On a Bit of a Rant: Motivating Our Learners…and Ourselves

April 3, 2015

“I was on a bit of a rant the other day…” may not seem to be the most auspicious way to begin a dynamic, wide-ranging, and inspiring conversation about fostering self-motivation among learners. Nassau Library System Outreach Services Specialist Andrea Snyder, however, may have hit upon a training-teaching-learning truism when she made that admission earlier today on the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training—the unspoken truism being that we are often motivated (to rant as well as to learn) by our levels of passion about a given topic or situation.

T_is_for_Training_LogoSnyder’s alleged rant—and the entire T is for Training discussion—was inadvertently inspired by one of her colleagues who not only seemed completely unaware of an important element of contemporary librarianship, but displayed little interest in plugging that knowledge deficiency. Listening to Snyder’s description of the situation, we couldn’t help but understand the underlying challenge: how do trainer-teacher-learners help their colleagues in learning fill critically important gaps in their knowledge when those learners don’t even seem to be aware that those gaps exist?

The underlying problem for so many of us, as Coleman noted at the beginning of the discussion (available online in an archived recording and briefly described on the T is for Training site) is that we don’t know what we don’t know. That, as we all agreed during our discussion, is where trainer-teacher-learners play important roles grounded in our own passions about learning—our own learning as well as the learning of those we are committed to supporting.

“It’s tough because there are students who are self-motivated…and then there are students who come into a program…and think ‘You’re going to tell me what I need to know,’” T is for Training colleague Jill Hurst-Wahl suggested. And it becomes even more difficult when contemporary learners don’t seem be aware of the need to commit to a program of lifelong learning: “You don’t just come out of a degree program and stop learning.”

ccourses_logoFor me, it begins with acknowledgement of and commitment to fostering collaborative learning—the type of learning where everyone has a role to play and there isn’t necessarily a single person serving start-to-finish as the primary mover in the process. It’s the type of learning that we see in connected learning settings, in the best of our connectivist MOOCs (massive open online courses), in well-nurtured communities of learning, and so many other settings where the role of learning facilitator is shared in an ever-changing way between the person or people designing and delivering a course or other learning opportunity and the learners themselves. In terms of workplace learning, it’s the difference between a learner showing up to a mandated two-hour “Preventing Sexual Harassment” session online (where the learner passively absorbs canned lectures and then completes the learning experience by taking a quiz) and the same learner showing up for an interactive onsite or online session that provides essential information, includes discussion and chances to absorb and immediately use the information through deeper and richer explorations, then extends to opportunities back in the workplace to demonstrate an ability to apply, in a positive way, the lessons learned. If we’re serious about supporting our learners, nurturing their self-motivation to learn, and gaining the most from the time and resources invested in learning opportunities, we need to passionately and with great dedication show that appropriate application of learning is more important than simply attending a session and passing a test.

What is abundantly clear from that T is for Training discussion and numerous conversations I’ve had with colleagues in training-teaching-learning is that the best of those colleagues really do care about the learners they serve and are motivated to support their learning—which is why we spend relatively small amounts of time ranting about the sort of situation Snyder described and much larger amounts of time seeking and implementing ways to help learners identify what they need to know and then supporting their efforts to fill their knowledge gaps. Again, this is collaborative: if we make ourselves accessible to our learners by visiting their worksites, listening to their concerns and watching for gaps they themselves might not have identified, and working with them to create effective, creative, engaging learning opportunities, we all rise together in our learning efforts.

Jill Hurst-Wahl

Jill Hurst-Wahl

It’s far more than an attempt to justify the time, energy, and money that goes into workplace learning and performance/staff development/staff training programs; it’s an acknowledgement that those who aren’t self-motivated and well-supported are not going to survive in contemporary workplaces: “We’re in an economic environment where if you’re not a self-directed learner…you’re going to get left behind,” Hurst-Wahl observed. “That being left behind may not happen immediately [but] in some way, you’re going to be left behind. People are going to look at you and say, ‘Oh, you don’t know that thing? Huh. OK. I’m moving on.’”

