One year later…

On a whim, I decided to check my blog tonight.  It’s been almost exactly a year since I’ve been on, and it was fun to read back through some of the entries. I also checked on some friends’ blogs.  Most of us haven’t kept up with them at all.

I think I’ll try.  But not now. 🙂  It’s Friday night, after all!  But I think a blog might be good right about now.  So, I’ll be back soon.

last post….

This SHOULD be my last post as a grad student!! Woo- hooooooooooooo!  And it’s going to be a short one, because I’ve still got a few items to tend to for my final project, which is due in the morning.  Fun stuff.  Seriously, all-nighters were way cooler (and easier) when I was an undergrad. 

Mostly I just want to share that I led my last workshops yesterday (ok technically I have 1 more big one coming up, but these were the last 2 that would be included in my project) and it was a great experience. A classmate from the Adult Learning program kindly offered to have me run 2 sessions at her workplace. 

The session was scheduled to be just 45 min-1hr, and I was really worried about what I could do in that time frame.  As it turned out, I planned just the right amount, which was nice. 

What I really want to convey though is that I had a fabulous audience (both times, but particularly for the 1st group), and that can really make or break you sometimes.  I did a presentation that was in some ways very different than others I’ve done for this project, but it wasn’t a totally new animal or anything.  But this first group was very engaged, very “into” what I was saying and doing.  And the combination of me feeling prepared and confident and their enthusiasm just seemed to create a great atmosphere.  The stories they shared seemed to magically segue perfectly into my next point.  The dialogue was open, people were being frank and authentic… I mean, it was just 1 hour, so we didn’t solve any major crisises (how do you spell that??) but people were much more willing to share than many other groups have been. 

It was a great last presentation and the feedback shows that they thought so to.  Hooray for small successes.  Now if only I could bottle up whatever that magic formula was…

Back to the grind…. and thanks for reading.  I’m sure I will post more after graduation, but thanks to any who read this even while it’s all about school and learning and “boring” stuff like that.  I have to say that the blog has been a useful tool; I use it to think aloud and clarify my thoughts, and it helps quite a bit.

What I want to do after graduating….

I think I have heard this question a million times in the last few months.  Heck, my dad asks me three times a week at least.  I think he’s worried because I haven’t even begun job searching yet. 

Well, I had a really enjoyable weekend (very purposefully, gearing up for my very busy, stressful last week of school) and I reflected a lot on what I really wanted to do after school….at least for the short term!  And I don’t keep a journal, so I thought this was a nice place to list my “post graduate goals”.  And here they are:

  • get some sleep!
  • improve my gym workout
  • hula hoop on my back porch, in the sunshine, with good music on
  • take my nieces to the park
  • have more documentary dates with my best friend
  • start volunteering with RPEC
  • clean out my closet
  • keep running workshops at my internship (soon to be PAID internship, woo-hoo!)
  • email those neat women I met through UMFS and look into travel opportunities and potential career leads
  • play my guitar more
  • buy a bunch of cool experiential learning tools that I’ve wanted for a while
  • find an apartment or house!
  • get a decent haircut
  • start planning my next Habitat volunteer trip
  • volunteer at the local Habitat (my old place of employment- miss those guys!)
  • continue adding to my “kit” that I created to use during workshops
  • blog more
  • learn to play hand drums
  • read about a million good books that are waiting patiently while I finish up coursework
  • look into getting a teacher’s certification
  • look into mediation training
  • learn how to garden
  • cook more for myself
  • get out to the ropes course more
  • see my friends at more than just the “big” events
  • go to Lewis Ginter
  • put all of the pictures on my floor into albums!
  • learn another language
  • take piano lessons (again, but this time with more time to practice!)

I could go on and on.  When I left my volunteering event Saturday afternoon, I felt so great to be outside on a beautiful day, singing along to a great new CD, heading to a cookout at a friend’s house.  I haven’t had real downtime since 1997.  Two, three jobs, internships, multiple church obligations, other volunteer roles, traveling…. I love my life, but man, it’s tiring.  I am looking forward to having more time for the little things that get pushed aside, like my hobbies, and the big things that get pushed aside (like my friends!). 

