"The means is dialogue, the end is learning, the purpose is peace." ~ Founder Dr. Jane Vella

Four Questions to Transform Your Meetings

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It just appeared in your calendar — the mysterious 1.5-hour meeting. You are one of eight invitees. The attached agenda has four topics you’ve heard something about around the office. You click “accept” and quietly say goodbye to 1.5 hours. 

At Global Learning Partners, we teach practical tools for planning and leading effective meetings — the kind you want to click “accept” on.  But let’s face it, you are not always the one planning and leading the meeting! 

So, for all the invitees out there, here are four questions you can ask (nicely!) to transform the quality of your contribution to meetings.

BEFORE THE MEETING

1.      Why are you bringing me in for this meeting? People often EXPAND meeting invite lists unnecessarily. Sometimes for that buzzy prize we call “buy in”. Sometimes, just to be sure they are not excluding someone. But, the best meetings are the ones where the invitees have an important stake in the topic. What’s an important stake? Your input is required. You will need to make the decision, and therefore need to hear the perspectives of the group. You will be required to take action on the outcome of the meeting.

This question is not just to get yourself out of the meeting. It is to clarify what your stake in it is. So, when you are invited and really don’t know what your stake is in the topic at hand, pick up the phone and ask the meeting owner! He/she should be able to clarify it for you, and if not, begging off saves your time and everyone else’s.

“Hi Mike, this meeting for Tuesday just showed up on my calendar. I am not really clear about why I am being invited. Can you tell me why you are bringing me in? Is there something specific you will want from me on these topics?"

2.      Which agenda items will you want my input on? Sometimes, meeting agendas have a host of topics. Perhaps topics 1 and 2 are relevant for everyone, but the other topics are not.  If that is the situation, you can suggest joining for the relevant segments. That might encourage the meeting owner to arrange the agenda to accommodate the relevant “guests,” or even breaking it into two shorter meetings for different groups.

"Hi Susan. There are four topics on the agenda. I don’t think I am involved in all of them, but wanted to check with you so I can be prepared. Which of these agenda items will you want my input on? "

DURING THE MEETING

3.      What will we be doing or deciding with this topic? We recommend that meeting planners map out “achievements,” rather than agenda items. An agenda item is something like this: “New Campaign Poster Design.” An achievement looks like this, “by the end of the session we will have reviewed the new poster design and offered suggestions for the next draft.” If your meeting owner doesn’t specify the achievement, this question can help him/her to define it. He/she likely has one in mind. This helps the whole group to focus on the task at hand, and can avoid a long presentation — or an unfocused discussion — about the poster.

“Just so I know how to focus my comments here, can you tell me what we will be doing or deciding with this topic?"

4.      What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? It is all too common to end a discussion without confirming what just got decided and who is taking the lead on it. You may feel relief to move onto the next topic, but watch out! If we didn’t get to a finish, this item is going to come back as another meeting to have the same discussion. So, as you move from one agenda item to the next, use this question to confirm where the group has landed.

“Before we move on, I am not sure what just got decided here. What decisions or actions have we agreed to on this topic? Who is taking the lead on that?”

What tricks do you have to transform the meetings you attend?

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Christine Little (christine@globallearningpartners.com) is a Partner and Core Consultant with Global Learning Partners.

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From Exercises to Real Work: Revolutionizing Radio Broadcaster Training

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Farm Radio International (FRI) teaches broadcasters across Africa how to produce high quality, entertaining, relevant radio programs that will improve results for rural farmers.

In-station training is a fundamental part of our work with broadcasters, but we identified two key issues with our approach:

  1. Stations were balking at dedicating so much time to the training, even though we had excellent content about radio skills and about farming; and,
  2. We could not measure the impact of our training in any systematic way.

When I began my work at FRI, I set out to develop an approach to solve these two issues. With the help of Global Learning Partners (GLP), I was able to do just that. 

As we examined how our training was being delivered, we saw that it was mainly presentations and skill practice by creating “mock” radio programs. We evaluated learners’ knowledge of the fundamental skills with pre- and post- assessments.