None of which is to say that learning facilitators don’t have important roles to play and that a commitment to the learning process is anything less than an essential element to be cultivated by all parties in the learning process: “I talk about things that I have at least some sort of feeling about,” Coleman noted. “When I’m out presenting or training, usually I feel some affinity for the material…I’m energized; I’m buzzed by it. I want people to be energized by it, too [and talking about it]. If you’re talking, you’re engaged”—and, I would add, cultivating the passion that fosters self-motivation among learners as well as among those of us supporting those learners.

 


Career Choices: Training-Teaching-Learning and Love

March 20, 2015

Joining the hour-long discussion about pursuing careers in training-teaching-learning today on the latest episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training once again helped make something obvious to me: it’s all about love.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

You could hear, as each one of us on the audio recording described how we began working as trainer-teacher-learners in library settings, the same theme that runs through most conversations I have with colleagues engaged in designing and facilitating learning opportunities onsite and/or online throughout the world: we really love what we do. We love the opportunities the work provides for us to make a difference among the learners we serve and the patrons-customers-clients those learners ultimately serve. We love the shared sense of achievement we have with learners when our efforts help them become better at or more knowledgeable about something they wanted to pursue. We love the never-ending challenge of having to learn new things so we can stay at least a couple of steps ahead of those we serve. And we love the fact that many of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) found our way into the profession in ways other than through overt decisions.

signorelli200x300[1]It’s not as if any of us can remember a conversation in a kindergarten playground that included the words, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a trainer,” much less the even more specific, “When I grow up, I’m going to work in staff training for libraries.” One T is for Training colleague, in fact, noted that she did pursue an academic degree in teaching elementary-school students before realized she didn’t even like other people’s children—a somewhat discouraging obstacle to her initial plans; my own feeling is that we’re tremendously fortunate that she found a more compatible audience in the adult learners she so effectively serves today.

For those of us in the T is for Training conversation and for numerous other colleagues with whom I’ve had this conversation, training-teaching-learning was something that came our way when a colleague or an insistent manager or supervisor told us that we seemed to have an ability to help others learn what they have to learn, assured us that we “talk real pretty,” and decided that we would be great at designing and delivering learning opportunities for others. After the initial elation of being acknowledged for being good at anything at all began to subside, we generally were overcome by sheer terror when we realized we had very little formal training in how to help others learn, so we spent the next few years scrambling to absorb everything we possibly could about a subject and a skill we were supposed to have already mastered.

ALA_LogoIt is, during that catching-up-to-be-where-we-were-supposed-to-be-yesterday process, that love sets in. We love the fact that we discover many colleagues who not only have suffered through this “Great! I’m a trainer. Now what do I do?” experience but who are also quite willing to share tips and experiences and resources. If we’re in libraries, we discover that the American Library Association has plenty of groups that include our best training-teaching-learning colleagues, e.g., the Learning Round Table, the Library and Information Technology Association (LITA), and the Library Instruction Round Table (LIRT). If we’re engaged in exploring ways to effectively use educational technology to support learning, we find plenty of wonderfully innovative (and very patient) colleagues in the New Media Consortium. If we are looking for a global learning organization comprised of colleagues in training-teaching-learning, we find a first-rate professional family in the Association for Talent Development (formerly ASTD, the American Society for Training & Development).

We also love the fact that nearly everything we do contributes to our increasing skills in training-teaching-learning. If we have an engaging learning experience, we incorporate the best of that experience into the learning we design and facilitate. If we have a terrible learning experience, we add it to the list of indignities we will never (intentionally) inflict on other learners. If we hear a colleague describe a successful learning exercise or instructional-design technique or engaging way to prepare slide decks for onsite or online learning sessions, we absorb them and share them. We write articles about them. We do presentations about them. We discuss them within T is for Training and our numerous other communities of learning. And we sustain that insatiable hunger for constant improvement by immediately following that successful acquisition of a new training-teaching-learning tip or technique with the words, “That was great. What’s next?”