But it’s not that I don’t want to work.  I do want to find a career, and one that I am passionate about. The dilemma perhaps is that I am passionate about a lot of things!  And as soon as I find that career, I will be overbooked again, and there goes the hula-hoop, guitar playing time.  And right now, I need some of that time!

Really, what I want to do after graduating is find some balance.  Then I’ll start job hunting.

Teaching Peace, Designing Programs

On Saturday, I went to a Youth Peace Summit hosted by a local peace organization.  I wanted to observe their workshops- they offer conflict resolution training for youth in the area.  I got to observe one workshop called “Keeping the Peace” (and several others, but just one on CR directly).  It was interesting to watch.  The workshop was led partially by an adult but mostly by 2 teens facilitating.  I will say that I was very impressed with these two young teens, who had never led a workshop before.  It is also very hard to lead a workshop for your peers, but these two did a very good job and were very prepared.  Observing the presentation was very affirming for me, because I had a chance to SEE what the results were of someone else’s program planning.  In some cases, I wondered if the presenters (not just the 2 teens) had considered their audiences:  teens don’t ususally like to listen to lecture for an hour, noise from other workshops was distracting to them, etc.  I noticed some great workshop ideas on the flyer where the actual presentation was not nearly as organized or purposeful as I would have hoped.  And so on. Basically, I felt relieved and confident that I am putting the right amount of preparation and contemplation into my own workshops.  Not to knock these folks though- the summit was great!  It just makes me appreciate the value of my adult learning courses.  Just because you are a subject matter expert does not make you a good presenter or facilitator.  I am hoping to get more involved with this group in the future, and I mentioned to the director that I’d be interested in helping design and develop their training programs.   It would be worthwhile if I could be of assistance; this group is doing a LOT in our city.

Hypocritical post

Well, after ranting last time about how attached I’ve become to really considering goals before planning my conflict workshops, this week I have a different bent on things.

I’ve been finishing up my program plan (due on Friday, ack!) and I’ve also been fine tuning a presentation for tomorrow, and one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes, I can’t seem to pinpoint the objectives or goals until I’ve started planning.  Let me try to explain better.  First of all, with most of my groups, there haven’t been any strict goals that the clients wanted me to address.  That’s what was bugging me before- this whole idea that I am supposed to design a workshop for a group who can’t tell me (or won’t) what they want to learn. 

This week, I’m going a little further than that.  Once I have this group, and they don’t have a specific request of what I should present to them, I still have to create a plan.  And when I do, I have tried starting with the objectives (the “what” of Jane Vella), and then moving to the learning tasks (the “How”…).  The problem is, I don’t get very far this way, and I waste a lot of time trying to decide on objectives.

What I want to know is, is it bad if I write out a general idea of what I’d like to do in a workshop, and THEN pull out the objectives that I see that workshop encompassing?  I find that it is MUCH easier to then go back and notice where things aren’t aligned or are meeting too many goals (and thus not really focusing on any overarching theme or goal), and then I can tweek and change it.  Ultimately, I get to the same preferred result:  a workshop that is purposeful and one where the various tasks and activities align towards a common set of goals.  It’s just that I can’t seem to start with those goals.  I

An example of this is that I am working on a presentation for a week or so from now, and I am partnering with a woman who is a consultant.  We were individually working on ideas and agreed we would meet last week to compare notes.  I had asked her about our goals for the workshop, and she had admitted that we did not know what the group’s goals were.  We agreed that we’d try to create our own so that the presentation at least made sense to us and to the participants.  When I sat down to write them out, I found that it was much easier to do the “bad” way of program planning and just write out a tentative schedule of activities, discussions, etc., and then work backwards, looking at what each activity was really bringing to the table, how the segments tie together, what the participants would leave with if I left it as it was.  From there, I was able to pretty quickly rearrange and refine.  I even worked backwards to make sure I had each of Jane Vella’s “I” activities in there! 

