Serving and Learning on the Leadership Development Committee
As his time on the Leadership Development Committee comes to an end, member Zachary Walker reflects on his experience volunteering.
Volunteering is a little like tennis. You serve and you usually end up getting something back. The more you serve, the better players you get to play with, and the more you get back. It takes time to schedule and organize. It takes energy and can be tiring. Afterwards, however, one feels invigorated and excited about the next opportunity to play.
There are lots of worthy reasons to volunteer and serve – to develop your own leadership skills, to expand your professional networks, to make an impact in the field, to give back, to build your resume, to increase your own self-confidence. While those are all valid reasons in their own right, and some are quite altruistic, there are two other reasons that I have found particularly important during my time with CEC: to learn and to build.
At my first meeting as a volunteer on the Leadership Development Committee (LDC), I found myself sitting at a table with four former CEC Presidents, two subdivision presidents, a current CEC Board Member, two administrators, and two teachers who had dedicated their careers to being in the classroom serving students with exceptionalities. What an opportunity to learn! Our discussions about national and international policy, about practice from K-Higher Ed, and about cutting-edge research that soon will be impacting kids, all satisfied my curiosity in a way that could not have been done anywhere else. Insight, challenge, questioning…the learning that takes place in meeting rooms or on our screens has been so fulfilling.
As many of us know, serving individuals with disabilities can be a bit lonely sometimes. While most people respect what we do, they do not often understand it. They do not know what it is like to fill out IEPs late into the night, to work with teachers who can sometimes be negative influences, to see a kid make a friend in class and have to hold back tears. The thing about serving within CEC is that these people get it.
You can build a much bigger team here. You can build relationships with people around the world that will sustain you when you are tired, when you are frustrated, when you are angry. They will support you when you need restoring and celebrate when you have a breakthrough with a student or teacher or administrator that no one else quite understands. They will provide perspective when you are lost in the woods of your local context. They will help you see a broader picture, offer innovative ideas, or simply just allow you to vent with someone not in your own school or locality.
These people build us up – and we all need this kind of support in the field we are in. While it is the best profession in the world, it is also challenging. The people you meet by serving will walk with you each step of the way.
I served by volunteering – not really knowing if or what I was going to get back. What I learned though, and what I built, was beyond what I could have ever imagined. The people, the lessons, the opportunities, (the laughter!) – and all it took was to start with the first serve.