We realized that we could take fuller advantage of being in the real radio station, by going back to the original intent of in-station training – using real work in real time. We created a learning program where broadcasters, with guidance from the trainers, PLAN, IMPLEMENT, and EVALUATE real radio programs that go to air as the learning is happening.

During the pilot test in Tanzania (January 2017), my colleagues Susuma Susuma from Tanzania, Pascal Mweruka from Uganda, Kassim Shegembe from Tanzania and I saw firsthand the effectiveness of this learning-centered approach.

One Friday stands out in my mind: We had just spent the week with the broadcasters from Mwangaza FM, a radio station in Dodoma (a medium-sized city in the middle of Tanzania), gathering material and preparing for broadcast on Friday night at 8pm. On Friday morning, we discovered that all of our recorded material had been wiped out by a computer virus.

The broadcasters had to choose between trying to recover the original material or recording new material. They decided on the latter. We had spent time planning our interviews and had written our questions down before recording, which made it easy to make a quick appointment with the content expert and experienced farmers to begin recording again.

In the meantime, Kassim, our radio and ICT officer, worked to recover the lost files. In the early afternoon, the team had a new decision to make: use the new audio or use the files that Kassim had recovered. The original audio won the vote!

With only a few hours till air time, we moved on to editing and learned another key lesson about time management and keeping interviews focused. The broadcasters had too much material. They had to cut 40 minutes down to 20 minutes. They raced against the clock to edit the interviews down, and they were ready and on the air at 8pm. 

I am convinced that the lessons learned and skills acquired would not have been so profound if we had been working with a mock scenario. The rush of getting on the air in time and knowing that the audience was going to be tuned in helped all of us focus, stay engaged, think strategically and strive for our best work. 

I could not have asked for better proof that this method worked. For once, a computer virus was helpful.

What evidence do you have of real learning in your work?

* * * * * *

Sylvie Harrison is the Radio Craft Development Team Lead at Farm Radio International (FRI) a Canadian non-governmental organization that works with radio stations in Africa to produce informative and interactive radio programs for farmers and rural communities. 

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Training Wheels for Trainers

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“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.” -George Bernard Shaw

Prakesh handed a worksheet to each trio of participants. Then he directed us all to the poster hanging on the wall behind him, which his teammate had just walked us through, and explained how we could use it as a guide for completing the worksheet. As we got started, he stopped by each group to see how we were doing. Then, he and his two teammates stood attentively off to the side of the room while we worked.

As my group began completing the handout, I couldn’t help but smile.

I smiled because the handout followed the eight steps of design we had taught in the first session of the School for Youth Ministry Trainers (SYMT) and as taught by Global Learning Partners. It was gratifying to see that Prakesh and his team not only remembered the steps but considered this way of working valuable enough to pass on.

I smiled because the handout reflected their local context. For example, we had to mark whether the members of the youth group would be boys, or girls, or both. That wouldn’t appear in a planning worksheet in the United States. But in rural India, a mixed gender group requires special consideration.

But mostly I smiled because of the change in their teaching style was demonstrated by that handout. Six months before, in the first session of the SYMT, these three individuals had designed and lead a module that consisted of three mini-sermons, a few questions, and a brief skit. All three of them are pastors and it showed.

Now, despite the fact that they had received no additional training since SYMT 1, they showed significant progress in their ability to design and facilitate learner-centered training. This transformation from talkers/presenters to facilitators was so remarkable I continue to wonder how it happened.

I discovered four important things about teaching and learning:

  1. Design your training in such a way that if it gets copied, it will reinforce the principles you are teaching
  2. Offer a template or model and an invitation to try it out
  3. Encourage learners to use their new learning soon and often
  4. Organize time to debrief how their application went, celebrate the successes and share the challenges.

One of the great pitfalls of cross-cultural training is passing on a model. This is especially dangerous when the method was designed for a different context and if the learners don’t understand the principles that make it work.

