Ups and downs: A week in the writerly life

Greetings, my writerly peeps!

It’s been a weird and wonderful week for me.

First, I headed down to Mississauga (second of three trips for the day-job this month) on Monday. Since I had full travel days (Monday and Thursday) this week, I was able to travel in a more leisurely fashion.

My mission: to co-facilitate the Business Writing Made Easy course (my seventh time with that particular curriculum) with one of my colleagues.

Monday afternoon was spent preparing the room and testing our technology. There were a few tense moments. There was a TV in the room, and we attempted to hook it up as the monitor for the lap top so we could use it to show the slides for the course. It didn’t work.

So we brought the good old SMART Board into the room, and while not able to achieve full connectivity (some of the cables were missing) we were able to use it as a basic projection screen. Good enough.

My colleague was preparing for her own trainer certification. At this time, our employer’s internal college is getting out of the certification biz, however, and so she had to record a full day’s training, edit it down to four hours, and demonstrate the eighteen trainer competencies.

This would mean that I couldn’t be in the classroom, though, because to have a co-facilitator in the room would have invalidated her certification.

So what would I do? Due to another colleague’s absence, I was able to set up at her workstation, but there wouldn’t be a lot of work I could do.

The day ended, and I had to leave ends a little loose for the time being.

That evening, I tried to connect to the interwebz through my hotel’s wi-fi. It wouldn’t even let me have multiple windows open (that’s how I manage my SoMe). So that meant dependence on my smart(er than me) phone for SoMe for the week and actual productive writing time.

This was a boon in disguise. I quickly accepted it for the gift it was.

That night, I realized that my colleague and I would be co-facilitating Business Writing Made Easy again at the end of this month (my third trip of three) and that she could record her session again there. In the morning, I proposed that I observe her and give her some tips for the end of the month, then jump in on day two.

This was an agreeable plan and so we proceeded.

There was a little panic (actually ongoing) because we were uncertain whether the course at month’s end would be approved.

The video tapes (yes, it was an old camcorder) ran out before half the day’s training was finished. We weren’t sure if my colleague would have enough footage to even make up the four hours she would need to submit.

Regardless, that night we went out to celebrate and enjoyed Korean BBQ, a first for both of us. You cook your own food, right at the table, and it’s a la carte, so you just keep ordering as long as you’re hungry. It was very tasty.

The next day, a snow storm blew in. The course finished well—the grammar module is my favourite—and my colleague had figured out how to transfer her video to digital so she could edit. So she had a possibility of moving forward with her certification video even if it turned out we couldn’t co-facilitate again.

I had a quiet night, writing away, and finished editing my NaNoWriMo novel. I just have to fill the ending out a little more now. We have denoue- but need a little more -ment.

The drive home on Thursday was terrible, largely because of the previous day’s snow storm.

It took me an hour and a half to travel a distance I normally would in about fifteen minutes, even with traffic. Then I got off the highway and travelled a little more indirectly to bypass the closed lane I assumed was the reason we couldn’t travel more than 10 km/h.

Once past that bit, I was fine, but I didn’t get back into Sudbury until about 3:30 pm.

When I got home, I noticed I had received a lovely email from R. Leigh Hennig of Bastion Science Fiction Magazine. They would like one of my stories for an issue later this year. W00t!

I have to back track just a bit. I submitted my story on March 1st. There was originally a deadline of February 28, but when I went to check on the web site, I noticed the date had been removed and that Bastion was now accepting submissions on a rotating basis, with issues filling up fast.

I decided to take the extra day to polish, and I’m glad I did.

When I was in Mississauga the week before last (first trip of three), I received an email that my submission would be brought forward for discussion with the editorial team. I was cautiously optimistic. Hell, I was all alone in my hotel room doing the happy dance.

And yes, I was dancing again on Thursday night, to Phil’s delight, when I received the second email confirming Bastion’s interest.

In fact, while I’m not one to too my own horn (it makes me distinctly uncomfortable), I have to share the following: “After some careful deliberation on this piece with the rest of the staff, we’ve decided that it would be a crime not to publish this.”

Oh. My. God.

Mellie was a wiggle-puppy.

Please donate (find the link on their About page) to support this wonderful new magazine.

 

It was back to work on Friday, and I forgot my phone, which meant no keeping up with email or SoMe or my reading during the day.

Then it was over to my friend Kim’s for home-made chilli and much writerly talk with Kim and a new (to me) friend, Violet. There was wine. I had to drink tea to sober up before the drive home and I ended up getting home after 11 pm when I finally caught up on email and SoMe.

Connecting to like-minded, creative souls is an important part of a writer’s life. It was wonderful, even if I didn’t get to write.

Saturday morning was cranberry bread French toast with Mom, a quick clean up of the house, and then an afternoon of shopping while Nuala went for her spa day (grooming) at Petsmart. After ordering out pizza for supper, I hosted a couple of friends from out of town.

It was another night of great conversation, though accompanied by coffee and oatmeal cookies instead of wine.