Does anyone else work this way?  Is there a danger in this that I’m missing, other than if I’m not diligent enough, I might miss something?  If I had to change, is there a technique someone uses to help get through that tricky goal defining stage?  I know that there are worksheets and such in my texts, but I think I find it a bit tedious to do it that way.  Does someone know a more fun way to brainstorm those goals? 

I will say though that IF my clients had given me their own expectations and/or goals, then I might not have had to use a backwards approach.  Or maybe I still would have.  Hmm… 

Another round…

Well, the last week or so has been very eventful!  To start with, I had a very productive meeting with my advisor, who gave some great advice on how to continue with my project.  We also talked at length about me developing my Philosophy of Practice for these workshops, which I think will help me immensely in terms of the issues I was having about designing content for people I don’t know.  Thanks for your help, Dr. C!

I also ran 2 more workshops, with interesting results.  The first was for a daylong workshop for Administrative staff:  office managers, admin assistants and folks in similar positions.  The day was designed to offer workshops that are relevant to those types of positions.  My topic was Office Conflict.  It went… interestingly.  So far with these workshops, I feel like I’ve done really well at the beginning, great at the end, and the middle is sort of….flat.  Not bad, just not as dynamic as the beginning and end tend to be.  Unfortunately, the middle is usually where the most content is being revealed, so this is a bad place to fall flat.  I have noticed that if the audience is a quieter group, the problem is more noticeable.  With my more active audiences, the middle flows just fine.  But I’m still working on making sure my plan keeps folks engaged throughout the entire length of time.

Also, I had a situation that I am positive I practiced for in Consulting Skills (and in a counseling class as well!)— the participant who WOULDN’T STOP TALKING!!!  When I realized that she was going to go on forever, I almost chuckled as I remembered what we covered in class about cutting people off politly.  However, my efforts were in vain!  My boss even tried to cut her off, but to no avail.  This is a large reason that the middle segment of this workshop seemed dull- it was all about her.  I began to realize that she expected me to resolve her conflict during my 1 hour workshop, which clearly I could not do.  She definitely monopolized that part of the session, and it brought down the whole workshop.  My evaluations even reflect this; several participants noted that I should’ve cut her off sooner and kept everyone involved.  So, my failure to effectively make her stop her ranting steer the conversation back to a central point really had a profound effect.  I was a bit disappointed in that one, but next time I will be VERY blunt (and polite and kind, of course…)

After that, I led 4 sessions with high school seniors at a local all-girls high school.  These 4 sessions were interesting… again I noted that the workshops definitely varied in mood depending on the blah-ness (that is a technical term, right??) of the girls.  I tailored the topic to what I thought would be useful for graduating seniors:  communication skills that can help prevent conflicts in college.  We talked about working on group projects in schools and the idea of creating team charters (I channeled the Stone Monkeys, of course- gotta give a shout out to the greatest school project group EVER!), and issues that could arise between roommates.  Overall, it went well.  After the first session, I realized that my 2nd and 3rd activities did not flow very well.  I figured out that they weren’t really meshing well with each other, and my use of the 4 I’s (J. Vella) wasn’t quite right.  I adjusted for the next group, and found that it flowed much better.  Essentially, I had tried to introduce some “technical” information, then asked them to consider some scenarios, but those 2 activities had very little in common and the segue was poor.  I changed the first activity to draw in some of their own experiences, and after that, the scenarios went much better.  Slowly, I am getting better at this!

This Saturday, I am observing a workshop for youth that the Richmond Peace Education Center is hostng.  Next week, I have another workshop for staff at a local retirement/senior living facility.  It will be my last one before my project is due, although I have another on May 6th.  I still have a lot of writing to do, but am feeling confident about the end result.  As an added bonus, my internship boss told me today that he will consider me his ‘official’ conflict resolution consultant from now on, meaning that post-graduation, I will still get to run workshops!  That’s great news and very flattering.  I will give my boss credit (albeit anonymously) for being very supportive of me during this learning process.