That love of training-teaching-learning extends to a love of sharing our enthusiasm with those who may be following in our footsteps sooner than later, as was clear when we discussed tips for those currently earning the academic degrees necessary for successful careers within libraries. Not surprisingly, we all encouraged current MLS/MLIS students to pursue any opportunity available to take courses about training-teaching-learning. The less-obvious advice that we consistently offered was to “take initiative and be creative” in seeking and developing those opportunities. If an information-school program isn’t specifically offering courses in the fundamentals of teaching and learning or isn’t offering courses in instructional design (and this appears to be a huge gap in most programs I’ve explored), students can shape those learning experiences by seeking a willing faculty member who will oversee independent, semester-long individual-study projects that allow the student to learn by creating his or her own curriculum that results in a concrete final project which, in turn, may be publishable—a winning situation in that the learner gains recognition for the effort expended, and the entire community of learning has grown through the addition of what that project documents and suggests.

ATD_LogoAlthough our T is for Training conversation didn’t explicitly move in this direction, it could easily have included suggestions that those seeking careers in training-teaching-learning (and those needing new, engaging, inspiring trainer-teacher-learners) work to establish formal mentorships and apprenticeships. It’s obvious to my colleagues and to me that lifelong learning is an essential element to success in contemporary workplaces, and it’s obvious to me that our commitment to lifelong learning is what makes us competitive—and useful to those we serve. The more we can do to draw people into the ever-evolving world of training-teaching-learning, support them in their growth as part of our own professional growth process, and draw them into our professional associations (e.g., ALA and ATD) as well as our formal and informal onsite and online communities of learning, the more successful we all will be. And the more love we’ll have to share.


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Radical Meeting, Learning, and Collaboration

February 5, 2015

You didn’t have to be in Chicago from Friday, January 30 to Tuesday, February 3 to avoid being left behind. American Library Association (ALA) staff, members, and presenters, during the Association’s 2015 Midwinter Meeting, displayed an amazing, noteworthy commitment to bringing colleagues together regardless of geographic, economic, and temporal barriers—and, in the process, provided an example every trainer-teacher-learner can benefit from exploring.

alamw15--LogoAssociation staff began the process, in the days before the conference began, by reaching out to members with a set of tips on how to be part of the conference whether onsite or offsite; they also carried the popular ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony to offsite members through a live webcast of the event. This is clearly not an association that cares only for those paying registration fees and booking rooms in conference hotels.

Onsite individual Association members helped augment these efforts connecting offsite colleagues to the conference in a variety of ways, including the use of a Google Hangout and an extremely active Twitter feed that fostered plenty of back and forth. The Hangout, designed to serve as an episode of Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast series for those involved in training-teaching-learning within libraries, was a successful experiment in creating a gathering that, through the discussion of “bringing offsite colleagues into the room,” engaged colleagues in the moment and produced a 30-minute archived recording demonstrating how Hangouts work (and, in their weaker moments, don’t work) to extend live conversations beyond the barriers of physical rooms and to further extend them beyond their initial synchronous interactions. And the multi-day #alamw15 flow of tweets from onsite and offsite Association members was so heavy during the ALA Youth Media Awards ceremony Monday morning (February 2) that it completely overwhelmed the feed from the social media tool (Twubs) I was using to monitor the exchanges; new tweets appeared to pop up at one-second intervals, and a notification at the top of the Twubs page confirmed, at one point, that more than 480 tweets were waiting to move from a queue into the actual Twubs feed I was observing on my mobile device—which means the feed was, at that point, a full eight minutes behind what all of us were producing. The fast, steady pulse of tweets flowing into the feed made me feel as if I were watching a heart monitor somehow attached to an Olympic athlete engaged in a sprint.

Lankes--Radical_Guide_to_New_LibrarianshipIt seemed that the ALA community’s commitment to inclusivity never faltered. When Atlas of New Librarianship author R. David Lankes began setting up for his hour-long “Radical Conversations on New Librarianship” session Monday morning, for example, he obviously was fully immersed in extending the conversation (and the size of his room) through the same efforts others had pursued. Using Adobe Connect to reach out to offsite participants and using a projector to display the chat feed so those of us inside the physical space at McCormick Place in Chicago could see what our offsite colleagues were saying, Lankes made it possible for us to at least be aware of both sides (onsite and offsite) of an ongoing, intriguing conversation about how librarianship is continuing to evolve to the benefit of all whom it serves. It was clear—as was the case with that Google Hangout Sunday afternoon—that the conversation would continue after the formal session ended: several entry portals to the conversation remain on Lankes’ blog, and the book that will come out of those conversations is sure to inspire additional exchanges long after the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting begins fading in our memories.