Unfortunately, that meant I was unable to meet a writing deadline. I was hoping to submit to the Northwestern Ontario Writers’ Workshop (NOWW) because the judge for the speculative fiction category is none other than Robert J. Sawyer. I would have loved to get something in front of his wise eyes.

I wouldn’t have given up my time with my friends for anything though. So, I’ll have to look for other opportunities.

So it’s been a week of ups and downs, but more ups than downs. It’s been a good week. And now I’m looking forward to a week off so I can recuperate and prepare for my next business trip.

How about you? How has your week played out? Let me know in the comments below.

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Constructive Written Feedback: Mission Impossible?

So, I’ve been writing this course for about the past month. All of our feedback training, in house, consists of how to give verbal feedback, in person. In our virtual workplace, where much of our feedback takes place over email or through instant messaging, a new approach was recommended.

The hope is that my course will be seen as suitable for modification and use by other business lines, and for other positions (consultants, team leaders, managers). Yes, my manager has vision 🙂

Special funding was obtained to create and pilot this course, and a second one defining our monitoring process and how it’s changed with the advent of performance management, which two of my colleagues undertook.

Last week, I had the opportunity to stand and deliver.

The target for the course was my colleagues, so facilitating held a special trepidation for me this time around. Plus, my manager was sitting in. No pressure. None at all 😉

The session started out with an introduction by my manager, who also presented me with my long-awaited trainer certification.

You may remember that I achieved my trainer certification last March. The actual, suitable-for-framing certificate was almost a year in the coming. I have it now, though. I’ll take a picture and share once I’ve had the dear thing framed.

I’m a bit of an accomplishment junkie. I frame every certificate of completion, award, or acknowledgement of completion I get. The wall at work is getting a little crowded. Like my C.V. on this site, my certificates are a concrete reminder of what I’ve done.

My manager also advised the team that we had been nominated for a service excellence award for our collective work on the recent new hire training. We’ll see what comes of that.

The course itself was designed in a participant-centered format with lots of activities.

I also tortured them with a pre-course activity, asking them to write four different types of written feedback specific to our positions.

Here’s the outline:

  • What do we already know about feedback (brainstorm)? Is this knowledge applicable to constructive written feedback?
  • Objective and agenda.
  • Administrivia.
  • Icebreaker (two truths and a lie). Rhetoric, a skill we don’t know we use every day. How to tailor our message to our reader.
  • The four kinds of feedback (demonstration).
  • The challenges of giving and receiving feedback (marketplace).
difficulties of feedback

The results of the challenges of giving and receiving feedback activity.

  • How perception affects our feedback.
  • The three principles of constructive written feedback (discovery).
3 principles discovery

The results of the three priciples of constructive written feedback discovery activity.

  • Recurring issues and a five-step strategy to address them.
  • Practice in making our messages clear, concise, and readable (large group, cooperative).
  • Critique of the (anonymous) pre-course assignments and presentation of highlights (small group).
  • Sharing of best practices.
  • Review of objective.
  • Knowledge transfer – participants made a promise to themselves in the form of tasks allowing 28 days of practice to create new habits with respect to constructive written feedback.

The best part of the facilitation was eliciting the fabulous and valuable group discussions we had. My questioning techniques were certainly given a workout.

I had handouts, a PowerPoint presentation, a poster, and a facilitators’ guide, but conspicuously, no participant guide. All of the learning content arose from the class and a several points, participants were asked to capture the information generated from various activities and report back to the class.

My colleagues’ presentation on Monitoring: Beyond the Basics was informative. At our level, we haven’t had much in the way of structure or procedure. Many of us started the job by being thrown into the deep end and learning by doing.

Yes, there is a course intended to introduce us to our job duties, but that is general in nature and geared to our position across business lines and departments. Our new procedures, flow-charts, and reports will give us that much-needed job-specific structure, moving forward.

We might even be delivering the written feedback and monitoring courses to all new and acting advisors in the future, in-person or virtually.

Who knows what will result from this past month’s work? One thing for sure is this: I’ll let you know.

Stay tuned.

This is the learning mutt, signing off for today.

Introduction to Participant-Centered Training Delivery

Or, how I spent last week 🙂

Nothing is more fun than three ring binders.

Nothing is more fun than three ring binders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So last week I was down in Toronto, the Big Smoke, Hogtown (never figured out why they call it that—oh, my friends Google and Wikipedia have discovered the answer: livestock processing was a big part of Toronto at one time) co-facilitating the Introduction to Participant-Centered Training Delivery (IPCTD) course.

Ostensibly, this is part of my attempt to become certified as a trainer through my employer.  The co-facilitation of this course was listed as a recommendation to anyone going through the process.  I didn’t think I would have this opportunity, having been told in the fall that the delivery of this and all other certification courses was being outsourced.

When the opportunity arose, I could not pass it up.

My co-facilitator and mentor for this part of the journey had just been certified in November herself and part of the purpose of our training together was so that she could give me a few pointers, watch out for those unconscious bad habits of the past.