Lastly, I want to say (in case any of you read this) that I got to stop by the Change Strategies class last week, and it was SO nice to see my old classmates!  I miss you guys!  If I can make a pitch, I have to say that the Adult Learning program at VCU is one of the most nurturing and supportive environments I have ever been a part of.  I was glad to have a few minutes to chat with everyone.

Stay tuned as I finish up this project and try not to have a mental breakdown doing it…. 8 days till it’s due…!!!

Whoops… has it really been a month?

Wow, my last post was March 6th!  I had no idea it had been quite this long since I last updated this blog.  That’s a bit disheartening, because I thought the blog was the one area where I was actually on schedule. Well, I will make up for it over the next 2 weeks as I finish up this project by its May 1st due date.

So then, I have lots to update you on.  Let’s see… I conducted my first workshop on March 17 for a group attending a leadership institute through my internship organization.  It was a small group- about 12 people- which was the perfect intimate setting for my first go at it.  My presentation focused on identifying one’s conflict styles and tendencies, and I used a conflict styles inventory to help do that.  We also discussed conflict as a healthy occurence, our “conflict cultures” in our organizations, and how, as leaders, we can best manage conflicts in our offices.  We wrapped up with some role plays where participants acted out a conflict that they had encountered that didn’t go well- they acted it out as it actually occurred, then acted it out again to show how they might have done it differently.

Overall, it went fairly well. From a presentation standpoint, I felt relaxed, calm and prepared.  I had slightly more information than I had time for, but we adjusted.  Feedback from the clients showed that they enjoyed the open, informal, non-powerpoint focused format (hooray for Adult learning principles at play!).  One person told me I talked fast but that I slowed down after a few minutes– a habit I am very aware of, so I am glad he mentioned it, AND that my efforts to control it are noticeable.

What wasn’t I pleased with?  Well, I address this in my paper big time, but I really wasn’t pleased with the content of the workshop!  Why?  Because I’ve discovered that in most of my workshops, I am being provided with “clients” through my internship, and while my boss contacts them, it is not appropriate for me to contact them in advance to find out what they might like me to cover.  ( I am supposed to be an outside consultant who would not normally have access to the clients prior to a program).  I am totally getting what all of the textbooks say about needing to know what your goals and objectives are BEFORE planning a program.  I may have disliked that part of the program planning task while in classes, but now that I’m really planning programs, I find myself very frustrated when I set out to outline a presentation without knowing what the heck these people already know/feel/believe about conflict!  I am particularly challenged when working with higher level executives, because I want my information and activities to really be useful and insightful, so it would be very helpful to see how they assess themselves on being familiar and comfortable with conflict and conflict management.

As it was, I felt like my content was not quite advanced enough for the group, and I also felt like they might appreciate something more ‘tangible’, in the sense that I left them with a tool to take back with them.  I’m currently planning my next session and I have already made adjustments to provide some sort of behavioral tool participants can use.  I’m trying to make sure there’s some transferrng of learning here people!

All of this ranting brings me to my next update.  My Conflict Survey somehow managed to receive over 500 responses!  That’s incredible, since I only sent it to about 100 people!  If you completed it, thank you very much.  I have to say that I’m not sure it’s what my advisors are going to want to see (we’ll see tomorrow- I have a meeting with one advisor then!), but at the same time, it has provided some really interesting insight as to what many people believe about conflict.  And those beliefs can help me decide on some activities and topics for workshops that will make sense, at least thematically.  I realize it isn’t as good or useful as assessing your actual participant group, but without access to those groups, this is the best idea I had.  Even if it’s not acceptable for my project, it is still quite revealing and interesting.  Once the project is done, I’ll try to post the results here.

One last learning that I’m uncovering along the way…. I have loved the idea of being a consultant/trainer for the last couple years now.  However, after seeing how difficult it is to plan for strangers, I am slowly embracing the idea of internal consulting.  It seems like a much more natural process to plan for people you know, or at least for a culture that you know.  It doesn’t seem as presumptuous as what I’m doing now- guessing at what might make a good workshop!  Ack!  Caffarella would roll over in her grave, but I believe she’s alive and well.  I can definitely tell how much of an impact my coursework has had on me- I find it very unpleasant myself and keep telling my (business school) co-workers that it just isn’t right to do it this way! 