So, instead of teaching specific methods, my husband and I focus on universal principles and then give space for learners to think through how to apply those principles in their context. For example, instead of telling youth leaders to organize an annual camp, we explain that youth benefit from spending concentrated time with their leader and with other youth. A leader in the Philippines may take 300 teens to a hotel at the beach while in India a leader may climb a mountain with three young men.

As a result, we were surprised to see how much the SYMT participants learned by using our curriculum as a template. Because it was designed according to principles of Dialogue Education (a learning-centered approach), using it reinforced their learning of those principles. Like training wheels on a bike, using the template also gave them confidence in their new skills and let them experience the power of “learning by doing”.

Think of a time you copied someone else’s method. What were the benefits? The dangers?

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Annette Gulick (annettegulick@gmail.com) and her husband Tim have mentored and taught people from 33 countries as they provide resources and training for global youth workers with One Challenge International (www.onechallenge.org). After living ten years in Mexico and five in Argentina, they are currently nomads whose roll-on suitcase is their closet and backpack, their office. If you’re interested in resources in Spanish for working with teens and young adults, check out their web site, www.ParaLideres.org, and its channel on YouTube.

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School of the 80s: Learning from Leisure, Experience, and Vulnerability

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I’ve been in school, one way or the other, on both sides of the desk for the past eighty years. I have never been in a school where my learning was so delightful, my appetite for it so voracious, my joy in it so deep – as this “School of the 80s.”  

As I tried to understand why this is happening, I thought of three factors that go with my being 86 years old.   

  1. I have exquisite LEISURE
  2. I have long experience to use as a base for new learning
  3. I have new VULNERABILITY

Look forward to this decade, all you young’uns. You will be amazed!

LEISURE

I remember when Julius Nyerere, first President of Tanzania, published the paper “Education for Self-Reliance” (published in 1967). The paper emphasized practicality, relevance and immediacy. “Teach them something they can use NOW,” Nyerere appealed to Tanzanian educators.  

Sister Margaret Rose, the wise and saintly woman who was the Founder of Marian University College where I was teaching at the time, argued with her friend Julius: “Without enough leisure, the girls will not learn!” 

Sixty years later, I see that in my life. Learning and leisure are partners.

A parallel invitation, from Father Robert of St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, NC is: “Put silence in.” Robert does that himself in the liturgy, before his sermon, and in conversation. “Put silence in.” Hmmm, silence in dialogue? Yes!

EXPERIENCE

I look back on the experience of my life with awe, thanks and praise. Every event – joyful, tragic, comic, sad – has the Grace of God in it. I can see that now and expect the next event to be so touched. That new appreciation of my experience makes it a useful base for new learning.

The learning needs and resources assessment (LNRA) and the first of the 4A model for design learning tasks (Anchoring/inductive work) - moving from the particular context of the learner to the general new skill, knowledge or attitude - both serve the use of past experience.  

VULNERABILITY

I walk slowly. I tell friends: “Don’t walk behind me. I just may just slip into reverse!” I need help with some basic tasks around the house! I forget stuff! I am vulnerable.

So, I have to ask for help and that has evoked a new Jane. I like her! I respect my vulnerability as an exquisite gift which shows a human, needy old lady who trusts friends to respond. They do! Oh, my, they do!

Somehow this relates to my capacity for learning – I am not sure how, but it does. I see perspectives that are different from mine with new empathy, and awareness that I might just need such a new perspective at this point in my life. 

Come and have a leisurely cup of tea on the back porch with the old vulnerable lady who has a store of stories for you from her rich experience and new learning!

 

How much LEISURE do you invite your learners to in your learning events?

How do you use what you know about your learners’ EXPERIENCE – past and present – to shape engaging, challenging, and relevant learning tasks?

How can you celebrate your own VULNERABILITY at any age, so you gladly ask for help?

* * * * * * *

Dr. Jane Vella is a celebrated author, educator and founder of Global Learning Partners. 

