Muffins and Testing

On Saturday morning I held a training for my volunteers called “Muffins and Testing.”

Blueberry Muffin by rachel is coconut&lime on Flickr
Blueberry Muffin by rachel is coconut&lime on Flickr

I got up early that morning and baked two dozen muffins that we munched on as we talked about testing our students (CASAS and TABE, as required by NRS standards).  You can probably see why I advertised the muffins before the subject matter.  Still, we had a great time.

I had an attendance of four, which at first glance (I have close to 30 volunteers) seems disappointing.  One of the benefits of such a small training, though, is that everyone can really participate.  I was able to tailor my talk to the questions they asked, assuage fears of only teaching to tests (we’re not only teaching to the tests, but the competencies on these tests are actually really useful to students), and lead a brainstorm that included ideas from everybody.

Though I did give them time to look through examples and to explore the online resources we have, I wish I had done about 20 minutes less talking when it came to looking at an example test-related classroom activity.  Talking too much in front of the room is a pattern of mine as a teacher and trainer, and I’m continuing to work on it!

I didn’t do a formal evaluation, but based on hearing “ah ha,” “oh, I didn’t know that,” and “wow, this means we should really try to follow the curriculum” each more than once, I’d say that they learned something.  I’m very excited to work through the brainstorm list of how we can all better support testing, from simple office tasks I can complete in 20 minutes to changing our online lesson reporting to having a volunteer be the assessment liaison.  Since learning happened and next steps appeared, I’d call it all a success!

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Oops! and Skype is Sneaky

I’m at a VISTA supervisor training in Dallas, and I completely forgot to blog.  Sorry!  I’ve met so many fascinating people and have lots to report.

One barrier to reporting this, besides full days of sessions and an evening out in Dallas was that Firefox was running funny, and I couldn’t understand why.  I finally figured out thanks to Felipe that when I installed Skype, it automatically/sneakily included a buggy Firefox add-on.  Shame on Skype for sliding that one under the table, and further shame for doing so with something that hurt my web-browsing.

More soon!

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.

The Ideal Orientation

I just co-ran a medium-sized national service Orientation today.  Objectively, I think it went well.  It did what it needed to do and ended, all in one pleasant day.

Our goals were to convey a whole lot of information, get some paperwork done, set the tone for the year, and foster community.  And we definitely accomplished those things.  Subjectively, however, I’m not totally satisfied with it.  I just think we could have done them all more effectively with more time, and that an orientation to this kind of job should be more than a day long.

I feel like national service isn’t just a job; it’s a really special, intentional way to spend a year.  It frustrates me to not give people more time to ask questions, engage in meaningful dialog with each other, and get to know the program in a more leisurely way.  My ideal Orientation would not be just an introduction to their year; it would be the beginning of it.

Michele Martin summed it up for me when she wrote just yesterday:

Training shouldn’t be an event, but a process.

Yes.  Process.  Exactly.  It’s the difference between planting seeds and nurturing them.

In Emily’s ideal world, a training would be a greenhouse.

Acceptance vs. Control

I attended a Work/Life Balance training today.  Lots of interesting food for thought.  One of the points the presenter made was about finding a balance between accepting and controlling your workload.  

Facets discussed:

  • We all work with people, which means our day-to-day workload is going to shift:
    • email volume is largely out of our control;
    • meetings, phone calls, and personnel mini-crises happen;
  • It’s not realistic to check off everything from our daily, or even weekly check-lists;
  • Two unhealthy tendencies:
    1. perfectionism;
    2. multi-tasking.
  • Suggested Solutions:
    • Prioritize;
    • Organize;
    • Breathe, take a break;
    • Analyze how you’re spending your time so you can determine how to be more efficient.
My questions:
  • At what point do employees need to take some control?
  • At what point do employers need to address workload situations?
  • What happens when items both “important” and “urgent” get passed to next week’s to-do? 
    • What happens when this becomes a pattern rather than an anomaly?
  • Yes, perfectionism is unrealistic.  Where is a reasonable line of standards of excellence?
  • How can a person or organization reign in demands without damaging relationships?