Tag Archives: professional development

Good Intentions

I logged into the dashboard and looked at the date of the last post. It’s been six months since I posted on this blog. There were comments on that blog post from November 2016 waiting for my approval, but I have been too preoccupied to even mark them as spam (as they were). At least, until today. The good intentions I had when starting this blog have eaten at me too long. Nothing happens unless you do something. So now it’s time to do something.

Training can be an all-consuming occupation. Besides the time spent delivering training, there’s the research, meetings, phone calls, e-mails, general preparation, and post-event evaluation that take the majority of my time. Actually delivering the training is the tip of the iceberg. When you add coordinating other activities ancillary to my main role, my days (and sometimes evenings and weekends) are full. This sounds like an excuse, but it’s meant as an explanation and a warning.

It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day activities that comprise our occupations. I have been complaining to family members for some time that I feel like my department is losing sight of the “big picture.” We schedule training classes and engage outside trainers willy-nilly as if being busy equals success. We lack the planning and direction that could help us run a focused, intentional program. We are not evaluating the efficacy of our programs. I miss this. I am a “big picture” kind of person. I like having a plan and executing it well.

I also happen to think that just providing training, regardless of the outcome, is more for show than the business outcomes the training is supposed to drive. (Look at all the programs we have! We’re being helpful!) Too often, we confuse offering training opportunities with participants being able to perform as we want or need. Just because they show up doesn’t mean they apply what’s learned.

I have put off returning to this blog for months now thinking that I didn’t have it in me to add anything interesting or consequential. In November I was grateful for the responses I received on my post about gratitude. The post had little to do with training, but the timing felt right (it also helped to have read a similar post on one of my favorite blogs, Spin Sucks). Then the holidays happened, then it was a new year with new programs to launch, and the list goes on. You don’t make art out of good intentions, as Flaubert reminds me.

So, enough with excuses and good intentions. It’s time to get back to a plan and execute, evaluate, and adjust it accordingly. I want to make good art.

Changes

I don’t know who first said it, but my mother was partial to the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It was her way of saying that there are some things in life that are constants, no matter what seems to be changing. Change is a given–how we react to it makes all the difference.

When I started teaching, we didn’t use PowerPoint. Transparencies were the height of technology along with a portable cassette player. Although much has changed, there are some constants:

Learners still want information they can use (in life, in their business, etc.). Relevance is important. How you present topics can depend on the audience, but whether they grasp the concepts can depend on how well you relate the information to their situation.

Classrooms are where subjects are taught and learners learn. Today, a classroom may be a place people gather to learn or an online environment, a virtual classroom.

Performance is what we measure to determine how well learners grasp the concepts and skills acquired. In school, performance is often measured by tests and quizzes. In professional development, we look at how well learners put the skills into practice. We might measure sales made or actions taken as a result of training.

Change is inevitable, and I’ve seen many changes in education. Take for example the classroom. Much of my teaching today takes place in a virtual environment through live webinars and video training. The method of delivery influences how skills are taught. I cannot immediately monitor whether my learners are actually acquiring the skill I’m presenting. Instead, I must look at other factors such as feedback on surveys, questions asked, and results.

My learners are less enthused about sitting in a traditional classroom and listening to a lecture today. If they sit in a classroom, it can’t be for too long, and there has to be activity. I try to break up the material into chunks that consist of information presented by me, picture or video representations of the information, and group or partner activities to reinforce the subject matter. Breaks are important, too. Never underestimate the value of a well-timed break in the session!

Virtual classrooms and learning represent one of the biggest changes in education and professional development. Once, we discussed how we would implement “distance learning” with fear and dread. What if they watched a class that was taking place in a different location? What would we do if learners didn’t show up to our classes? How would we assess their progress if we couldn’t see them? Would this be the end of teaching?

The reality is that it takes much skill to devise and deliver effective online learning. What may be the biggest change in education in the past several years has not been the death of the need for instructors and instructional developers.

Even if some things in professional development change, we learn new techniques and adapt our approaches to be able to continue to help people grow in their careers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Preparation

I recently had the opportunity to teach two courses for a group that was not my usual audience. My experience took me back several years to when I was a master’s student living and studying in Germany.

