Chapter 5. Basic Information for All Teams
It is estimated that millions of trees in the world are accidentally planted
by squirrels who bury nuts and then forget where they hid them!
E-News is meant to give you an extraordinary experience, one which would better prepare you for college and a career, as well as help your community. One goal of E-News is that staff members, as well as people who receive the newsletter, learn and practice
· self –reliance,
· selflessness, and
· sustainable solutions.
“Self-reliance” means that you learn to take care of yourself, that you depend on others as little as possible. This does not mean that you become a hermit, but, rather, that you become independent to such an extent that, when anything go wrong, you not only find a solution on your own, but, also, that you help others find solutions. The most poignant example of the lack of self-reliance comes from the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina.
“Selflessness” means that you care for the well-being of others, that is, how your decisions affect others as much as how your decisions affect you. Selflessness might be as simple as setting an example about recycling by ensuring that motor oil not go into the storm drain or as involved as helping people in other countries start their own businesses and themselves become self-reliant. Selflessness is expressed in major faiths, the Scout Oath, the Rotary motto of “Service above self”, and the Lions motto of “We serve”.
“Sustainable solutions” refers to solving problems in such a way that the problems not come back. This is something relatively new, and many adults are not familiar with this. An example is creating jobs for the homeless who are able to work, instead of volunteering time in a soup kitchen to feed the homeless. Another example is to get every retired person permanent absent-voter registration, so that he or she not miss an election because of inability to go to a polling station. An unusual and laudable sustainable solution comes from Taiwan, where a company manufactures a plate from wheat, enabling you to have a “trash-free” meal.
You notice from the preceding paragraph that you could be teaching and helping adults through E-News. Teaching and helping adults are goals of the newsletter. While adults have experience and knowledge which young people do not have, adults are not all-knowing. You and fellow staff members could help your community as you teach and help adults.
This leads into another goal, namely, that adults take you seriously, as many adults will be receiving your newsletter. For them to take you seriously, you have to break with the custom in our society that young people be seen as kids and treated as kids. That is not easy, because you are not taught to break with that custom. But if E-News is to help improve the quality of life in your community, adults have to take you seriously, so you have to deal with adults so that they take you seriously. How do you and fellow staff members do that?
· Attire. This does not mean that you dress in a suit every time you deal with adults, but you avoid attire which stereotypes you as a kid or as countercultural. If you are not sure, ask a school counselor, not your friends.
· Appearance. Years ago, a fifteen year-old was about to interview with two members of the local Lions club. She had to be told to throw away her gum before the interview. Think of other things which might distract adults from your serious message: hair color, hair length, ear rings, tongue studs. What might be acceptable to young people will be detrimental to you when dealing with adults, even if the adults say nothing about your appearance.
· E-mail, and voice-mail greeting. Your e-mail address must look professional and you must use it daily. A voice- mail greeting must be short and professional. Creativity is good, but when trying to get adults to deal seriously with you, you need to be professional in every way: get a dull e-mail address through your school and check your inbox daily; have an adult record a voice-mail greeting like “Thank you for calling. You have called [your name]. Please leave your name and number. [Your name] will call you as soon as possible.”
· Calendar. Most of us humans do not have perfect memories. We forget, even important commitments. We must have a means to overcome our natural forgetting, not just because we look bad because we forget, but, also, because we inconvenience, even hurt, others because we forget. An example is a student forgetting to do his share of a team project and the entire team losing a grade because of the incomplete project. Another example is a parent forgetting to submit tax papers on time, meaning that the she is fined by the IRS and the family loses income. You might have a cellular telephone and can keep a calendar there; you might have a pocket calendar and can keep a calendar there. (Do not depend on Microsoft Outlook because a computer, even a laptop, is not accessible often enough.) Make it a habit to write down what to do, when to do it, and how to contact people who should be notified or to whom you can put questions. Keeping and adhering to a calendar is the most important means, but not the only means, by which you demonstrate to adults that you are responsible. ”Responsibility” is a key attribute to persuading adults to take you seriously.
· Language. If you are interested in anthropology or sociology, you might be fascinated by the number of subcultures in America. Subcultures exist based on ethnicity, region, as well as age. Youth have their own language: the vocabulary, even the spelling used in texting. Learn the language of the adult subculture, which is standard English, and use that language at all times when dealing with adults. Build your vocabulary and do not shy from using words uncommon to daily, conversational English, as long as the words not be so uncommon as to be incomprehensible.
· Courtesy. How do you address adults? Before getting to the subject at hand, do you say “Hello, how are you?” when you see somebody or make contact in an e-mail, voice mail or other communication? Doing so is important for you to learn the other person’s state of mind, if in a live conversation, or to display your friendliness, if you have sent an e-mail, voice mail, fax or letter. Also, when meeting an adult for the first time, you show respect when you begin the meeting by asking her / him to tell you something about her organization or profession.
· Leadership. When doing an activity associated with E-News, somebody has to take charge of planning, implementation, and follow-up. Take, for example, an interview: contact the interviewee and explain what you are doing, set up a time and place for the interview, call and e-mail a day before to gently remind the interviewee, be on time for the interview, follow up with a “thank you” and a draft of your report for the interviewee to comment on before you publish. (If you see a crossover to responsibility, you are perceptive.) See the acronyms “SCARF”, “SHE”, and “SAT” in chapter 15.
