.
Phone calls to parents, conversations with partner-teachers, and feedback sessions with leaders all initially unsettled me. But this year I’m developing stronger communication skills, and that’s what the high-fives mean. They show that I’m comfortable enough in this role to reach out to students (and teachers, and leaders, and teammates) whether that entails a phone call home to check in on an absent student, or just a welcome-to-school high-five.
Skill 3: Balance
I’m still working on this skill, but in weeks when I get it right, I find that I’m more present and enthusiastic in my service, and can better support my students. For me, finding balance usually means dancing. I’ve established routines of attending ballet and contemporary classes, rehearsals for my dance company and swing dance events. I’m much happier when I dance, even if it means losing a little sleep. It also helps me stay organized—I prioritize dance after service on some days of the week, so I plan ahead and get my preparations for the next service day done earlier.
Of course balance does not have to come from dance. It could come from your family, reading novels, cooking, pick-up ultimate Frisbee games, or making plans for next year. But it should be something. For me, dancing strengthens muscles (figuratively and literally) that I need to stay upright. It keeps me inspired and reminds me of who I am outside of work. At City Year, I’m realizing how important it is to keep things you care about in your life, and I hope the work/life routines I’m establishing this year will carry through to the future.