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

A Structure for Effective Check-Ins*

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While facilitating a day-long or week-long learning event, setting aside some time for a “check-in” can give participants the pause they need to process and prepare for what’s next. It allows them to reflect, re-energize, and reconnect before jumping back into a challenging sequence of learning tasks or agenda items. Yet too often, check-ins drift away from their intended purpose. One stray comment can derail the dialogue into a series of seemingly endless rabbit trails. This has led some facilitators to abandon the practice of formal check-ins altogether.

The solution is not to stop checking in. We can’t dismiss the importance of taking a moment to re-center in the middle of a long learning event or meeting. An effective check-in invites participants to evaluate how they are doing mentally, emotionally, relationally, and physically, both for their own sake and for the sake of the group. It can help them achieve their maximum level of engagement and learning by freeing them from what may be restricting or hindering them to explore or share fully.

The following is a simple structure you can use to check-in with participants between long learning tasks or agenda items, or at the beginning or end of a difficult day.

  1. Share one word that captures how you are feeling right now. For example: Restless.
  2. Summarize why you chose this word, and what that means for your learning and our time together today. For example: I’ve been exposed to some intriguing ideas today, but I’m anxious to see if they will actually work in my own context. I’m also a little restless due to sitting for so long.
  3. Conclude your update with one of the following statement          

I would like to be encouraged.

I would like to be challenged.

I would like to be encouraged and challenged.

I’ll pass.

  1. Receive encouragements or challenges others have for you.This process creates an environment where each member has an opportunity to self-reflect, share honestly, and invite input from others. Leaders gain valuable feedback, and participants are given permission to speak comforting or uncomfortable truths as needed. This practice also promotes accountability as people follow up on challenges to see if they have been completed. In this way, check-ins can catalyze groups to gain momentum into greater learning.

Effective check-ins are:

  • Safe, not stressful. Fully listen to each person’s check-in. Let your total attention be an act of love and acceptance. Don’t let people give advice during this time.
  • Transparent, but not too long. Authentic sharing takes time. But especially in a large group, check-ins can swallow up the majority of your meeting if left without limits. The structure above provides parameters for purposeful, succinct sharing.
  • Short, but not shallow. If check-ins are kept short, it might be difficult to go below the surface level. Think of the check-in as a summary of emotions and experiences related to your learning process.
  • Encouraging. If the person checking in would like to be encouraged, offer words of affirmation and support. Notice any signs of improvement you have observed. The more specific the encouragement, the better.
  • Challenging. If the person checking in would like to be challenged, offer a challenge. Make sure it’s both measurable and doable, and record it so that you can follow up later if appropriate. Then, give the person permission to accept or reject your challenge.

When you put these principles into practice, you’ll create an environment for learning where participants feel acknowledged, heard, supported, and challenged. You’ll receive real-time information about the emotions and experiences of the learners in the room, both individually and corporately. Ultimately, pausing for a check-in prepares participants and facilitators alike to re-engage more energetically and attentively in the tasks ahead!

What type of check-ins have you found helpful in your work?

*******

Andrew A. Boa (MA, Wheaton College Graduate School) is the author of Redeemed Sexuality (2017). He lives in California with his wife and young daughter.

*Adapted from Redeemed Sexuality by Andrew A. Boa. ©2017. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL, 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com.

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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?

*******

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?

     * * * * * *

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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