That’s the running joke, by the way.  My boss always jokes that, “This is the BUSINESS school, Carmen.”  This usually implies that my thinking is too “fluffy” or doesn’t generate enough income. I’ve taken to responding, “Well, I’M from the School of Education.”  (ok, technically the department of Interdisciplinary Studies, but that is much harder to say!)

It’s very late, and I still want to generate a list of questions for my meeting tomorrow, so I’ll sign off for now, but will be back much sooner with another update…  Have good days, everyone.

Major Progress at last!

In my last post, I put in writing that I was determined to make some progress on my final project this week.  Happily, progress has been made!  I still have a lot to work on, but here’s what’s happened:

1:  I finally finished my needs assessment, had it reviewed and am sending it out shortly.  You know, in all of my Adult Learner courses, we always talked about how important it is to know what the learner wants to gain from your efforts.  In my situation here, I’m faciitating some workshops soon where I won’t have the chance to assess my learners first.  I don’t know what their goals are or what they do or don’t know about conflict.  That’s tricky.  In fact, it’s MUCH harder than you’d think.  I am grateful for my professors drilling into my head the importance of needs assessments, because when I tried to plan without one, I really felt like I was drifting around without a clue as to what these people might want to discover about conflict.  Now, even though my exact learners are not completing the assessment in some cases, I hope to have enough feedback to tell me where many people stand in regards to conflict.  And, it’s a brief assessment, so in flexible presentations I can even use it at the beginning to engage in some learner-directed conversations.

Next, I finished several more books, including a great little book called “The Coward’s Guide to Conflict” by Tim Ursiny.  This is not a particularly scholarly book, and really I thought it seemed a little cheesy, but I was pleased as punch to find it, yes, an easy read, but surprisingly CHOCK full of information, questions to ask, skills to learn and teach, and much more.  If you are a bit afraid of dealing with conflict, you might check it out.  Plus, the best part of conflict resolution books is that they are loaded with these great anecdotes that many of us can relate to.  So it really was quite a helpful book both personally and for my workshop planning.

I also read a book on Extreme Facilitation (by Suzanne Ghais) that refreshed my memory on some of my previous coursework (program planning, consulting skills) as well as offered good insights for dealing with particularly sticky conflicts and being able to ‘beat the heat’ of the conflict.  Two very good reads this week!

Most excitingly, my supervisor has assigned me to 3 different workshops in the next month where I’ll be able to present my Conflict workshop.  Each opportunity is different in terms of size, length of the workshop, audience, and more, so I’ll be tweaking each one to provide the right content, activities and skills.  For 2 of the events, I’ll be working with someone else with more experience, but have been co-creating the plan for the event.  This has led to some great idea-sharing and mentoring that has helped immensely as I try to figure out if my ideas will work.  Always nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of, right? 

Even though I wasn’t done planning the workshop, having the deadlines has made it much easier to move forward and I’ve gotten almost all of the program design laid out and have found many new activities to try.  I still have a lot to do, but finally feel like I got passed the mental block (writer’s block?) I had hit.  Hooray for that.  In 2 posts or so from now, I should be able to give an update on the 1st of my 3 engagements…

Chugging along…

This week, I am continuing to read some of the books I chose for this project.  Over the weekend I read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,  by Patrick Lencioni which is a quick read and a great story. It illustrates the challenges of being a leader (or facilitator) of a struggling team very accurately.  I’d be surprised if there’s anyone who could read it without finding parallels between the story and one’s own team experiences.   To go along with it, I got the facilitator’s guide to the book, which I’ve thumbed through in hopes of using some of the models and activities for my conflict workshop.   I’ve also started Building Conflict Competent Teams by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan.  I still have several books to go.   I’m starting to hear some repeat info and I’m not sure I’ll need to read all of these books in their entirety, but honestly I really enjoy reading about this stuff!

