160. Addressing needs and wants of workshop participants

Mega Bank Butwal

Do you know what the participants need and what they want? And do you cater to their needs and wants? Or, do you stick to your workshop beliefs, that you are there for their needs, not for their wants.

On October 14 2017, I had an opportunity to conduct a workshop in Butwal city for the 30 operation heads of Mega Bank branches. They had asked a day-long session on ways to improve their organizational communication so that they can be more productive at workplace.

For the next eight hours, we had discussions, activities, tea-breaks, individual and group works, lectures, videos, lunch break, presentations, and reflections. And, the written feedback.

A few minutes after the session ended, a participant came up to me, shook my hand and said, “I have fallen asleep in every other trainings, but today I could not. Thank you for this amazing session.”

And right after him, another one came up and said, “It was a good session but you should also provide handouts and materials.”

And a little later, as I flipped through the feedback forms, one particular comment made me really confused and amused at the same time. “Worst presentation ever. There was nothing to note down from the slides.”

I have come across all sorts of workshop participants with different needs, wants, and agendas. Some come in with positive mindset, some with negative, and some with personal issues. Some want to participate, some want to be not seen, some want to confront. All these add variation in the workshop. Motivation and challenge as well.

And, they’ve given all sorts of feedback too. Usually, we at the Empowerment Academy end our sessions with a “321 Reflection”. The participants write and share three things they remember from the session, two things they would want to share with their friends, and one thing they would implement right away. Sometimes, we also ask them to fill out a generic feedback form for workshops commissioned by their organization.

[The credit for 321 Reflection goes to the amazing Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa.]

And in all these years of facilitating workshops, I’ve never seen a comment so intriguing in a WTF way. “Worst presentation ever. There was nothing to note down from the slides.”

Anyways, three general observations that I would like to share:

a. Workshop participants love collecting handouts and lesson materials. I think they would like to have some sort of reference material for the future.

b. They would love to get the presentation files too. In reality, our slides rarely have any bullets points because we use them not as the main content but simply as aid. We still share/email them the pdf version of the slides.

c. A few participants love writing down notes and reflections on their own. But they would want to copy from the slides. Most of them like taking pictures of the slides with their cell phones.

And here I am in a perfect dilemma: should I cater to the needs and wants of the participants, or should I stick to my workshop beliefs. One of such beliefs is participants need to write to remember, and remember to write (Hello, John Medina.) I believe when you give photocopies of the slides and worksheets, participants tend to get rather lazy.

If you are a workshop facilitator or a teacher-trainer, please share your observations about the participants. And, what you generally do about their needs and wants.

 

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155. Unlearning to be a better learner

unlearn-butwal

So this participant, who has been teaching for over 25 years, walked out of the workshop when we were talking about assumptions, beliefs, and practices of teachers which they might need to unlearn.

A few weeks ago, we were in the beautiful city of Butwal to conduct a workshop titled “Unlearning Teaching”. Forty teachers from various colleges had showed up and they were sitting in several small groups of four or five.

After the opening session, we were discussing on the challenges of the 21st century teacher, especially because of large classroom sizes and students with different learning preferences, mindsets, backgrounds, motivations, etc.

“Is there any difference between teaching and facilitation?” I posed this open-ended question to the participants and asked them to come up with their analysis. Each group of teachers dove into discussion and wrote down their opinions. I then asked a participant from each table to share their beliefs to everyone.

The participants then took a small quiz on the differences between traditional teaching (lecture) and facilitation. After another round of healthy discussion, the participants eventually came to a consensus that for our teaching to be effective and meaningful, we need to grow our traditional role of a teacher into a more challenging role of a facilitator. A teacher teaches content, while a facilitator lets students co-create knowledge through interaction. Similarly, teaching means having a teacher-centric approach, while facilitation means having students-focused approach. Understanding these, the participants expressed, also helps teachers better manage the classroom dynamics.

“I want to share my experience on this one,” so this participant stood up. Excited to hear his perspective, I gave him the mic. “For these 25 years, I have used one technique to control the classroom. I use my eye-contact. It doesn’t matter if there are 40 students or 100 students, when I look into their eyes, they keep quiet and never dare to make noise.”

As a workshop facilitator, I usually expect different perspectives, sometimes dissenting ones too. People have strongly held beliefs and our job as facilitators is to simply stir their assumptions. So, while he stated his assertion, I kept actively listening to him.

“If a teacher cannot establish his authority, the students will dance on his head,” he added. “Even my colleagues invite me into their class if they can’t handle the students. When I take their classes, no one dares to give me any trouble.”

The room got silent and I could feel dozens of awkward eyes staring at me. I was caught in a dilemma: should I let the discussion get more intense or, should I acknowledge his views and move on to another agenda? My mind was scrambling for a way out.