ALA_LogoAnother extended no-one-left-behind conversation that was easy to join during the conference was the Association’s current efforts to update its strategic plan. We often hear, from ALA staff, that “the conversation starts here” at the Midwinter Meeting and the Annual (summer) Conference, but the current strategic planning process shows the conversations are also continuous—beginning before we arrive onsite, continuing (rather than starting) while we are face to face, and extending far beyond the few days we have together during those meetings and conferences. Three town hall meetings had been held online from November through December 2014, and archived recordings remain available for those who don’t want to be left behind; several 90-minute onsite “kitchen table conversation” sessions facilitated by Association members during the 2015 Midwinter Conference were open to anyone interested in helping shape the strategic planning process and, by extension, the near-term future of the Association itself. Conversations are scheduled to continue as the planning process proceeds, and anyone paying attention knows that this is yet another example of an association keenly aware of a foundational tenet: without membership engagement, there is no real association in any sense of that word.

Those of us involved in training-teaching-learning—and nearly everyone in libraries falls into that category at some time during day-to-day library work—are far from unfamiliar with what was on display at the Midwinter Conference. The nurturing of community that took place there (as well as before and after the event) is what we strive to nurture as we develop and maintain the valuable communities of learning that provide meaningful experiences for those we serve. It’s what connects conferences. Workshops. Webinars. Courses. And every other learning opportunity part of our overall dynamic learning landscape. And I, for one, am glad to be part of associations that do more than understand that idea—they transform the concept from idea to reality in ways that make a difference to everyone they/we touch.


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Bringing Offsite Colleagues Into the Room

February 1, 2015

With informal help and encouragement from our staff colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA), several of us successfully managed, this afternoon, to reduce the number of people “left behind” during the current ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting being held here in Chicago. And, in the process, we produced a learning object designed to help members of ALA and other associations achieve similarly rewarding results.

ala_leftbehind“ALALeftBehind” has been a bittersweet movement for quite a while now: those unable to be onsite for the Midwinter Meeting held early each year and the Annual Conference held early each summer contact onsite Association members via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms for news about what is happening onsite. They also, via the #ALALeftBehind hashtag, comment on how much they wish they could be part of the onsite action.

This was the year we reduced the onsite-online gap a bit more. Largely thanks to the efforts of ALA staff, those who could not attend the conference received tips about resources that could help connect them to onsite activities and colleagues. That commitment to offsite members as well as to the onsite members who could afford the time and cost of traveling to Chicago inspired at least a few of us onsite to seek ways to support that effort and find ways to further draw our offsite colleagues into the onsite rooms.

ALAMW15--LogoAs we were meeting (during the first day of the conference) in the Midwinter Meeting Networking Uncommons—a wonderful space meant to facilitate unplanned encounters and conversations at a significant level—a few of us were expressing the same sort of comments expressed by those left behind: sadness that familiar faces weren’t present for Midwinter 2015 conversations. One person who is particularly important to us is our training-teaching-learning colleague Maurice Coleman, who brings us together online through his biweekly T is for Training conversations/podcasts and has been making audio-recordings of live face-to-face T is for Training sessions at ALA Midwinter Meetings and Annual Conferences for the past few years. Without Maurice onsite, we realized we would miss our semi-annual face-to-face session—until we decided that if we couldn’t bring Maurice and “T” into the Uncommons and the rest of the conference, we would bring the Uncommons and the conference to Maurice.

We were lucky enough to be sitting with Jenny Levine, the ALA staff member who remains the driving force behind the Uncommons (and much more), as our plan began to develop; she quickly confirmed a reservation for the final 30-minute slot remaining for formal use of the Uncommons during the 2015 Midwinter Meeting. We then contacted Maurice and a few other T is for Training colleagues who were offsite to see whether they wanted to participate in a unique T is for Training session via a Google Hangout rather than the usual audio-only format we use through TalkShoe.

