Lessons learned: my journey as a volunteer

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A year ago I started volunteering with the IATEFL YLTSIG and what a year it’s been! I’ve had the chance to work with some truly inspiring people who are on the committee with me. It is great to be part of a truly global team of educators who are all passionate about teaching young learners and bring their unique set of expertise to the job. I have learnt a lot throughout this past year and I continue learning still.

I am the Publications Assistant responsible for the YLTSIG blog and in this capacity I act as editor. I publish and commission guest blogs, liaise with the bloggers, plan and manage the blogging calendar as well as edit the pieces that we receive. I have really enjoyed working with the diverse set of bloggers who have volunteered their time to write for us. Every single post I’ve published has been special in its own way but for me personally, it’s also been a way of connecting with like-minded professionals across the globe.

Working as an editor has been a giant learning curve in and of itself. I have been blogging here for a while and have had blogs published elsewhere but editing the work of other writers challenges me in new ways. I’ve had to learn many new skills:

  • ensuring clarity, coherence and consistency for each piece and across the blog
  • revising and improving the writing without drowning out the author’s voice
  • proofreading
  • applying content strategy to define the target audience
  • setting editorial guidelines and enforcing them
  • communicate effectively with writers and the audience
  • SEO analysis (still lots to learn here!)
  • listening to feedback and acting on it

This is not and exhaustive list by any means – I have lots more to learn and not only about SEO analysis.

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As the first year is drawing to a close I have been reflecting on my volunteer journey so far. There have been so many great opportunities for collaboration and so many lessons learned. Here is a list of some of my takeaways:

  1. Commitment: When I agreed to volunteer with the YLTSIG, I committed to 3 years in the post. At the time 3 years felt like a big commitment even though it was one that I was willing to make. This first year has gone by very quickly, not the least bit because I also had a baby in November… But even during the crunch times (e.g. deadlines for the publication or the web conference) I managed to stay committed because I knew my team was counting on me and because working with them has been a truly great experience. So now looking ahead those next 2 years don’t seem so long any more.
  2. Time management: Taking on this role at a time when my oldest was about to start year 1 and when I was also expecting a baby had its challenges. Fortunately, I have always been quite good at time management and having learnt from my first maternity leave experience, I made plans to make sure I had time when I needed it. Of course, best laid plans and all… but it still worked out in the end. Now that I’m preparing to return to full time employment in a new school no less, I have been thinking about what I need to do in order to keep up with my projects. I have found that our guest bloggers appreciate longer deadlines so that they can fit the work into their schedules. Planning a few weeks or months ahead and blocking time off on my calendar has been very useful so far so I will continue to do that as much as I can.
  3. Support: I consider myself incredibly lucky to be working with such a dedicated group of volunteers. Our team has made a lot of magic happen (like this post here) with the little time each of us has. I strongly believe we have been successful because we work as a team and have each other’s back when needed. We might not see each other frequently and even then mostly only online, but we have clear role profiles which give us the necessary autonomy and flexibility to perform.
  4. Leadership: Our coordinator, Laura McWilliams, has managed our team for over a year now. Her leadership style and skills are inspiring. I have learnt loads from her through my own experience as well as watching her do her job. I will take all of that with me when I start my new role in August. She is the most organised person I’ve ever met (if you’ve ever seen her notebook you’d know!), she is supportive while holding our team to high standards, not to mention that she always has an idea up her sleeve. The way she manages to bring a team that’s spread out across 4 continents together is amazing to say the least! She has a clear direction for the SIG that helps us get on board and do our bit.
  5. Asking for help: This is something that I personally found really hard even though I know it’s important. Having the freedom and flexibility of this role is great but it does have a downside, namely that I often feel that I work all alone. It’s not true of course, I’m part of a team but the blog is my project. There is no staff room to chat with colleagues and my fellow team members are all in different time zones. So I’ve had to learn to reach out to my team when I need help, ideas, inspiration or just some moral support. And guess what? They’ve always jumped right in! The past year has taught me that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but the basis of good teamwork. again, this is something I will bring to my new role.

I can’t wait to see what the next year or two is going to bring and I am excited for the new opportunities volunteering with the YLTSIG will undoubtedly bring! If you would like to get involved, check out the IATEFL website for current opportunities.

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