Goals, Patience, and Distraction

When I first started working at the learning center, I felt really new.  The teachers and students all had way more experience there than I did and I often responded to questions with, “I’m not sure, but I’ll find out.”

I was really, really looking forward to the day when I stopped being “the NEW coordinator” and became “the coordinator.”

That’s not the kind of goal I can keep in the forefront of my mind.  It’s all about just doing your best across a long string of days, and I wasn’t about to start repeatedly asking myself, “Are we there yet?”  So I moved my focus to other things: volunteer management,  schedules, conferences, teacher observations, new classes, and a hundred other things.

(By the way, research actually shows that one important strategy for maintaining patience is to distract yourself.)

Maybe a month ago I had an opportunity to chat with one of our students.  As we talked and she asked me for advice, I realized that I had automatic credibility because of that long string of good days I had worked.  I wasn’t new anymore.  It was a Pinocchio moment in which I became real.

It felt great to achieve that goal from over a year ago.  While I think I was right to not think about it all the time, I’m not sure I had to completely forget about it.

For those goals where you need to take your eyes off the prize, how do you not completely lose sight of them?  Do you just rely on chance circumstances to remind you?

Tech Confession and the Purpose of a Teaspoon

Confession: I manage my volunteer mailing list on a Word document.

Glue Henge by sappymoosetree on Flickr
Glue Henge by sappymoosetree on Flickr

It’s true.  Even though I enjoy Excel formulas and mail merges, have harsh words for presenters who don’t know the ins and outs of PowerPoint, have actually built more than one relational database, and love to find the optimal information tool for a given task.  I am that person, and I copy and paste my mailing list from a Word document.

It didn’t used to be this way.  In my old job at the main office, my Outlook contacts list was a well-organized-frequently-mail-merged thing of beauty.  But when I got to my new job at the learning center a little over a year ago, I only had Outlook Webmail.  Managing contacts solely with webmail is pretty much impossible.  Word was there, I used it, and it worked.  Months later, my nonprofit helped me install real, actual Outlook Anywhere on the learning center’s laptop (I’m unable to install anything on the main computer, which is library property).  And months after that, I have yet to rework my emailing system.

Three thoughts on this:

Spoon theory by scribbletaylor on Flickr
Spoon theory by scribbletaylor on Flickr

And now to the teaspoon:

This type of situation leads me to think broadly about the fact that people need more than initial training and ongoing Q and A to work effectively with digital technology; we need support in the form of quality tools. Even the people who “get” digital technology are severely hampered by slow, outdated, and/or limiting applications and hardware. When we have to figure out how to make our antiquated or locked-down equipment be good enough “in our spare time,” it either just doesn’t happen or it happens at the expense of the rest of our jobs.

I wish that the demands put on educators, especially in this age of obsession with computer-based and distance learning, could be accompanied by thoughts like, “Do they have the tools to accomplish this well?” or even better, “We should ask them what tools they need to facilitate these desired outcomes and then follow through.”

If all I have is a teaspoon and you’re surprised I’m not hammering nails with it, there’s a problem and it’s not with me.

Autumn-Busting Follow-Up

Well, I didn’t fill my office with balloons, but I did snag the last 20 minutes of each level of class to write happy things.

In My Craft or Sullen Art by chrisjohnbeckett on Flickr
In My Craft or Sullen Art by chrisjohnbeckett on Flickr

I wrote a note to each teacher explaining the assignment and my motivation for it, and I included suggestions on how to explain it to their level of student. I asked them to introduce the activity to their class… and then have everyone get up and walk over to the big classroom to do the actual writing.

We had some music in the background and students sat at random tables. They wrote on colorful slips of paper about what makes them smile, what they’re proud of, etc. When they finished a piece, they brought it to the front and taped it onto a poster.  They were encouraged to do multiple pieces, and the teachers enjoyed participating too.

At the end we had a colorful patchwork of student (and teacher) writing at all levels. More importantly, everyone left with a huge smile on their face.  Success!