There was a conscious decision that we weren’t going to make the Hangout appear too well-rehearsed, and we also agreed that we would rely on our improvisational skills to address any unexpected problems that came up during the session. Having experimented with blended onsite-online conference attendance via Twitter and blended learning opportunities via Google Hangouts, I saw this as an opportunity to pull a session together with minimal planning, preparation, and rehearsal so that #alaleftbehind colleagues would see how easily similar gatherings could be arranged while also seeing what can go wrong with this sort of impromptu erasing of the Left Behind brand.

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

Virtual Maurice Coleman before he joined the live Hangout

That’s exactly how it played out during the live session earlier this afternoon. The opening segment with guest host Kate Kosturski, T is for Training colleague Jules Shore, and me in the Networking Uncommons began right on time and featured a decent quality of audio and video. Our first (not-unexpected) glitch occurred when Maurice was unable to join the Hangout in its recorded version, so came in through a virtual back door: my tablet. Figuring that low-quality Maurice was better than no Maurice, I took the only action I could imagine taking: I held the tablet up to the webcam and hoped for the best. Watching the archived recording shows that it was a gamble that paid off: the audio and video feed captured from the tablet was even better in the recording than it was for those of us in the Uncommons—which doesn’t mean it was great (far from it), but as a spur-of-the-moment solution, it worked. Better yet, it added the sort of levity to the session that is such a valuable and valued part of all T is for Training sessions.

The experiment gained momentum about12 minutes into the session with Jill Hurst-Wahl, another key part of the T is for Training community, was able to join the Hangout from her home. After a moment or two of trouble-shooting, she was completely integrated into the exchange and the conversation resumed where it had stopped when Maurice first came in via the tablet.

Our moment of success came just after the halfway point, when Maurice was able to switch from the tablet feed to the version visible in the archived recording. And, for the remainder of the program, we once again showed how a conference room can quickly expand from being a small onsite space to a space that extend across entire states.

It could have been better; we should have been able to include other participants via the chat function in Google Hangouts. But as an example of how low-cost, high-impact technology can help us redefine our meeting and our learning spaces and how it can further reduce the size of our Left Behind groups, it offers an effective case study. And it will continue reducing that Left Behind group person by person as more people view the recording and use it to create their own no-longer-left-behind experiences.


Barbara Fister, Project Information Literacy, and Addressing/Fostering Lifelong Learning  

August 8, 2014

I’m in the middle of an unexpected lifelong learning experience that is the training-teaching-learning equivalent of a quadruple caffè latte. My heart is racing. My mind is engaged. And I feel as if the best is yet to come—if I don’t completely explode.

Caffe_Latte--2012-01-28--Flora_GrubbThe day began as many do for me: I set aside a little time to skim a few blogs and check my social media feeds for articles that would help me keep up with the myriad topics I attempt (unsuccessfully) to follow. And there it was, the first gem of the day: Gustavus Adolphus College professor/writer/librarian Barbara Fister’s fresh-off-the-presses article “What PIL [Project Information Literacy] Teaches Us About Lifelong Learning” in Library Journal. It’s the sort of article I adore—an intellectual home run—in that it’s well written, it provides thought-provoking information I can immediately apply to the work I do, it draws attention to another fabulous resource (the Project Information Literacy lifelong learning Phase 1 Research Brief that inspired Fister to write her Library Journal article), and it was something I immediately wanted to share (via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+) with my colleagues involved in training-teaching-learning.

Fister gracefully and enthusiastically summarizes and builds upon a few of the key points made in this report, which is drawn from interviews with 65 relatively recent graduates of 10 American colleges and universities. (The research brief is part of a continuing two-year study to determine, in part, how “today’s graduates use information support systems for lifelong learning.”) The interviewees, Fister notes, “sought out learning opportunities, either through formal certificates or graduate education or through more informal means: enrolling in MOOCs [massive open online courses] or looking for websites and YouTube videos that teach the skills they want to develop.” She recaps something that many of us involved in learning already know viscerally: “the learning that stuck came through doing things…the learning that comes from creating things transfers even if content knowledge doesn’t.” And most importantly, she makes us want to read the original six-page brief ourselves so we can more fully absorb the nuances of what PIL is continuing to produce in its overall study of information literacy—a topic we could explore for several lifetimes without ever fully absorbing all there is to contemplate.

