The benefits of volunteering in the community
05 June 2019
I volunteer my time to lead a Code Club within a local school and also to help run a CAS community of practice for local teachers. Both activities provide value and support to the communities that they serve, but I also have selfish reasons for both activities.
As a former teacher (often in small IT departments), I’ve always valued being part of a community beyond my school and being able to share ideas, practices and often just to check I wasn’t doing it completely wrong.
Back in 2011 (ish), I was moving schools and found that I was relocating from an area with a strong local computing community to a rural school where there was less going on. After connecting with my nearest CAS community, I soon found myself hosting and eventually leading the group, not for purely altruistic reasons but because those meetups and conversations were something that I personally valued and wanted to see continue.
Finding time to plan agendas, source materials, book speakers, rooms and catering was a challenge to fit in alongside my teaching but after every meetup, I came away with renewed enthusiasm. Every session was worth the effort; every session made new connections, generated new ideas. That’s not to say that the experience was always smooth sailing, I’ve planned many sessions that went wrong, but even these experiences were valuable.
Despite having been out of the classroom for a number of years now, I’m still a teacher at heart. I miss working with students, seeing their enthusiasm as they grasp and apply new concepts. One of the ways in which I fulfil my passion for teaching is as a Code Club volunteer, which is one of the highlights of my week.
As a volunteer I get to challenge myself, working with students far younger than I ever did as a teacher. Each new concept or skill that we encounter takes that bit more consideration and really makes me think about how to approach it. It’s an experience I would heartily recommend, whether you’re an experienced programmer, interested parent or thinking about a career in teaching.
One group that I’d highly recommend Code Club volunteering to is secondary computing teachers. It’s an excellent way to connect with and support your local primaries. Not only will it help strengthen relationships (which has to be good for your school), it supports students with transition, and you’ll also see first-hand what your new intake are capable of (and likely be surprised).
I’m in no doubt that the students I work with benefit from our club sessions, both in terms of their skills but also their confidence and aspirations. I’d like to think that the host teacher benefits in the form of some ad-hoc CPD as we regularly try new approaches (paired programming has been hugely successful) and discuss the activities and challenges the students face. I also see the wider benefits to the school who are able to provide a free to access club open to all students and also in terms of raising the profile of computing.
Volunteering, therefore, is something that I know I will always find time for, no matter how busy I get. Beyond being able to help and benefit others, I am able to broaden my experience, connect with others and learn so much.
About the author
James Robinson is the Senior Learning Manager (Research and Pedagogy) at Raspberry Pi