Although I was unable to speak with someone from the organization I am currently volunteering for, I did have the pleasure of speaking with Mei, a children’s ministry pastor at my local church. She has spent a lot of time working with kids, organizing summer camps, and planning lessons for children, and I wholeheartedly appreciated the opportunity to speak to her.
One of the first topics I wanted to discuss was how Mei keeps children engaged and makes learning fun. I have witnessed firsthand the difference it makes when someone is genuinely interested, and I think this is the best mentality to approach learning with. One of the first things Mei said was, no matter what she is doing with the kids, she “tr[ies] to walk into that room and tell them, ‘I’m interested.’ It is really important for kids to know that someone cares, and they are almost always able to sense whether one is being genuine. Sometimes, even though a child “may not remember what [they] learned in a class, [they] will remember how [they] felt there.” Moreover, Mei mentioned trying to introduce new ideas children may not have encountered before, and explaining things in a way they will understand. It is so easy to be enchanted with complexity, but it is the ability to boil something down to its simplest form that demonstrates true understanding. It is not impressive to use complex language for the sake of seeming intelligent. Rather, it is impressive to be clear. Mei continued, “When working with kids, there are a lot of uncontrolled situations, but I think the most important thing is to try to be very simple – I try to let them remember one thing, one key concept.” Often, teachers want children to take away as much as they can from each class, but that is not always possible. As a leader, it is important to ask ourselves, “If the children could only really resonate with one point, what would it be?” Then, one can stress that fundamental idea. Especially with young children, a single deep impact is more effective than a plethora of surface-level ideas.
In terms of planning lessons, events, and camps, Mei encouraged me to “think of [my] purpose first, and then build a lesson around it.” In the process, I should try to think outside the box, be creative, and make it fun! She encouraged taking inspiration from activities and crafts outlined by various blogs or sources on the internet, and drawing conclusions to the predetermined purpose. Of course, many of the activities found can also be altered to demonstrate a key point. During my two years in TALONS, I have learned the importance of interactivity, and have experienced how much more I can remember by learning kinesthetically. Since human brains are inherently skilled at drawing connections, complementary activities will help make a lesson much more memorable. Most importantly, I should remember that no one can do everything alone, and to find other people with strengths and purposes that complement my own. For instance, Mei said, “I look at the big picture, but I am not as good at the details. I can do it, but it just takes a lot of energy. So, I think it’s very important to know who you are, what you are good at, and to work as a team. Make sure you don’t work against who you are, and have other people on your team to do what they are good at.”
Next, I asked Mei about her view on leadership, and how she sees herself as a leader. She began by saying, “These days, a lot of people talk about leadership, and we often tell kids “You will be a leader. You want to be a leader, not a follower.” However, this may not be the most effective approach to leadership. In the TALONS program, a recurring theme I learned was, “not everyone can be leaders all the time.” In addition to having leaders, it is crucial to also have active listeners and mentors who will step back to guide others to the forefront. If there are no followers, who would the leader lead? Mei echoed this sentiment, saying, “Leadership really isn’t about you lead and other people follow.” As a leader in the community herself, Mei takes a few interns each year to give them experience planning events like summer camps. In the interview, she stressed that she never wanted her interns to think they were there to “help [her] do a good job.” Rather, she sees her role as a figure who “helps the interns do a good job” and makes herself “available to support them” and help them develop as leaders. I think this mentality is important because it places less emphasis on self, and more on how individuals can work together to bring up the entire team.
Lastly, Mei gave me two words that really resonated with me: impression and impact. As a leader, it is often tempting to think about what one’s impression is. We ask ourselves questions like, “What do people think about me? What do people think about the project? What do people think about the result?” Personally, I have experienced feeling pressure to act according to the expectations of other people, and, when that is constantly in one’s mind, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and lost. It is impossible to always impress people, and inevitably, when something goes wrong, the instinctual reaction is to blame oneself. Mei explained that a better perspective might be considering one’s impact. If someone is a real leader, they will leave an impact on people. This may be through a contribution to the community, but it may also stem from kindness shown to peers. Even if this impact might not always show, it will certainly last.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity I had to speak with Mei. She has given me so much insight about everything from working alongside kids to planning projects, and she has challenged myself to think about who I want to be as a leader. I will definitely take her words to heart!
To see the presentation in its PowerPoint format, please click here.