I’ve blogged about Participant-Centered Training (PCT) before, but just to recap for those of you not interested in reading the whole post:

[In PCT, t]he trainer is merely present to elicit the desired knowledge from the learners, to encourage the appropriate behaviours, and to facilitate the process of discovery that will lead the learners to exhibit the desired performance in the workplace.  It’s no longer about [the trainer] having all the answers, but about being able to help the learners, now active participants in their own learning, find the answers for themselves.

The tag line is: Instead of the “sage on the stage,” be the “guide on the side.”

The course is two and a half days long and includes a practical demonstration by the participants, of the techniques they’ve learned.

Prior to the course, I met virtually with my co-facilitator a couple of times.  We divided up the material so that neither one of us would be leading the class for very long.  I read through the material to refresh my memory (when I took the course as a participant, it was 2009 and the course had subsequently been revised) and made copious notes.  I also brought a second copy of all the manuals, flipcharts, and PowerPoint presentations on a USB.

I travelled down on Tuesday morning and helped my co-facilitator set up the room.  That’s one thing to keep in mind with PCT: it may demand less of the facilitators in the classroom, but it requires much more preparation.  There are usually tonnes (I’m Canadian, eh?) of flip charts, visuals, learning aids, and activities to be set up in order for the session to go as planned.

The facilitators’ manual is critical as it lists times and required elements for each section of the course.  Most PCT courses are crammed full of information, the enrichment materials marked as “optional.”  Most of the time, there is no time to address much of the “optional” material, but every attempt is made to at least refer to it and ensure that the participants have access to those additional references and resources.

The course

The course was designed with a nautical theme and contained four sections: Opening and introduction; Methodologies and techniques; Communication, group building, group management techniques, and co-facilitation skills, with the practical component thrown in for good measure; and the Course closing.

The pre-course materials and assignments were to have been printed out, reviewed, completed, and brought with the participants.

The course opening includes an activity first thing to immediately engage the participants in the topic, review of some of the pre-course materials, expectations, comfort rating, course objective, agenda, participant introductions, and an introduction to PCT.

A note on objectives: prior to getting into PCT myself, I didn’t know the criteria for a good course objective.  A course objective should include performance, process, and standard or method of evaluation.

Examples: By the end of this course, you will be able to build a bird house using the bird house building instructions so that the result will meet the criteria described in the bird house schematic.

Or: By the end of this course, you will learn how to process an application, using the application policy, such that you will be able to achieve our 80% quality assurance goal on the simulation test.

Or: By the end of this course, you will be able to use Microsoft Word, in accordance with the Microsoft Word for Dummies Tip Sheet, so that you will be able to create documents for your employer more efficiently and confidently.

And yes, the standard or method of evaluation can be the participant’s own comfort level.

The methodologies and techniques section deals with the different PCT methods of delivery and the specific techniques, or activities that can be used to effectively engage participants.

The next section is the big one.  Communication skills, group building, group management, and co-facilitation are all covered, and then the participants are divided into groups, assigned a topic, and given an hour and a half to work on a 20 minute presentation in which they will demonstrate the skills, methods, and techniques they have learned.

The closing section revisits much of the material presented in the opening to answer the following questions:  Did we meet the course objective and participant expectations?  Do the participants feel they have learned valuable tools that they will take back to their jobs?  Review and transfer strategies are also incorporated.

Throughout the course, the co-facilitators are actively demonstrating all of the skills that we teach.  That’s another difficult aspect of adopting PCT: developing your awareness.  Though PCT takes the pressure off the facilitators to be the “talking head” or subject-matter expert, they have to be aware of everything that’s happening in the class: the participants’ attitudes, changing levels of engagement, the environment, and their own behaviours.

If you’ve done any training in a traditional environment, it’s essentially lecture.  Students sit there like baby birds waiting for their meal to be shoved down their throats.  This establishes some habits that have to be consciously broken when the trainer moves to PCT.

Questioning techniques are paramount.  Relays and overheads fly and form the foundation of debriefing every activity and conducting every review.  Knowledge must be drawn out of the participants, not fed to them.

This can be demanding, especially for someone like myself.  Though I enjoy training and think that I am good at it, I am, at my core, a shy person, and more fond of information than of social interaction.  This makes delivering training an exhausting activity for me.  I’ve noticed that even in the last six months that my tolerance seems to have decreased.  The need to retreat at the end of the day is nigh on irresistible.

Despite this, my co-facilitator said that after the first day, she didn’t notice any bad habits or poor behaviours on my part.  I was a little too fond of the closed questions at the start.  We worked well together and delivered a course that was well-received by the participants.

I won’t be able to review the assessments for a while yet, but there was nothing but compliments flying about the room that last day.

So that’s the Learning Mutt’s adventure for this week.  Tomorrow, I’m heading out of town again and we’ll see if the life of a training coordinator will provide any more fodder for Writerly Goodness in the future 🙂

Next weekend, look forward to an interview with Laura Conant Howard in conjunction with her cover reveal blitz for the upcoming The Forgotten Ones, another pupdate, and, if I have the gumption, my review of the Galaxy Note II as the smart phone writers want 🙂

Goodnight everyone!

Sunday night line up: Once Upon a Time; Beauty and the Beast; and Lost Girl 🙂