As a single mother with three kids who works full-time and then some, I often struggle in finding balance between family and work life. However, in all of it, I try to model the type of citizen I hope my children will become in their personal and professional lives as they grow. An important factor in all of this is the value of service and education. The most effective way I have found to do this is through coaching the Odyssey of the Mind teams in which my children participate as I have done for the last four years. While, I admit, part of it is setting aside quality time to spend with my own children and making a commitment to them. However, it is also a space where I can use my talents as an educator and proponent of student success to help inspire kids in grades Kindergarten through high school to think critically, build leadership skills and look at world problems in new and creative ways.
In our district, Odyssey of the Mind is still new and growing. I became engaged as a parent when my oldest first joined a team five years ago and then began coaching the next when both my boys wanted to participate. In my first year coaching, it was about building a team. This proved fairly difficult; many of the families are single parent, like myself, and often work more than one job to make ends meet. As a result, as a coach, I needed to be mindful of cost and time. Additionally, each team is limited to only seven students. However, what I found was a group of parents similar to myself trying to do the best they can for their kids and provide them every opportunity. The team this first year consisted of kids who labeled themselves as “nerds”, “loners”, and “outsiders”. For me, it became a space where I could make a difference in how they viewed themselves and help them to make friendships and build each other’s self-confidence.
Odyssey of the Mind competitions have two components: long-term and spontaneous. I was amazed at how quickly the group connected and came together to solve it. Their solution included a labyrinth, an alien, Sherlock Holmes, and an art museum. However, where they coalesced the most was in their spontaneous question. While coaches and others do not know the problem they get presented for the competition, the kids were incredibly proud of how well they did when they came out of the room. They high-fived and actually scored the highest of any team in this arena. To watch their excitement about their solution filled the room with joy.
Since that first year, I have continued to volunteer my time coaching. Each year the team transforms and new friendships are built. This year, we have only just begun and I have heard kids say: “I’m really not that smart. I always thought this was just for the smart kids”; and “I’m kind of a loner so I really want to make new friends.” The team is only fifth & sixth graders and only one of my sons are on the team. My oldest competes on the high school team and my youngest has just begun her Odyssey journey on yet another team. While it makes our home schedule a little crazy shifting between three teams, it is ever so rewarding to watch not only my own kids, but their teammates grow through such a unique program.
However, other than my kids being involved, what drives me to coach is that it is a space where I can contribute my skills related student success in a different venue. Through this work, I can see the connection with K-12 and how a student’s self-confidence really does start at an early age in relation to their academic success. As my youngest is now in second grade, I envision coaching for at least the next ten years and then after that as a judge and a volunteer. It is amazing to watch these children grow and hear their insights into their world as we discuss components of the problems. It helps to remind me of the importance of solving problems with new eyes and perspectives and that is something that I bring back to my practice in higher education.
This post is part of our #SAvolunteers series, which will explore volunteering in all its forms, for all its reasons. For those student affairs pros who log in more hours once they leave the office, without the monetary reward, this one’s for you! For more information on this series, please see Jessi Robinson’s intro post. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Conor McLaughlin on SA Work-Life Balance