Re-posted from the By the People blog of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship.
The reflection below was written by John Fogelman about his experience coaching Public Achievement at Oak Hill Middle School in Milledgeville, Georgia, last fall. Fogelman is a student at Georgia College and State University and is coaching Public Achievement at Oak Hill again this spring.(What is Public Achievement?)
John Fogelman coaches Public Achievement at Oak Hill Middle School in Milledgeville, Georgia
During my past semester coaching Public Achievement, I went through a variety of different feelings, emotions, expectations, and unexpected outcomes. After reading through the journal entries that I made every week after my coaching sessions, I was able to see the slow but definite progression that my group made on a weekly basis. My journals were filled with disappointments and successes, but the content spoke more to me than just successes and failures: my journals showed me that I was making change.
I came into the Public Achievement program with a very idealistic attitude. In my mind, I was going to go into the middle school and change lives and enlighten young minds as to how the world works, proceeding to take on great amounts of public change. Little did I know that I was in for a rude awakening.
The beginning of the semester was filled with failed agendas, rowdy kids, and little visible progress. I realized that my idealistic strategy of teaching and agenda making would have to be thrown out the window.
I am much more of a people person that an active, authoritative teacher. Due to this, it was hard for me to step into a classroom and be the strict coach I thought I was supposed to be. I learned, however, that my people skills would be the most important part of being a coach. There was no way I would be able to reach the kids without getting to know them and see where their passions and understand their lives first. As I spent more time with the students at Oak Hill, I realized that what they craved more than anything was the ability to talk and be listened to, and that my friendly and relaxed personality allowed me to get on the inside and begin to understand them better.
While I was learning how to coach and relate to my team, I grew as a person. Being required to plan lessons and agendas every week helped me gain a sense of confidence in leading others. I also learned that I was good with working with a large variety of people, and with the profession I want—a small café owner—this skill is very important. This semester helped me realize that I want to be an active member in a community and be a leader at the same time. If it had not been for this class, I do not know where I would have learned these skills and recognized my abilities.
Next semester I will be taking the second part of Grassroots Community Organizing. Because of a reorganization of the program, all of the students that I have made large attempts to get close to this past semester will likely be in different groups and I will likely have a group working on a different issue. Although the reorganizing was done with the best intentions in mind, I anticipate that the time spent gaining trust and closeness with a new group will eat into quality time trying to make change.*
In all, however, I think that Grassroots Community Organizing is one of the best classes I have taken in all of my college experiences. The amount of personal, community-based, and professional leadership knowledge and experience this class has given me is irreplaceable. My journals have reflected the ups and downs of my experiences in the first class, and I cannot wait to see what they will show for the next. Change is a beautiful process, and I am eager to see the steps it will take in my life.
Editor’s note: The Georgia College and State University faculty coordinators were able to arrange for the middle school students to stay together in their Public Achievement groups spring semester even though their afterschool academic groups were rearranged.