Leadership in Action: Series #1
This is the first in a series of blogs that the Living Leadership Blog will be posting regarding leadership in action. These blogs are meant to highlight the many innovative and unique ways by which U of T students have decided to engage within the community. Each experience presents a diverse array of skills and dynamics that all pertain to student engagement and leadership.
The students highlighted are recipients of the 2016 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards.
This week we present two students from the student-driven volunteer organization at U of T called: Musical Minds Community Outreach.
Musical Minds Community Outreach
Musical Minds Community Outreach is a student-driven volunteer organization at the University of Toronto. We strive to make music education more accessible to children and youth who may not otherwise have the means or opportunity to learn music. We know how much fun it can be to learn an instrument! Our enthusiasm stems from the understanding that skills fostered through lessons can have long-term benefits beyond our studio. We partner with families in the community to empower lasting confidence and to create a love of learning in children and youth.
To learn more about Musical Minds Community Outreach, click here!
The Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards: 2016 Recipients
Zahra Rajan: Co-Director, Musical Minds Community Outreach (image not featured)
Read below to discover the unique experiences that both Pamela and Zahra had in their leadership roles!
Q: What does leadership mean to you?
Ideal leadership in outreach organizations should balance a multiplicity of factors – staying committed to the organizations underlying purpose and goal, commitment to compassionate and supportive relationships with team members/families/community partners, commitment to growth and improvement and effective logistical organization. Notably, emphasis on feedback from team members and families is crucial for improvement. Effective leadership in student outreach organizations also implies planning for the future and sustainability of the organization. It involves mentorship – guiding team members to hone skills that will enable them to become effective organization leaders themselves in the future. ~Pamela
For me, leadership has come to represent using one’s own mixed bag of experiences to not only avoid problems that I have encountered before, but also to use those experience to help the group problem solve through obstacles as a team. I have been involved with the program since the very first year lessons were held, and as such I have seen a variety of logistical issues, issues with lesson planning and complications with teaching, as well as challenges in the overall running and administration of the program. These experiences make me very comfortable leading other executive members for various aspects of the program, and this teamwork allows us to smoothly work through either avoiding issues we have had in the past or overcome challenges we have today with our expanding program. ~ Zahra
Q: What would you say is the highlight of your leadership role?
I’m very grateful to work with a dedicated and diverse group of students, families and members from our community. It is particularly rewarding to work with and get to know families over many years. We live in a multicultural city: Everyone has a different story, insights and perspectives. It’s important to surround yourself with others who push you to think in different ways and consider different view-points. It is also inspiring to connect with established city service and outreach organizations. While our team is made up of students pursuing various career paths, it is humbling to work with individuals who have dedicated their lives and career path to outreach and social service. ~Pamela
I am definitely a part of many aspects of Musical Minds Community Outreach, particularly because not only do I still teach piano as an instructor of the program, but also because as Co-Director, I oversee the program as a whole. As an instructor, I teach my students every week, from October until April. As Co-Director, I help to oversee all aspects of the program, ranging from funding applications and fundraising, being aware of budgets, participating in campus clubs fairs, meeting and networking with other individuals, groups, and organization, among other things. Specifically, as Director of Policy and Administration within the program, I oversee completion and processing of policy forms for parents and instructors, instrument rental forms for the families that rent instruments from the program during the year, create the recital programmes, and help with the coordination of lesson schedules. I also ensure that Musical Minds Community Outreach receives ULife and UTSU recognition each year, and complete the paperwork associated with that. A very important part of my role is also getting the building and room bookings for the initial Meet and Greet with the families and instructors in October, lessons each week, and the recital in April. I also liaise frequently with the staff and administration at the Multi-Faith Centre (as that is where we hold our weekly lessons) for room bookings as well as the Center for Community Partnerships for things such as program logistics, development, and networking as well as Co-Curricular Record recognition. Being a part of the ongoing management and running of the program is truly rewarding and really helps me to understand the small details that help the program work as amazingly as it does for everyone involved! ~ Zahra
Q: What has been your greatest leadership challenge ? How did you overcome this challenge?
Working in music outreach is incredibly rewarding – student leaders in our team have the opportunity to engage not only with other fellow students but also university faculty and staff, leaders in the community/city service organizations and families – all of whom have unique backgrounds and stories. However, this role comes with challenges in navigating sensitive situations. This may mean learning and teaching fellow student leaders how to address a family’s financial barriers or discussing a child’s learning difficulties in a sensitive and respectful way. Becoming comfortable acknowledging your limitations is crucial to overcoming challenges. Even the most experienced leaders’ need guidance every now and then – no successful organization or leader functions optimally solo. This means consulting team members when unsure about the best way to approach a situation. It could also mean prioritizing group/team discussions and meetings to devise a solution that everyone is comfortable with. Your team members all have unique experiences that will serve as valuable guidance. ~Pamela
One of the biggest challenges in leadership I have had throughout my involvement with Musical Minds Community Outreach was the transition the program had in the summer of 2014. My fellow Co-Director and I had just taken over the leadership of the program. We were aware of the demand of the opportunities for families in the program, and as such had to make the appropriate logistical changes in how the program runs to accommodate expansion. During the first few months in the transition, issues that were not present with few students became much clearer. Issues such as lesson schedules, problem solving with instructors, and availability of instruments were just some of the big issues we faced now that we had many more students and more instructors. One of the biggest challenges with a larger group is coordinating responsibilities and making sure that problem solving involves smooth teamwork. Ensuring that each executive member is clear on their roles and overseeing those roles is a crucial part of making sure the program runs well week to week, and from one year to the next. At the moment, for example, the three current co-directors are likely not going to be a part of the program in the next year or so, and as such we are making sure that we have executive members working with us who will stay on after we leave, so as to ensure smooth transitions between years and ongoing program development and growth. ~ Zahra
Are you in your final year of studies at U of T, and feel that you have contributed significantly to your community on campus? Nominations are now being accepted for the 2017 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards.
To find out more, click here.