At Phillips Academy High School, City Year AmeriCorps members Sarah Bridgewaters and Laken Andrews have been accepted to serve next year as Team Leaders. We sat down with them, and their current-Team Leader Dana, about how they are beginning to prepare for that role, as their first year of service begins to draw to a close.
How are you beginning to prepare for next year?
“What I’m thinking about in terms of next year is paying attention to different things my teacher does. Thinking about things that I like, and that I could improve upon, about our school partnership. Paying attention to what Dana does and how she handles certain stuff.
“Just because it’ll be the last chance that I have to get that experience – next year I can ask advice on something, but that’s different than actually being in it.”
“Since the Team Leader position is so different at every school, we’ve had discussions about how the position is what you make it. Depending on your team, or the administration of the school you’re working at, you have to be very flexible in your role and what you bring to the table.”
Dana Stigler served last year on the team serving at the Dulles School of Excellence, which has seen over half of their team return for a second year of service. We asked Dana what about her experience last has carried over and influenced the way she leads her current team. She said, “We come into City Year and we’re like ‘OK, we’re going to help these kids move their grades, we’re going to make this impact,’ but I think sometimes the thing that can be lost on you is the fact that the students influence you as much as you influence them.
“Last year, I feel like I learned so much from my kids. All I did was help you improve your grade, and you literally changed my life. So coming into this year, I wanted to bring that perspective of ‘yes I’m a Team Leader and I’ve done this before, but I definitely want to experience what it would be like to lead a team of adults, and have them influence me.”
Thinking about the impact that Dana has had on her team's experience this year (team member ZJ Cruz is also returning to City Year Chicago next year as a member of our Civic Engagement team), we asked Sarah and Laken what traits or styles they intend to 'borrow' from Dana next year.
“One thing that I like about Dana is that, she’s stern and follows the rules, but also light-hearted and brings a light atmosphere to the team. And I think that’s important, because she’s very balanced, and if you have too much stern and not enough light-hearted (and vice-versa), it doesn’t help the cohesiveness of the team.”
“I think there’s always something that we’re doing that’s productive and that helps us in some type of way. And especially some of the things that you (Dana) did at the beginning of the year (coordinating team-building activities) helped us become the team that we are.”
When we asked her to expand on her current leadership style and approach, Dana explained, “Coming into this year I had a ton of expectations – about the team, about the school – but I think the thing that mattered most to me, even know, is just being me. I think with the Team Leader position, you get to decide how you want to do this job. It’s one of the few jobs where you have the ability and autonomy to say ‘this is the leader I want to be for my team.’
"So, coming into the year I just wanted to be me. I love hugs, and I love to hear people talk, and to be able to help talk people through things, so that’s what I get to do in my day-to-day. Now, there are specific things that have to get done so that we remain compliant and are following the rules, but that’s the stuff that you have to do.
"I think that 60% of this role is soft-skills, about how you interact with people. Because to be honest, you’re not just a leader – you have to be a leader designed to lead your specific team. Your team will dictate the type of leader that you will be, because they demand that from you. So I think you definitely have to come into this position knowing who you are as a leader, but being open enough to say ‘OK, when I get my team, I’m going to have to adjust to the atmosphere and climate of my team, and who they are as individuals.”
Stay tuned as we continue this conversation with other future-Team Leaders!