Volunteering is the New Friday

Michelle Hocking is a Health and Performance User Experience and Operations Manager at Google and a Citizen Teacher with Citizen Schools California. 

Most people would say that Friday is their favorite day of the work week, but not me. This past fall, Wednesdays were my favorite day because I got to volunteer as a Citizen Teacher, leading a class of incredible middle school students.

I work as a Health and Performance User Experience and Operations Manager at Google and I heard about Citizen Schools through a colleague who had taught an “apprenticeship” class the previous semester. I immediately wanted to sign up. I had never worked with this age group before, but I had some prior teaching experience and I was up for the challenge.

1210We’re in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields at Google, and there is a really great benefit to focusing on health and well-being so that Google employees can sustain high performance and be happier and healthier. I thought this would be great to teach students-- by developing healthy habits, they can focus more and do better in school. And thus the “Peak Performance” apprenticeship class was born.

The students were like sponges. They were so eager to learn and soaked up the information so quickly. They learned about anatomy, meditation, healthy foods and how to relax their bodies. Whenever I asked a question, it was amazing how much they had retained.

The best lesson I learned is that it’s so much more powerful to show instead of tell. I learned quickly to lead the students through an experience and not just talk at them. We went on a field trip to the beehive at Google in Mountain View. They were able to actually see the honey and bees. I know my words didn't mean as much as them getting to experience the process. Making the science come through in tangible ways helped them connect to the topic and get excited about learning. They really grabbed onto the science quickly; they learned about all of the bones in the hand in less than an hour-- and there are 27 of them!

1211In my own career as a Health and Performance Manager, teaching the kids made me think about how can I make experiences more tangible for the employees I work with. If it’s interesting enough to keep the attention of a 6th grader, I’m sure it will engage a Googler!

At the end of the semester when the students were presenting what they learned to their teachers and families, we had four students at our booth who truly surprised me. They were not the students I thought would be the superstars, but they pulled out knowledge of bacteria, pathology and how germs spread, like professionals. It really humbled me to see that the impact I had on them went far beyond what I thought. After the event, one student asked me excitedly what we would be learning next semester. He said he couldn't wait to take the class again and learn more about Peak Performance. I knew right then and there I HAD to teach with Citizen Schools again!

Even if it’s just one week that you can contribute to an apprenticeship-- work with your colleagues, and the Citizen Schools staff to try it. It’s incredible how your time spent on the teaching itself is a drop in the bucket compared to the impact you have on the students. Thanks to that group of students, Wednesdays became my favorite day of the week and I can’t wait to sign up again in the fall.