Project_Information_LiteracyWhen we succumb to our natural instincts and do skim the PIL brief, we find plenty worth pursuing among the five elements explored through the PIL researchers’ initial interviews (interviewees’ lifelong learning needs, use of information sources, use of social media, best practices for lifelong learning, and adaptable information-seeking practices from their higher education experiences). The interviewees consistently admit to being “challenged by ‘staying smart’ in a rapidly changing world.” Google search is their “go-to source for lifelong learning” as they attempt to find resources responsive to their lifelong learning needs. And “[m]any mentioned actively building a social network of go-to experts they could consult at work”—in essence, developing what many of us refer to as our personal learning networks (PLNs).

None of this would have been as significant to me at a personal level if I hadn’t immediately connected it to what I do in my own lifelong learning efforts—and if I hadn’t immediately begun to apply it. Knowing that I was less than two hours away from joining an online discussion session I try to attend biweekly, as time allows—Maurice Coleman’s T is for Training podcast—I contacted Maurice and one other T is for Training colleague to see if we could incorporate Fister’s article into our discussion this morning. My lifelong learning efforts successfully continued, therefore, when we did spend nearly an hour exploring what the PIL research brief, Fister’s article, and our extended (and often overlapping) personal learning networks do to support us and the learners we serve. And the lifelong-learning adrenaline continued to flow when I returned to the archived recording of the T is for Training conversation, copied the podcast link, and added it to my own website as a free resource for others interested in exploring lifelong learning and personal learning networks. Which, of course, brings us to this moment in which I’m further solidifying this augmentation of my own lifelong learning efforts by reflecting on all that has come out of the simple act of reading Fister’s article and seeking ways to connect it to what I do for myself and the trainer-teacher-learners I serve.

The learning is not over yet; it really never is. In fine-tuning this piece by exploring the Project Information Literacy site (a fabulous lifelong learning resource in and of itself), I discovered a section of “Smart Talks” featuring “interviews with leading experts about PIL’s findings and their thoughts about the challenges of finding information and conducting research in the digital age.” Better yet, among the interviewees are colleagues and others whose work I have followed and admired. So, as I suggested at the beginning of this article, I remain very much in the middle of consuming the intellectual equivalent of a quadruple caffè latte. And I am doing all I can to avoid being overwhelmed by this magnificent lifelong –learning experience that Fister and my personal learning network colleagues are supporting.


Standing With Our Friends (Part 1 of 2): Communities of Learning

April 25, 2014

In learning, there is often the obvious lesson—which is rewarding—and then there is that difficult-to-anticipate moment that transcends anything we expected to experience—which makes it all the more potentially valuable and transformative. And that moment of transcendence is exactly what occurred again last Friday when I joined Maurice Coleman and other colleagues for an episode of his wonderful T is for Training podcast online.

Atlantic_LogoGoing into the latest hour-long biweekly opportunity to share ideas with those training-teaching-learning colleagues, I had no other expectation than that I would learn something useful from members of one of the best communities of learning to which I belong. And the conversation captured in the recording which now exists as an archived podcast (Episode #138) certainly delivers an interesting graze through a field with plenty of different topics.

What the audio recording doesn’t reveal, however, is the much more disturbingly moving exchange that began when a colleague used the program backchannel to post a link to “I Was Racially Profiled in My Own Driveway,” written for The Atlantic by Doug Glanville, “a retired Major League Baseball player [who] explains how he’s trying to turn an upsetting encounter with the police into an opportunity for dialogue.”