Epilogue: One of the librarians offered to run it through their giant laminator for us, and our now very shiny poster is on display between our classrooms and the circulation desk.  I’ve seen students and general library patrons reading it, and several students who were absent on writing poster day have come to me hoping they’ll be around for the next one and suggesting future writing prompts.  I’m very pleased and plan to do this again soon!

Has this been a difficult Fall?

I’ve been getting the sense that a lot of people are running ragged these days.

Based on my extremely informal interviews (i.e. normal conversations), it’s not just me, and it’s definitely not just people in my organization. Maybe it’s a St. Paul, Minnesota thing. Or maybe it has to do with the job market, changes in unemployment benefits, or the health care debate.

same balloons, different day by massdistraction on Flickr
same balloons, different day by massdistraction on Flickr

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve about had it.  I want to fill my office with balloons this week, or have a joke share, or collect favorite moments of the day and post them in the office.  Why has it been so hard to see the million alternatives to just trudging along?

How are you doing this autumn?

What do you do to battle the doldrums when they settle over your little section of the world?

Training Feedback

Paperwork by luxomedia on Flickr
Paperwork by luxomedia on Flickr

I’m happy to say that I had a chance to read through the feedback from last week’s Volunteer Training party, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The evaluation was very open-ended, and I was pleased to receive specific comments and suggestions.

There was general approval of the presence of food, and universal enthusiasm for meeting each other. Many commented that they gained new activity ideas, and several mentioned “inspiration.” I was a little surprised by that last one – I wasn’t focused on it at all. Woo positive by-products!

The highest and most convenient praise was the near-unanimous request for more trainings, perhaps quarterly, like the one we just did! In other words, I don’t have to ask yet more of my volunteers by implementing quarterly trainings; I get to deliver something there’s a demand for.

The Pizza Guy by keltickelton on Flickr
The Pizza Guy by keltickelton on Flickr

There was some constructive criticism as well, asking for more depth and suggesting starting out with more general questions such as “What’s working?” and leading into more specific ones during the level-discussions. Well-taken. They’ll definitely be present in next quarter’s (requested and delivered!) training.

Woo Training Party!

I’ve been MIA because I’ve had a ton of planning to do both at work and in my personal life. It’s all going well – it just takes more energy than you’d think.

Just wanted to touch base and report that the Volunteer Training Party we had this evening was great!

I’m most proud of the way we stuck to our objectives when we planned it. We had a great many awesome ideas, and it felt like we threw out 95% of them because there just wasn’t time to include them, but the result was a training that didn’t try to do too much.

For the record, those objectives were to respond to the Volunteer Survey we sent out in the Spring, to give the teachers learning-center-related social time, and to use this to move forward with future trainings and efforts.

The Learning Center is closed this week, and I have some out of town visitors staying with me during my time off. I’m hoping to write some content during this time, but either way I’m not planning to post anything new until at least next week. Just so you know.

New Goal: Tame Wednesdays

Coast Guard 47 Motor Lifeboat by MikeBaird on Flickr
Coast Guard 47' Motor Lifeboat by MikeBaird on Flickr

Today was another crazy Wednesday. It was a perfect storm of the usual entropy of new student intakes, the one and only copy machine in the building breaking sometime between afternoon GED classes and evening ESL classes, and a preventable scheduling mix-up that left me short a teacher.

Honestly though, it was far from a disaster.  My new students got enough attention, my teachers got one worksheet per class via the scanner, and my Advanced class (the center of so much bad luck with their lessons!) got a decent if not elegant lesson.

I’m happy that everyone got what they needed.  Still, I’d like to limit the chaos in the future.  Some things I can do:

  1. Take a few extra moments whenever I update the schedule to ensure accuracy, and ask volunteers to quick double-check it (it’s online)
  2. Look for a regular intake volunteer (I had someone briefly, and it was awesome)
  3. Consider having a back-up or on-call volunteer teacher on Wednesdays
  4. Re-think my intake materials location.  Currently, there’s a lot of running back and forth.

There’ll still be nothing I can do if the copier suddenly breaks, but if I add more structure (and help!) to the controlling of the controllable, the things I can’t control will be easier to adapt to.

Onward!