This last paragraph deserves more explanation. It is a very useful skill to know how to make contact, how to implement, and how to follow through, as employers, including college offices, value people who demonstrate this skill:
(1) the words which you use are important; “we appreciate”, “we value”, and “thank you” should become common in your oral and written communications, without overusing them; when somebody is not doing his part and you are falling behind because of him, “How might I help so that we meet our target date?” is a good way to try to get the person to cooperate without sounding pushy;
(2) most of the people with whom you deal will be classmates and adults; everyone is busy, so even if somebody wanted to participate or help, she could not always do so according to the schedule to which she agreed; polite persistence is your best way to get the participation or help which you are seeking; also, coming up with alternative ways is important, like “Would it work better if we met at lunch at school instead of at the public library after school?”
(3) an e-mail should be followed by a voice mail or fax drawing attention to an e-mail, in part so that the recipient not think that your e-mail were spam; a conversation or voice mail should be followed up by an e-mail or fax summarizing the conversation or voice mail; and so on; this redundancy is important for three reasons: first, because no one means of communication is one hundred percent failsafe, that is, an e-mail, voice mail or fax might not get through to the person; second, people forget what was said in a conversation, and you do not want to get into an argument afterwards about who said what or who made what promises; finally, people are busy, and to get their attention, it is better to try to send a communication by two means; this “two ways” rule should be used when communicating with E-News staff, also; always be clear and descriptive in the subject field of any e-mail, e.g., “From team 1 to team 6. For 12.07.06 E-NEWS”;
anticipate possible problems and solve them in advance; for example, realize that if you have one contact in an organization and that person is absent because of illness or vacation, your work stops with that organization unless you have asked in advance who the contact will be in that person’s place; also, if a contact does not have two ways to reach him or her quickly, the alternative is to have two contact people in the organization and to contact each of them at the same time;
(4) every communication should end with an understanding of what the next step should be and when that step should be taken; this is very important; the worst situation would be if the person to whom you have put a request says, “I will get back to you”, which probably would result in his forgetting; in such an instance, the better course would be for you to say, “I will check with you later this week”; to avoid sounding pushy, it is good to refer to some coming event, “May I check with you on Thursday, because on Friday our staff is having its weekly meeting and I am to give a report?”
(5) apart from the language which you use, clarity of speech and written communication—including handwriting--is important; speak loudly, clearly, and slowly; print slowly and clearly; for example, state your telephone number into somebody’s voice mail loudly, clearly, and slowly, so that she not write it down incorrectly, not have to play it back; if you sound meek or you slur your speech, you are less likely to be taken seriously; also, if you do not clearly state why you are calling, the person might not to answer—because he is too busy to get back to you to ask what you are talking about.
Teams one, three, four, five, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, and thirteen might write letters. Letter-writing is a very useful skill:
· clearly identify the recipient of your letter and have the correct mailing address;
· include the appropriate title and salutation;
· summarize your request or invitation in the first paragraph of the body of your letter;
· give the background to E-News in the next paragraph, explaining who you are and why you are publishing the community newsletter;
· in the third paragraph, you give detail about the request or invitation which you are making to the recipient;
· suggest a possible next step and target date in the closing paragraph of the body, like “I will call for you in a few days to answer any questions which you might have”; this has the added benefits of ensuring that the recipient received the letter and of encouraging him or her to read it;
· thank the person, sign your letter, and include two ways to contact you.
As with e-mail, voice mail, conversations, and faxes; letters should be backed up, even if you know that the recipient received them. For example, fax the letter, call to be sure that it came through clearly, mail the letter, and call to be sure that it arrived. Or e-mail the letter, leave a voice mail alerting the recipient to the e-mail, then mail the letter the same day and call in a few days to be sure that the letter arrived.
There is other key advice:
* ask the newsletter teacher or, if the teacher is unavailable, a predetermined school teacher, to approve any written communication before you send it out; as for a form communication (same message, different recipients), have it approved just the first time;
* always store your computer files in at least two places, hard drive and e-mail, and always save your outgoing e-mail in “sent mail” or by e-mailing a copy to yourself;
* always create a folder in your e-mail account, in order to store e-mail from the newsletter teacher, team members, E-News staff, online newsletters, and any person in the community writing to you;
* if you must cancel and reschedule, give as much advance notice as possible, in two different ways, along with your regrets; try to avoid saying “sorry”, unless you truly would be sorry, as the word is overused;
* never joke with adults; they belong to a different subculture, and unless you were completely familiar with their subculture, there would be a chance that you would say or do something unintentionally offending; the one sure way to avoid offending an adult is to deal seriously with him or her all the time;
* many young people have a good heart and make promises which they cannot keep, just like adults; be sure that you have the time before you try to do the time; in other words, do not overcommit and then find yourself failing to fulfill a commitment; when you are interested in taking on an activity, the better course is to say that you are interested and that you will check your calendar, giving you time to think over the activity and get back with an answer the next day; the only exception is if the other person needs an answer right away, in which case having a calendar on you, as already suggested, becomes important; also, it is important to have a team member backing you up, so that if you commit and cannot honor the commitment, your backup can;
* self-reliance means that you depend on yourself to remember; it is good to have somebody back you up with reminders, but it is bad to depend on a person, like a parent or team member to be your secretary; you do not want to be mollycoddled by anyone, be that person a parent, teacher or friend, nor do you want to mollycoddle anyone; the worst thing to say would be “Remind me” and to depend on that.
If you follow the advice above and in chapter 15, adults eventually will stop looking at you as, and treating you as, a kid. It is your choice: how do you wish for adults to treat you?
End part 1 of chapter 5.
Go to part 2 of chapter 5.
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