5 things I wish I knew at the start of service
1. Self-care is your greatest ally
I heard these words of wisdom for the first time during Basic Training Academy (BTA): “You cannot pour from an empty cup”. After my first semester of service, I understand now why burnout is so common in organizations like City Year. The hours are long, the work is extremely difficult, and the environment we serve in can be bleak. We need to practice self-care not only to make it through our term but to effectively help our students. We are pouring out joy, love, positivity from ourselves on the daily to encourage and motivate our students. If we can’t refill ourselves in some way, we won’t be able to continue serving those around us. This past semester I’ve learned different techniques of self- care that has helped me. Our site is blessed to have an On-Site Counselor that I see regularly. In addition, I’ve learned to better communicate my feelings to my teammates so that we can build healthy relationships.
Also, it seems basic but following a strict sleep schedule, eating healthy, and using a water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day has been helpful for me to maintain balance in my life. It’s difficult to find time and energy to work-out regularly, but it is something that I also notice also helps.
2. Create a “toolbox” for yourself
At the start of my service, I created a massive binder that has been integral to my service. I separated it into sections with dividers: Focus List Tracking, Lesson Plans, Class Notes, and LACY/STACY information. Having all my information in one place has helped me stay organized at all times of the day and has kept me prepared for any situation. I didn’t have this prepared from day one, but it would have been extremely helpful for situations that occurred at the beginning of my service. I’m still constantly adding to it as I learn more about my service, my students, and myself.
3. Track your data and keep it visible
This is something that can be used with #4 on this list, or on an individual level. I learned that I personally benefit from seeing my progress and data in a physical way. For example, I created a tracker for my team’s hours and a chart for tracking our dosage with our students. These are displayed on our bulletin boards and walls in our City Year room. While it is a little time consuming to update the charts, overall it helps me to plan extra hour events and strategies for working with my students by having the data in my face constantly. It’s certainly easier to pull up this data on OKTA, but I check it more consistently now that I have a physical reminder in plain sight.
4. Use your City Year space wisely
Whether your team is given an entire room, a corner, or a library to use as your City Year room, it’s important to use this space wisely. At first, my team decorated our room with quotes, PITWs, and large pictures. While it did brighten up our space, we didn’t leave a lot of room for functionality. After a while, I realized how helpful it would have been to have a calendar and various data trackers (as mentioned in #3 on this list) displayed in different areas of our room. I definitely wish we had known that before we started decorating our room because it became difficult to incorporate those elements later on.
5. Strive to build a good culture within your team
Something that was emphasized a lot during BTA was City Year culture and later on, we learned about our individual school cultures. But one thing I realized later in my service, was how important our culture as a team would be. Everyone as individuals brings something unique to our team as a whole in terms of talent and personality but our actions decide whether our culture as a team will be positive or negative. Luckily our culture on my team has started to solidify and has become something that unites us and strengthens us in our service to our students. However, a negative culture or lack of culture could definitely break a team and overall sabotage their efforts to serve their students.
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