Ever since I can remember, I was teaching someone. I was that kid who lined up all of my stuffed animals to teach them how to do long division, the one who had elaborate show and tell presentations, the one who was the first to chime in whenever someone needed help figuring out a tough assignment.
They say kids emulate their parents. Through all of my “lessons” to my varied audiences, I definitely was trying to emulate my mom, an elementary school teacher. It wasn’t until two years ago, though, when I started working at a training organization in my first official training role that I started reflecting upon the best practices that my mom had modeled for me growing up:
You have to practice and solicit feedback. Growing up, my mom loved to use my sister and I as guinea pigs (I vaguely remember some sort of participation reward). She would test out lessons on the two of us: a new worksheet she had created, a new way of explaining her latest curriculum, or a rubric for an upcoming writing assignment. My sister and I would dutifully give her feedback on what made sense and what was confusing.
I try to bring this same approach to each of my trainings. Upfront, as much as possible, I solicit input from friends and colleagues on the material I’m preparing. Following the training, I ask for pluses (what went well) and deltas (what could’ve gone better).
Measure impact. Around the time I started high school, my mom switched from being a classroom teacher to a Reading Specialist, which meant she now supported every teacher in her school with teaching reading and writing. In order to measure their collective impact across the school year, she did an assessment at the beginning of the year, followed by another at the end of the year, in order to measure the change. (It sounded so simple at the time that I thought nothing of it, but I realize now that even measurement buy-in can be a huge hurdle!)
In my own trainings, I also send out a skills assessment before and after trainings. It’s pretty rewarding to see participants move from the “Huh?” column to the “I feel confident I could figure this out” or “I could do this in my sleep!” columns.
Build in time for reflection. My mom journals all the time about the lessons she’s trying or the workshops she’s attending. Not only does she regularly journal about what she’s been doing, but she also regularly goes back to old journals to reflect.
This is something I’d like to get better at personally, but something I make sure participants at my trainings take time to do. Throughout the training, I try to ensure that folks make connections between one session and the next. At the end of each day, I ask them to reflect on their key takeaways and share them with each other.
You don’t know everything. My mom is constantly learning. She’s one of the more voracious learners I know. She goes to Teacher’s College at Columbia at least twice a year to learn how to teach reading and writing even better, and she regularly blogs and connects with the teachers she’s met there to share best practices. She also has led the countywide teacher research class, leading a group of teachers through live research projects with their classrooms.
One of the toughest things I had to learn about being a trainer was getting over your ego and admitting that you don’t know the answer. Once I did though, it was awesome! People love to show off what they know and are genuinely excited when you show interest in their knowledge. One of my favorite parts of every training I organize is getting to learn more from all of the people involved.
It takes a village. Reflecting back on my childhood, I know now that my mom was an awesome teacher because of all the people around her and because she wasn’t (and still isn’t!) afraid to ask for help when she needed it. She asked my sister and I to help with grading; she asked my grandma to babysit; she leans on her teaching team to help develop lesson plans.
When developing a training, I also start with relationship building, ensuring that I have a 1:1 with all of the major folks who should be involved or consulted for a given training. Throughout the curriculum development, I bring in as many folks as possible, breaking them into small teams to tackle specific tasks. During the training, I try to make sure everyone has a clear role to play, whether as a trainer up front or a coach or even an energizer leader. Without this village of people, the training just wouldn’t be as successful or fun. And I definitely would be exhausted.
As I’m getting ready to figure out my next step, one thing I know is for certain: I won’t stop training. You can check out a list of all my past (minus those ones for my stuffed animals) and upcoming trainings here.