Leading without Expertise

I realized we were halfway through when my Metro card said it was out of funds… Our EUSA coordinators helped us get on a 30-day plan when we first arrived, and I can’t believe that it has already been that long! Everything is getting half-way, midterm review, progress reports, and I still feel like I just got here! This week, I am finally understanding all the people who told me that Madrid is excruciating in the summer. I grew up just outside of Chicago, and I have definitely experienced my fair share of heat waves and high temperatures, but it’s a bit different here. At home, there is always a breeze going through which is a blessing on a hot day, and that is simply not the case here. Due to being landlocked and smack-dab in the middle of the country, there is little air movement if any. When I first arrived, it was raining all the time, I had to purchase a bigger jacket, and I was questioning whether or not it actually gets as hot as people told me. I was wrong, it is so very hot. I also found out yesterday that even though my apartment has air conditioning, my host mom really does not like it, so we don’t use it. However, I am super lucky that my internship has air conditioning, and since I spend the hottest hours of the day there, I usually get to bypass the worst of it! This weekend, I am traveling north, not only for the temperature relief, but also the Tour de France is kicking off from Bilbao this year and I’m sure my dad and brothers would never forgive me if I didn’t get to see it! 

In terms of leadership, I feel that I had a lot of experience prior to this summer. I hold multiple board positions, I am a teaching assistant, I’ve managed a store, and I’ve been a tutor and mentor for youth all around Pittsburgh. My experience here is obviously different, but I have been able to pull parts of my experience from all my prior positions and apply them into one cohesive leadership style that I have been utilizing here. My biggest leadership challenge at my internship has been both language and tactics. I work at a therapy center for kids with intellectual and developmental disorders and having never worked hands on in a psychology-based setting before, I was clearly lost during my first few weeks. I had only read about tantrums in my textbooks and had never had to actually calm down a nonverbal child who was experiencing overstimulation. I did not understand many of the individual kids’ communication styles nor could I help them without guidance from a parent or my supervisor. These problems have been improving through observation, practice, and developing relationships with the kids. I am glad to say that I can now calm some, not all, of the patients down if they are upset, agitated, or in need and I understand each child’s individual mannerisms. My second challenge was with language. When I work with verbal kids, I mess up grammar and forget words often, which has made it difficult to maintain my position of authority when I’m running their sessions. I had an experience a few weeks ago where a child did not want to sit in his chair correctly and do his activity. Sitting correctly is very important to allow focus he was not having it. I ended up having to grab my supervisor to help me, because my standard phrases like “please sit correctly” and “I know you can do it” were not cutting it anymore. I think my failure to correct this behavior is a combination of my two challenges. This specific child is on the autism spectrum and has severe attention problems, so I am not beating myself up that I can’t always hold authority with him. However, sometimes with other children, I have found that I can’t find the words to explain a concept or activity (somehow, vocabulary to explain mathematical concepts were overlooked in Spanish 4) which makes it difficult for children to come to me with their issues or problems. I think the most valuable thing I am learning, in terms of leadership this summer, is being comfortable being wrong and not being the most capable person in the room. I think a lot of my previous leadership positions rode on my knowledge of the topic or length of experience in the program. This summer, I am clearly the least experienced and often least fluent in the language, but I still have managed to facilitate therapy sessions and build a positive learning environment.  

Leave a Reply