It wasn’t the sort of topic we generally explore on T is for Training—or in many other venues I frequent—so we kept our exchanges to a set of backchannel comments through the typed chat window available as the podcast was being recorded. When the recording ended, a few of us briefly continued to explore the ugly, painful, gaping wound highlighted by Glanville’s beautifully written article; to ignore the opportunity to do so within a community of learning that has strong roots in confronting rather than ignoring our most difficult challenges would have been to further contribute to the turn-your-head-and-pretend-it-isn’t-there proclivity that plagues us through the mistaken and debilitating belief that we inhabit a “post-racial” society. And when it was time for us to virtually part and return to our other obligations, I wasn’t quite ready to set this aside, for I sensed I was far from finished with the learning opportunity my colleagues had extended through the posted link and the follow-up conversation.

There has never been a time in my life when I have not been conscious of the presence and effects of discrimination and inequality. I grew up in a Central California Valley town with geographic boundaries that mirrored the racial and economic divisions existing between the various groups which formed that still troubled community. I felt the relatively minor stings Italian-Americans felt through taunts that were nothing compared to what African-American, Latino, and the all-too-rare Jewish friends and colleagues experienced daily. I was occasionally the butt of not-so-funny jokes and racial epithets—but not in any significant way at the level those friends and colleagues were. My sense of what this meant grew during a three-year stay in Japan, where regardless of how much respect I was accorded as a teacher, I knew I would always be an outsider. Fair enough; I always had the option to return “home” when I grew tired of living in a place where I wouldn’t be accepted.

But here in our imaginary post-racial society, colleagues and close friends don’t have the luxury of going home in the way I envisioned going home. They are home, and it’s a home that never really offers the benefits of ownership that others can routinely enjoy.

T is for Training Logo

T is for Training Logo

A lovely friend was kind enough to draw me viscerally into that world again a couple of months ago through a series of moving online reflections during Black History Month. As The Month came to a chronological end, I decided to ask a simple question of this friend who has indisputably been on the receiving end of terrible–yet often subtle–acts of discrimination–but refuses to succumb to bitterness: “If I had been there, what is one concrete thing I could have done to reverse what you experienced?” The response: “If/when you see subtle racism against others, call people on it. Let folks know that you see it and you do not condone, agree, or approve…It would not have changed the world, but you would have made a stand.” That’s why, I wrote at the time, this person is my friend: I ask a straightforward question, and I’m offered a positive, actionable reminder that we don’t need special days, weeks, or months to confirm that each of us can make positive action a way of life that contributes to the creation of the sort of world we want to inhabit. Now. And for the rest of our lives.

It was a thought that remained with me as the T is for Training group dispersed after the conversation last Friday, so I quickly sent an email asking what I can be doing at a simple, personal, level to prevent others from experiencing what Doug Glanville describes in that article.

The answer produced that moment of transcendence I mentioned at the beginning of this article: “My answer is to continue being you. That means being welcoming and supportive. And be willing to stand with someone who is not being treated well.”

What struck me most was not the encouragement that I was somehow, in spite of myself, managing to be somewhat on the right path to being where I want to be. What struck me was that particular, thoughtful, and emotionally jolting choice of words: “…to stand with someone…”

I find it all too easy to stand up for someone when I see something I dislike; standing up for someone (or something) requires action, produces an expectation of results, and is empowering to the person doing the standing—it’s as much about the stander as the one for whom we are attempting to stand. Standing with someone is a much more intimate, risky endeavor: it places us quite vulnerably next to someone with the understanding that the person is in control and gains more from our presence than from the mistaken belief that some sort of representation from another person is wanted or required.

Standing with someone is a life lesson well (but not yet completely) learned. It makes me a better facilitator of learning to know that I stand with rather than for other learners. It makes me a better friend to those who think I’m better than I am intellectually, emotionally, and socially. And it reinforces the oft-forgotten lesson that learning, collaboration, and community-building are based on our ability to be empathetic, set our egos aside, and value the critically important difference between standing for someone and standing with someone.

Next: Standing With Our Friends (Part 2 of 2): I Watched You Disappear


ALA Annual Conference 2013: Post-Conference Tips for Future Conference Attendees (Thinking Outside the Schedule)

July 5, 2013

Let’s be wonderfully perverse! While other colleagues continue writing thoughtful post-conference reflections about the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference that concluded in Chicago a few days ago, let’s draw upon what some of us saw and did in Chicago to provide tips for anyone planning to attend any conference with colleagues anytime soon.

