Civic Engagement Essay Sample: Academic Reflective Blog
Civic Engagement Essay Sample
Academic Reflective Blog
This discussion features a number of blog entries on the topic of civic engagement to better understand the process and what it brings to those who take part in it. The first blog of the series considers what civic engagement is and what my volunteering effort was comprised of. The second post explores motivations for volunteering, by comparing and contrasting my own drivers with those that can be seen within the literature. The third blog post examines how I contributed to improving the service and my challenges and limitations in doing so. Finally, the last post will discuss the application of learning as a result of the process to my future nursing practice.
This blog post examines what civic engagement is, and my own civic engagement at a local organisation. It is helpful within this discussion to understand what is meant by the term “civic engagement”. Civic engagement does not have one single definition that everyone agrees with, but a definition that helps to encompass what it is might be: people coming together to take group action to address factors of concern for the public (Battistoni, 2017). It involves building skills and knowledge to create change and make a difference (Griffen, 2020). Civic engagement can take a variety of different forms, according to Bee and Guerrina (2017). For example, Bee and Guerrina (2017) argue that civic engagement includes everything from voting through to fundraising for good causes or undertaking types of community service. It includes volunteering at charities
For my civic engagement, I chose to volunteer at the charity organisation that is my local church. There are a number of different types of help that the church provides to the local community. These include operating a youth group, giving guidance to those in need and providing support to those that may need it – such as food, for example. The church also runs various community events with some regularity, to bring people together and also to raise awareness and funds.
I was assigned to work in the children’s department at my church. My activities included teaching children about God and about good behaviour in society. This required me to develop lessons and activities for the children. I needed to be organised and creative to undertake preparation for classes. I wanted to deliver classes that would be interesting and engaging as well as age appropriate for the children I was teaching. The ages that I worked with differed over the time period of my volunteering at the church. My activities also included assisting other teachers as needed.
I was somewhat nervous at the start of my activities volunteering with the church because I had not really taught children before, though I had experienced the teaching of other church teachers when I was a child. As Sagiv et al. (2022) point out, this can be the case at the start of the process. However, through being faced with new situations and different challenges, volunteers can draw on their creativity to deliver what is needed of them (Sagiv et al., 2022). Despite my anxieties, I was excited about getting started and I was hopeful and optimistic that I would be able to do a sufficient, or ideally, a good job. I hoped that this would help me to achieve new levels of personal potential through volunteering, as Brady et al. (2020) highlight can be possible.
This blog post will explore motivation for civic engagement, examining why people volunteer and why I volunteered. It will consider what I hoped to achieve through my civic engagement activities. There are different perspectives within the research on why people choose to volunteer. To some level, this depends on what they are volunteering on. For example, Silva et al. (2015, p. 48) argue that volunteers in disaster zones are motivated due to proximity and a “need to act”. While proximity was an advantage in my case, a drive to act was not, and neither motivator really explains my own civic engagement process effectively.
From considering the analysis of Loth et al. (2020) which suggests that altruism is one motivating factor for volunteering, I would say that this was an important driver in my situation. I wanted that whatever I did, it would be something good, and that I would be able to feel good about what I did. A research study by Johnson et al. (2018) on volunteer motivations with regard to tree monitoring in New York City identified that personal values were an important reason for volunteering, as is contributing to one’s own community. While my period of volunteering had nothing to do with tree monitoring, the motivations presented by Johnson et al. (2018) resonate clearly with me. I wanted to contribute to the community by helping to teach children the differences between right and wrong as the church sees them. Given that I am a committed Christian, this was closely linked to my own values of doing right and wrong and wanting to promote a better society as a result of my actions.
There are also other reasons that people tend to volunteer. For example, Loth et al. (2020) also argue that personal gain is one motivator for volunteers, particularly with regard to gaining new skills (Arnett, 2016). Research by Fernandes et al. (2021) also concurs on this point, suggesting that personal development is an important motivator for volunteering. These are commonly cited reasons for volunteering, but they were not particularly pertinent for me, except for on one specific point. What I did want to accomplish was to get to know potential service users in my local community and gain improved cultural competence with regard to understanding them and being more aware of differences between people. This was somewhat of a motivator but not the main one. Interestingly, as Guntert et al. (2021) argue, two people doing the same form of volunteering can have vastly different motivations. Therefore, someone working alongside me, volunteering in a similar role could for example, be motivated by learning how to teach, with a view to becoming a teacher in the future. However, in my case, my motivation was largely about helping others.