“Thank you, sir for being honest and sharing your approach and…” I couldn’t even complete what I was going to say when another participant stood up. “I also want to add something.”

After conducting more than fifty workshop sessions in 2016 alone, I have come to realize that resistance in the participants is normal. And they display their resistance in different forms. Some don’t participate at all. Some look angry. Some get busy with their cell phones. Some seem to be asking question every 60 seconds. Some keep visiting the restroom every 10 minutes. All of these look normal when compared to an aggressive participant who likes to hijack the session. Even worse, when that participant influences others.

So when the other participant asked me for the mic, I could hear my heart screaming in panic. I thought the session was going to derail, and I was going to get grilled real bad. I straddled towards his table and handed over the mic to him.

“I completely disagree with your sir,” directing his gaze towards the previous participant. He spoke with defiance, “You are not controlling the students with your eye-contact, you are terrorizing them.”

I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized I had assumed wrong. “Fear might be a good solution, but it is a temporary one,” he added. “Your students remained silent not because they were learning, but because they were afraid.”

A gentle round of applause followed. Then another participant rose up and said, “What if we start blending the two approaches? From the way I see, sometimes we need to control the class, and sometimes simply facilitate it.” A couple more shared their views along the similar line.

“Great,” I thought. “Now the participants are ready to open up and discuss, debate, share their views.” But before I knew it, the experienced teacher got up from his chair and quietly walked out of the hall.

I had never felt thrilled and dreadful at the same. Thrilled because the participants were willing to reflect and analyze their teaching assumptions. Dreadful because that the one who walked out must have felt challenged, or even embarrassed – and worse, I couldn’t even have a word with him.

Hours after the workshop, the incident kept piercing my mind. It made me question my own beliefs about adult learners. Once my mentor had told me that adults are like babies, only in bigger bodies and bigger egos. Ideally, once we gain their trust, they open up and actively participate. Then they drive the sessions with their enthusiasm and cooperation. But the reality is usually complex and challenging. And that means, we – both facilitators and participants – must keep unlearning our assumptions, and keep relearning how we can learn effectively from each other.

 

150. Hiding the Gold Coins

Hiding the Gold Coins: A Reflection on Writing Workshop by Hem Raj Kafle
(The workshop happened on Aug, 2014 at King’s College, Kathmandu)

Hem Raj Kafle

He is tall. Very tall compared to my height. He looks into the world through a pair of slightly shaded glasses. Those glasses probably let him filter all the negativity around him and help him see a vision – a vision of a teacher, a writer, and a mentor. He speaks gently and seldom smiles. He stands in the middle of the class, and with his words paints an exciting picture of characters, themes and conflicts; and walks us through the colorful fields full of metaphors, similes and hyperboles.

He is one of those rare teachers who writes a lot. His blog is a testimony of his prolific writing habit. Even his facebook statuses, usually very short poems, reflect his creativity. And I wonder. May be creativity is a verb, not a noun. One has to constantly work at it. It’s just my perception. His creativity could be as natural as breathing.

I had met him back in 2012. He taught me Fiction in my M.Ed. ELT first semester and since then I have had a renewed interest in reading, interpreting, and analyzing literature. I started becoming passionate but critical of the texts I came across. In addition to that, he inspired me to write down my own fiction works.

Naturally, I was pretty excited about the workshop. I had always wanted to be in his classes one more time and the workshop was it. Even though the focus of the workshop was “Academic Writing”, I knew he would have his own twist on it, with a few pinch of strange concepts sprinkled around here and there.

So he started the workshop by asserting that writing is not an isolated activity, but it is an activity integrated with reading, listening and speaking. “The key word is perform. Writing is a performance, it is an action of hands as well as an action of minds,” he added. And most importantly, he continued, “Performance doesn’t mean a writer’s activity alone… it is about a reader’s action also”. This made so much sense that it immediately struck a chord with me. A writer has to let readers perform too. Otherwise, what’s the point in writing at the first place? An effective writer thus leaves enough clues here and there in the text for the readers to come up with their own knowledge.

Writing is a performance because the writer has to make sure that his/her ‘authorial presence’ and credibility are visible in every word and every sentence of the text. Moreover, a writer has to make sure there are both implicit and explicit moments of communication with the reader. He/she has to constantly facilitate the reader towards understanding and creating new perceptions. Similarly, a writer has to represent his/her community and contribute towards adding new knowledge and scholarship. Therefore, writing is not merely scribbling texts on a sheet of paper, it is a performance that involves both the writer and the reader.

