Lessons in leadership from my Spanglish volunteer gig

Where: The Salvation Army

What: Teaching an adult computer class

I walked in the first day of class with my binder, a curriculum, handouts, etc. ready to kick butt. However, all of my material was in English and the students were Spanish-speaking. Aside from my material being in the wrong language, I realized that it was going to be a bit of a challenge teaching a computer class in Spanish. While I love to think that I’m a great Spanish speaker, the truth is that I’m a great Spanglish speaker. Sure, it’s not far from Spanish and most Miamians understand it, but it’s a little difficult to communicate if you switch all of the important, computer related words with an English word.  I’m not really sure why I didn’t prepare accordingly, considering the adults in the community I live in are predominantly Spanish-speaking.  Regardless, I had to put all my materials aside and move forward.

The volunteer experience has really been a win-win situation. While the students are learning how to use the computer, I’ve been able to sharpen my Spanish while flexing some leadership muscles. Below are some of the most important lessons/reminders from the experience so far:

  • Think ahead: When you are working on a project, be sure to consider glitches that might pop up along the way (i.e. language barriers!). Preparing in advance can make our jobs (and the jobs/lives of those around us) a lot easier. More importantly, it will keep you moving forward instead of bringing things to a halt when that glitch does pop up.
  • Don’t back out of a challenge: Whether it’s something you should have seen coming (again, language barrier!) or something that really just blindsided you, don’t shrink back. It’s really easy to think “Whoa, this is not what I expected/signed up for” and make that our excuse to walk away. A challenge will definitely pull you out of your comfort zone, but in doing so, it will really give you an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Be responsible: This one is really about being accountable. When you sign up for a project, follow through. There are days when I am just pooped and would like to think that because I’m volunteering I don’t HAVE to go, but that’s not true. I signed up for it, so it’s my responsibility to follow through. Whether it’s a volunteering gig or a project at work, if it’s yours – commit to it. You are accountable for it and there are people expecting it to get done.
  • Take initiative: Spotted a problem? Point it out, BUT be sure to suggest a solution as well. Another challenge that presented itself during class was the fact that some students were just learning how to use a mouse, while others wanted to learn about Powerpoint. So, I pointed that out to the Capt. and suggested separating the class. So, starting next week students will hopefully have a better experience and will be able to learn more.

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned while volunteering? Share how you’ve flexed your leadership muscles below! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Lessons in leadership from my Spanglish volunteer gig

  1. Great food for thought! I would add to always remember what you’re there for. I’m sure if you asked one of your students why they were doing the class they would have a great story you might not have thought of. Being reminded of the cause you’re working for is always a great pick-me-up, especially in times of difficulty.

    • You’re absolutely right. Once you lose focus and forget what you’re there for, things go down hill. There’s not a lot of things that can compare to reconnecting with your cause to get re-inspired.

      Thanks for the tip! 🙂 I will be sure to ask them.

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