In this blog post I will examine lessons that I learned, what I contributed to improve the service, and my own limitations and challenges with civic engagement. Starting with contributions, I believe that an important contribution that I made was setting up a shared spreadsheet within which different teachers could log the subjects of classes taught on any given session. This was motivated by an issue I experienced early on in my teaching, when the children in a particular class said that I was teaching them a lesson that they covered very recently. There was no way that I could have known that as the teacher had moved away. I thought that such a spreadsheet would not only help avoid this problem but would also spark ideas for other teachers. Smith et al. (2021) argue that for organisations, this can be one of the advantages of having volunteers – that they may bring new ideas for improved ways of working. As Steden and Mehlbaum (2019) suggest, this can lead to more efficient work approaches. I was grateful to receive positive feedback for this effort.
One of the challenges of my volunteering experience was the fact that I knew by its very nature it would need to be a non-permanent experience because once I graduate I will have to work on shifts and will not be able to commit to regular teaching sessions. Rochester et al. (2016) argue that longer term commitment to volunteering is more often the case in more recent forms of volunteering, when compared with the past. This can create challenges for volunteers and volunteering organisations (Rochester et al., 2016). For example, I found it difficult to build bonds with children towards the end of the volunteering period, knowing that I would not be continuing to teach them in the future. I do not believe that this impacted on the quality of my efforts, but it did impact on my emotional involvement in some cases.
Another limitation that impacted on my volunteering is that while I knew it was improving my well-being (Wray-Lake et al., 2019), it did also add a certain element of stress into my life at the same time. Volunteering was one activity that I did among an array of other tasks and activities that I needed to juggle. For example, I was also studying and working, and I also have family commitments. I found it a bit challenging during my period of volunteering to manage time effectively to ensure that I was able to balance everything and do a decent job of my volunteering too. I believe I did achieve this, but I did notice that the retired volunteers did not appear to exhibit as much stress, as those of us that were working. This may be a factor for consideration for organisations seeking volunteers in regard to volunteer time commitments and limitations in this regard.
This final blog post will consider how I will apply what I learnt during my civic engagement to my nursing practice.
I feel that during my period of volunteering, I became more self-aware of my personal values, These include being responsible and accountable, innovating, being self-motivated and empowering others, as well as having a passion for what I do. These values directly correlate with nursing practice, from my perspective. For example, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) (2018) Code of practice requires that nurses empower patients to help them to make decisions. I felt that during my time volunteering, this was something that I gained experience with, especially in my work with young people (rather than the very young children). Another example of this is my noticing areas for improvement and introducing innovative ideas. Finkelman (2020) describes how nurses are expected to introduce quality improvements to ensure that the standard of care can be enhanced for service users. The NMC (2018) Code supports this in the sense that it requires nurses continually work to improve their practice and that of their team. My experience of doing this at the church led me to better understand how to go about this and to avoid resistance in introducing change, which I can apply to my future role as a nurse.
During my volunteering experience, I regularly had to engage with a diverse range of people, both children and their parents, about their time at the church lessons. Through this, I believe I did gain a certain level of capability in understanding people of diverse backgrounds that I had not come across before in other realms of my life. Kersey-Matusiak (2018) argues that being able to work with a diverse range of people is a key skill for nurses, in understanding others and providing care that is respectful and fair to people of different backgrounds. While everyone I interacted with did share common Christian values, the range of people I worked with was all very different, so I can bring improved care to my nursing practice as a result. Nies and McEwen (2022) highlight that nurses that better understand diversity are more equipped to relate to different kinds of patients.
In short, I have learnt a lot from my volunteering experience, and have gained directly transferable skills as well, such as improved time management. I anticipate that in the future, I will want to volunteer again.
Civic engagement is a process through which people come together to act to improve communities and society. My own volunteering to achieve this was at my local church, where I supported the team as a teacher of children. My motivation was largely altruistic, and despite the fact that I did not set out motivated by a desire to gain new skills, I did anyway – and many of these will benefit me in my future nursing career. I have gained greater self-awareness during the volunteering process and have developed an understanding of how personal values and organisational values may benefit from being aligned. I believe this will be the case when I am a nurse in the future too, for the reasons highlighted within this series of blogs.
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