One of my professors asked me to assist him with his introductory literature seminar. I would meet with a small group outside of class to discuss the works we were reading and their projects. I could handle that and I enthusiastically agreed. I went to work reading everything the students would read and all the secondary literature before the semester began. I wanted to be prepared for any questions that might arise in my group. I also devised a structure for our meetings so that we would be sure to cover all of the material we needed to consider.

A few weeks into the course, the professor had to go out of town. Instead of canceling class, he asked me to take over for him. Here I was, the American teaching German students German literature. As I stood in front of 100+ students that day, I worked hard to not let my nervousness show. What got me through the class was the confidence that I knew the material. I had prepared well, having read everything necessary for the class and outlined how we would approach the day’s topic. If anything, I probably over-prepared.

Preparing to teach cannot be dismissed. It is perceived as a time-wasting activity for those who like to stand up in front of a group and just talk. You know these types: Well-meaning, experienced professionals who want to impart their knowledge on the group. The results of their “teaching” are, at best, an out-pouring of information without structure or intention. Sometimes, these are subject matter experts we have engaged to train employees or agents. Just because someone knows their field does not mean they can teach it to others.

I took it upon myself to become a subject matter expert in order to provide agents with relevant training in an area I knew little about. I immersed myself in the topic and read widely to gain knowledge. Then, I started using the tools I would teach about. I prepared myself to teach others the “why” and “how to” by engaging in the practices I wanted them to use.

Just knowing how to do something and why is not enough if you want to instill the desire in others to further their careers by adopting a practice. Planning and preparation for a course includes consideration of how learners learn, the techniques to use when teaching the material, and how to structure your time with learners.  While preparing for my recent teaching experience, I spent time organizing my material and finding new examples to reinforce my words. I took my outline for the course and checked the timing. I devised activities for the group so that I wouldn’t be the only one speaking for three hours.

When you prepare well, the butterflies you feel getting ready for the class only serve to help you be the enthusiastic teacher your students deserve. Preparation gives you the confidence to step in front of the group, ready to help them master the material.

Convention Time

Fall is the season for conventions in the real estate world. The busy summer selling season is winding down and salespeople and brokers have time to spend on meetings, education sessions, and visits to the trade fair. So, let’s put on a convention!

At my company, we tossed around the idea of having a mini-convention for a couple years, then got brave and decided to do it this year. The planning began months ago with visits to potential venues and calls to speakers regarding availability. When we finally settled on a date and reserved the facility, the real work began.

Finding speakers to present interesting, timely, and relevant material to our agents was not difficult. Finding speakers who were available on the date we needed them proved to be quite tough. Once we were able to determine who was available, we signed agreements as quickly as possible to secure the speakers for our date.

Then came the next question: Do we offer continuing education credit for the sessions, or not? Agents need to provide proof of a certain number of hours of continuing education credit each time they renew their licenses. By offering CE credit for the convention sessions, we provide an opportunity for the agent to get information and CE credit, and we give ourselves a marketing opportunity. Continuing education gives agents an added reason for attending the sessions when the need to know isn’t enough.

Promotion started about a month in advance of the convention. Registrations trickled in slowly, and we began to doubt what we were doing. Why weren’t they signing up to attend? Were we totally off the mark with our topics? We should have calmed down and waited patiently. Real estate agents are notorious for deciding at the last minute to register for anything. The registrations began to pour in about 10 days before the initial deadline, and continued to appear for a few days after that date (registration was kept open, but capped).

How can we measure success of such an event? The immediate feedback gives us a good idea of participants’ feelings about the day: Whether they liked the facility, thought the food was good, had a good time talking with friends and colleagues, and heard some good speakers. This is the “smile sheet” that tells us what their impressions of the event were. By all accounts, we got high marks for a good event.

The long term effect of the convention will be whether those in attendance apply anything they learned at the sessions they attended. We might be able to measure satisfaction with the event shortly after the event, but assessing the impact of the day will be a longer-term process. We’ll need to look at the attendees’ implementation of techniques and tools to increase their businesses as well as their production over a period of time to be able to determine if what they gained at the convention will have an effect.

Putting on a convention, even a one-day convention is a lot of work, but it is also immensely satisfying to see learners excited to try something new that they learned in just one day.