The Volunteering Diet: Change Your Habits, Serve Your Community

New Year’s resolutions can be a cumbersome topic because for most of us, they have a shelf life of about two months before expiring. Regardless, every year I pull out a journal and make a list of big resolutions (lose weight, meet Shakira) and small ones (bring my own bags to the grocery store).  Realistically, the big ones are ones I can forgive myself for if they don’t happen (meeting Shakira…but who knows?  It’s a new year) and small ones are ones I know I can do (I am two for two in grocery store visits with my own bags).

For the “lose weight” big resolution that many Americans make, this year I am resolving to instead be healthier.  Usually I am not afraid of failing my New Year’s resolutions because I am the only one affected.  But failure takes a different meaning when there are 14 names attached to it.

Let me explain:

Hitting the “volunteer” and “be healthy” resolutions with one stone, I pursued physical and mental health through service as a Citizen Teacher with one of my colleagues, Ms. Fadarey.

Being a Citizen Teacher allows the space to teach and share a passion with middle school students.  As a licensed Zumba Fitness® Instructor, the choice of what passion I wanted to share was easy: dance, dance, and more dance.   Volunteering was icing on the cake.

Thus, the 10-week “Zumba® for Life” apprenticeship class began.

The first class session was as smooth as butter.  The Zumba Fitness® enthusiasm was contagious and the students left the classroom dancing and smiling; it was wonderful.  As the weeks continued, we repeated our magic formula of Ms. Fadarey leading on health lessons and me finishing the class with a 45 minute Zumba Fitness® class.

Unlike the first class, however, the following weeks proved difficult for me and Ms. Fadarey.  The students were beginning to lose interest and became reluctant to participate.  The fire we started on the first class was quickly burning out.  As a result, my enthusiasm started to wane; how could students not realize how much fun this is?  When given a chance to finally move around after sitting in a chair all day, why were students consistently choosing not to participate?

We needed help from experts.  My super Teaching Fellow Ms. Raymond, who supported us in the classroom, helped us brainstorm new ways to get the students invested.  We gave our first-day magic formula a serious make-over and failed.  We gave the make-over a make-over and failed.  We were failing, and defeat started to set in.

I was failing my resolutions; I was failing the students.

It wasn’t until weeks later that I pumped the breaks on feeling defeated and finally stopped to observe the classroom: learning was still happening, it just wasn’t happening in the way I had planned.  I became so engrossed in what wasn’t going right that I didn’t notice the progress we had made.

It was like someone slapped a 2x4 board over my head; I was only failing students by focusing on what I couldn’t do---  I needed to instead focus on how to better what I could do.

The end result?  Students, their families, and even the principal of the middle school participated in my final Zumba Fitness® class.  Physical and mental health, achieved.  Resolutions, attained.

So if your resolutions also involve “lose weight” and/or “volunteer,” don’t be afraid of  failing. By teaching an apprenticeship like Zumba Fitness® or any topic you care about, you'll be surprised at how you succeed. Sign up to be a Citizen Teacher today.