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The Art of Co-Facilitating

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Learning events that are co-facilitated can pose unique challenges, but the payoff is worth it. Two (or more) facilitators, when they work well together, can bring different styles, varied perspectives and model teamwork.

If you are the ‘senior’ facilitator…

  1. Build the relationship. Even when multiple facilitators are coming together for a single learning event, the opportunity for relationship is critical. Facilitating a learning event is more than coordination and mechanics. Relationship is key in the learning process, including between facilitators where both the senior and junior are free, open and confident with each other. Seniors need to take steps to welcome the junior into whatever level of relationship is appropriate for the process.
  2. Share the stages. The more you work together on all aspects of the learning event, the better your facilitation. Invite your co-facilitator to be involved in every stage of the learning process – the pre-event needs assessment, the event design, communication with the learners and in the post-event evaluation. The more you do together, the more effective your facilitation will be in the event itself.
  3. Pass the mic. We know that in a learning event, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner. Resist the temptation, as the senior facilitator, to teach the bulk of the content, leaving your junior on the proverbial bench. Rather, look for opportunities to deploy the junior as much as possible. Invite your junior to facilitate content that they’re comfortable with as well as content where they want/need to be stretched. In the event, invite their contribution and experience, not just their observation.
  4. Invite the ‘jump in.’ Sometimes, in learning events, one facilitator observes things that the other facilitator doesn’t catch: miscommunication, lack of clarity, etc. Extend permission for your (junior) co-facilitator to jump in with clarifying questions and comments, to improve communication and understanding. Encourage your co-facilitator to be fully engaged in the whole learning event, not only during the learning tasks where they are up front. Strive to be seamless as you go back and forth during sessions, extending permissions and words of appreciation.
  5. Debrief, specifically. With your co-facilitator, reflect on the learning event and debrief its aspects. Take good notes during the event, to be able to refer to specific moments and activities. Provide feedback as soon as possible after the learning event, verbally and in writing. If the event is a multi-day event, take time to reflect together at the end of each day. Look for opportunities to provide encouragement during the event as well during breaks.
  6. Share the ‘why.’ Co-facilitating is more than effectively hitting the teaching points or making smooth transitions. Effective co-facilitators are fully versed in the deeper aspects of the learning event. To help your junior grow, help them understand the ‘why’ of the event and the learning tasks. Season your mentoring and feedback with the deeper significance of specific activities. Connect tasks and actions with good, underlying significance. Help them own all aspects of the learning process.
  7. Solicit feedback from learners. Learners experience and make observations about co-facilitators and their efforts to work together. In private, ask select learners for feedback – on the event, co-facilitation, and on your junior colleague. Ask specific questions about aspects of your junior’s facilitation. Their perspective will be helpful.

If you are the ‘junior’ facilitator…

     8.  Ask for feedback. And ask for it again. Go into a learning event knowing where you want to stretch and grow, and ask for input in those areas. Ask your senior co-facilitator about specific instances in the event, ones that you were facilitating and ones conducted by them. Take notes from the feedback you receive, and turn them into action points for your future development.

     9.  Make it your own. As you observe, learn and grow, recognize that your style and facilitation strengths will be different from others. Don’t focus on reproducing what your colleague does or the way they do it. Rather, concentrate on your strengths. Bring yourself to your facilitation – your expertise, your personality, your experiences, your character and your type of energy. Make the content fit in a way that feels natural and authentic.

And finally…

     10.  Celebrate together! After an event, project or activity, we tend to focus on what could have been better or different. Wait! Before entertaining such a question, celebrate! Take time to mark the moment, to commemorate the completion of good work, to affirm one another and to revel in your accomplishment. Have fun, rejoice in what you’ve done together and express gratitude for a job well done. Not to worry, those ‘improvement’ questions will sit and wait patiently for you.

What other tips do you have for co-facilitating learning events?  

* * * * * * *

David Bulger (davidbulger@oci.org) is Leadership Development Strategist with One Challenge International, a mission organization based in Colorado, USA. He provides teaching, training, consulting and leadership development for churches and ministry organizations globally.

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