I also must say that one of the most useful resources I’ve found is a blog by Tammy Lenski called “Conflict Zen”.  Lenski is currently blogging about the 7 habits of reaching your ‘conflict zen’ and her habits are very practical and easy to understand.  I highly recommend her.  I particularly enjoyed/learned from her post on kicking the criticism habit.  While offering constructive criticism can be…constructive, we also often get into the habit of offering criticism without good cause.  She points out how destructive this can be and often harms or ends relationships.  It’s a good series.  Check it out:  www.conflictzen.com.

Aside from reading, I’ve started to get my ducks in a row for my workshop.  I have to admit this is much harder than I thought.  I had a very linear way of thinking about this project, but I’m finding it hard to work in a linear fashion.  My intention was to review some theories and develop a basis for my workshop, then design the instructional strategies, then put together the “package” that is my product.  Instead, I am working on the final presentations first, after going around in circles with the other 2 items.  I will work on theories later.  I never liked theory much. 

The good news is that my boss at my internship has given me the go-ahead to present the workshop in late March and April, so I now have 2 engagements on the books!  I think the deadlines will help me make some decisions and move forward! I’ve begun my powerpoint (short and sweet!) and have started pouring over initiatives and activities to make the workshop engaging.  I haven’t found one that I love yet, but there is no shortage of options so I will keep looking.  By my next post, I hope to have completed some major steps.  There- I put it in writing, so there’s no going back now…

My thoughts on the readings so far…

First, I want to thank Erica for kindly responding to my last post. Apparently the little red spots on my cluster map are those of non-repeat visitors, sadly, because Erica was the only one who offered her 2 cents on my Conflict Resolution question: what would you want to know about conflict if you were attending a workshop? Luckily, it isn’t too late. So if you have stumbled across this blog accidently, never to return again, I hope you’ll still take a couple seconds to leave me a comment about this.

For this week, I wanted to offer some musings on my readings for this semester. I am really excited about the books I have lined up to read. I just really enjoy them. They are insightful and very applicable. I have started with one that my boss at my internship suggested: So Smart, But…  by Allen N. Weiner.  Weiner is a corporate trainer who writes anecdotally about communication gaffs that he encounters with his clients.  The chapters talk about folks who are “so smart but: don’t get it, lacks energy and passion, can’t tailor the message to the audience and so on.  He argues that to be credible, one must be competent, composed, have character, be sociable and extroverted and caring (Weiner, 2007) and offers his advice on how to deliver a message that shows you are credible and overcomes the “buts”. 

Before I started reading, I presumed that my boss gave me this book to read in order to plan better for my clients in terms of THEIR needs.  I now realize he’s given me some excellent information on how I can be successful in delivering a credible message in the workshop I am creating.  I think that I do some of Weiner’s tips already.  I think I am good at getting a feel for what an audience wants or needs to hear me say.  I think I am receptive.  I tend to notice if people are not “getting it” and I need to explain something differently.  I think I make points in an organized fashion and try to use breadth, depth, height and sight when promoting an argument. 

Where I think the book will be most helpful for me is the “but” that reads “So Smart, but Lacks an Executive Presence”.  I have mentioned before that I am a bit anxious about my lack of experience and my desire to get out there and do stuff!  Well, this is the semester of DOING, so I get my chance.  Whatever the book can tell me about appearing the part and mustering up the confidence to work with high level execs and the like, I will read it with open ears and mind.  I’m not at that chapter yet, but will keep you posted.

In the meantime, if you are someone who frequently makes presentations, or if your superiors sometimes suggest that you are lacking something in your communication style, I would recommend the book.  It’s an easy, entertaining yet very helpful book. 

In other news,  I have officially taken on a separate “pro-bono” facilitation job with the client I worked with last semester in my Consulting Skills class.  I will be facilitating a meeting with a QI group that is trying to re-define itself.  I am very excited as it looks like I will get a chance to use some Future Search and Appreciative Inquiry strategies from last spring.  I’ll update on that in the coming weeks as well.  Wish me luck!