Next, he talked about some of the common attributes every writer exhibit in some ways. For instance, the ‘writer’s block’ which he also labeled as the ‘blinking cursor syndrome’ for those who keep staring at the computer screen searching for words to start with. Similarly, every writer has the irresistible urge to tell the background or the whole story. Next, most of the writers can’t decide on the choice of diction – whether to use big or small stock of words, or on the choice of sentence – short sentences or longer sentences.

Coming to the main focus of the workshop, he talked about the process of creating an argument in academic writing and substantiating one’s stance. He gave an instance of Stephen Toulmin’s elements of a proper argument: claim, ground, warrant, backing, rebuttal, qualifier and final claim. A good paragraph is a combination of all or some of the above elements. The concept of ‘rebuttal’ was quite interesting. Apparently, acknowledging opposing views and giving them a small space in one’s argument adds more strength to one’s argument.

At the end, he gave us eleven tips on how to improve one’s writing. I am reflecting on these points from my perspective.

  1. Write aloud.
    It helps shape the quality of writing.
  2. Speak – record – transcribe – Edit
    This is very useful when one is facing the imminent ‘writer’s block’.
  3. Toulmin uncle really works!
  4. Three is enough.
    Three examples, three explanations, three stories.
  5. Keep the big below you.
    This is quite interesting. Start a paragraph with your own sentence and end it with your own. Keep the citations and ‘big’ personalities underneath your first statement. Don’t ever start your paragraph with a citation because this just weakens your stance.
  6. Kill the subordinates.
    If your main info goes to the subordinate clause, rewrite the sentence. Bring your info to the front.
  7. Passive is lousy.
    I also hate sentences in passive voice. I always try to write everything in active voice.
  8. Let the verb stand high.
    Let the verb ‘speak’, rather than ‘be’.
  9. Do not repeat a word if there’s a replacement.
  10. Hear me between the lines
    Make your presence felt. Don’t let the reader forget about the writer.
  11. Dump me if I let you go!
    Challenge: I will not bore my reader. I will not break my reader’s heart, effort, money, etc.

After attending this workshop, I now feel the urge to go back to all my writings and scrutinize them strand by strand – to find my ‘authorial presence’ in them. I had never thought about this aspect of writing – that the author has to be present in the text. Similarly, I am going to try speak-record-transcribe method whenever I feel stuck in the rot. I will also make sure none of my paragraphs start with a citation but with my own sentence. In addition, I will use these techniques in presentations and in writing scripts for speaking as well.

Writing has always been an elusive grape for me. I feel like I am always getting ‘there’ but never near enough. I always go back to my texts, interact with them and revise them. That singer from Rolling Stones is probably right. I can’t get no satisfaction out of my writing. But just like Hem sir once said during his class, “A text is always in the making”. May be it’s not about getting ‘there’ and being satisfied after all. Writing is a process… a continuum… a journey. And our job as a writer is just to enjoy the ride.

(Written on November, 2014)

149. 10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Workshop Experience Productive

ppt

[Published on The Kathmandu Post, April 3 2017]

“You are just passively sitting in a group and not contributing anything at all.” I whispered to a participant during a recent workshop we had conducted. She hesitated a bit and gave me an awkward smile. During the break, she came up to me and said, “Actually, I didn’t know much about this workshop. My friend dragged me here with her. So I was a little lost during the activities.”

Initially, I had assumed that she was just trying to give me an excuse. But clearly, she didn’t know why she was there. Her confession made me think deeper on why participants act the way they act during workshops. And how, not only the trainer but also the participants should take responsibility for the effectiveness of the session.

As a teacher and teacher-trainer, I believe that a workshop is productive only when participants are ready to explore and co-create knowledge by getting physically, mentally, and emotionally involved in various activities. The trainer’s role is to deliver the content and facilitate the learning but in an effective workshop, participants must also take active roles to learn by doing and reflecting on their learning. As much as the participants want the trainer to be prepared, the trainer also dreams of having participants who are ready to participate and learn.

So, next time when you think about participating in a workshop, keep these ten things in your mind so that you can make your workshop experience worthwhile:

  1. Understand your real reasons for joining the workshop and check if they align with the workshop objectives (besides the price, timing, and location). You may have wanted to, for instance, improve your fiction writing skills, but the workshop might be about technical writing. Sometimes, you may simply be curious and want to learn new stuffs. No harm in that but you may not apply the learnings when there’s a mismatch of the goals.
  1. Understand the modality of the workshop. Ask for the format, duration, and delivery style. Most of the time, workshops turn out to be long lecture sessions that put the participants into coma. You may have different expectations. And when your expectations don’t match with the workshop, your motivation (and consequently, overall learning) might slump down to zero.
  1. If you have signed up for a workshop, try to get in touch with other participants. This is easy these days because most of the workshops are promoted through Facebook where you can see who else have clicked ‘Going’. Also, try to get in touch with the facilitator and ask your queries and confusions.

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