ALA_2013_Chicago_Logo_FINAL_CLR_0 (1)Conference presenters, for example, can benefit from the myriad online reminders of how to most effectively reach and serve their audiences. Those interested in drawing their various and varied onsite and online communities of learning into seamless and tremendously rewarding interactions can participate in the Twitter backchannel at any level that appeals to them. First-time attendees will find numerous resources, including those posted online by attendees willing to share suggestions. And those arriving a day or two before the conference formally begins can indulge in a period of reflection and preparation that also provides the foundations for gaining more than even the best-planned conference can provide.

One pre-conference ritual that has been particularly rewarding for me over the past several years is an informal dinner I arrange with a handful of cherished colleagues the evening before a conference begins. As I have noted so many times over the past few years, those invitation-only dinners—without a formal agenda, and with all participants splitting the cost of the meal—provide an unparalleled opportunity to hear what our best colleagues are doing, planning to do, and recovering from doing. It is, in essence, a chance to attend a master class with the brightest and most collaborative colleagues we can attract.

Siera_logoThe 10 trainer-teacher-learners who gathered in a Thai restaurant in Chicago on the Thursday evening before the ALA Conference began were far from reticent about describing the ways they are approaching the use of social media in libraries—creatively, openly, and with a great deal of encouragement for the learners they serve, as David Lee King noted—or the learner-centric webinars they are designing and delivering, as is the case with Pat Wagner (through Siera) and Andrew Sanderbeck (through the People Connect Institute). Louise Whitaker, from the Pioneer Library System (Oklahoma), enticed me with stories about the innovations in leadership training and other training-teaching-learning initiatives she continues to spearhead to support employees in her workplace—and then continued those stories over coffee a few days later when we were able to meet again outside of the formal sessions provided by the conference organizers. And everyone else had stories to tell or resources to share, so everyone at the table ate abundantly—and we’re not just talking about the wonderful food, here.People_Connect_Institute_logo

This idea of thinking outside the formal conference schedule to enhance—and actually create—learning experiences takes us to the heart of making sure each of us gains as much as we possibly can from attending conferences. It’s the combination of judiciously planning a schedule that includes attendance at formal sessions both within and outside our own areas of expertise; making arrangements in advance to meet with those cherished colleagues we absolutely do not want to miss; and relying on the numerous unplanned encounters we will have with colleagues onsite as well as those facilitated by what I’ve come to refer to as “drive-by greetings”—introductions, from colleagues including Maurice Coleman (T is for Training) and Peter Bromberg (Princeton Public Library), to those people they just happen to be standing  next to when we unexpectedly encounter them, and who just happen to have done work we have admired from afar for years.

One of those unexpected encounters, for me, led on the spot to an unplanned one-on-one hour-long lunch with a writer whose work I’ve very much admired—the sort of opportunity to exchange ideas that most of us would kill to have when we’re sitting in a packed room with little chance to interact at a meaningful level with a first-rate presenter. Another put me face-to-face with a colleague I’d only previously interacted with online. Numerous other outside-the-formal-curriculum meals and coffee breaks helped keep me up to date on the vibrant and ever-expanding world of advocacy and partnerships that benefit all of us and those we serve.

It’s also worth noting that a bit of planning beyond what conference attendance normally facilitates can provide additional rewarding opportunities. Contacting Chicago-based colleagues from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) before arriving onsite for the ALA Annual Conference meant that one particularly memorable evening included a dinner with non-library colleagues who are as immersed as anyone else I know in the world of workplace learning and performance (staff training). Our exchanges offered them a glimpse into the world of staff training in libraries and also helped bring me up to date on the ever-evolving language used within the ASTD community to refer to the training-teaching-learning that is at the heart of all we do.

The clear lesson for any conference attendee is that planning helps; looking for opportunities to draw upon all the resources available to us is an essential element of creating a successful conference experience; and “un-planning”—the act of setting a schedule aside when unanticipated opportunities via drive-by greetings present themselves—benefits all of us, and creates the learning experiences we find nowhere else.


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