10 things I learnt as a trainer and a human, thanks to Eduk8.
1. You will always think you’re a trainer already and realise some years later that you weren’t really a trainer then, but you’re a trainer now… Only to realise a year later the same thing. Every time you develop, you realise more and more what it really means to be a trainer. It’s easy to think we’re there, without knowing much about the complexity of the training world. Once you realise the potential and the depth within NFE, you will realise how much more can be done and how many more aspects need to be considered when designing and delivering trainings. Looking back, I can tell how many mistakes I’ve made along the way which would make me cringe today. And yet it’s a development process and I might have never made it actually as far as I did, without believing in my trainer self. Fake it till you become it worked for me, and probably many others in the field. Practice makes perfect, so they say, and whilst I think perfect doesn’t really happen in trainings (more on this below), it’s a good motto to keep you develop further.
2. You have to make mistakes in order to grow. Trial and error is a part of human development. Making mistakes is the best way to learn: you get feedback, or you self-assess the situation, analyse, and try again, now better. It’s part of the Kolb cycle, after all, and we all know how important the Kolb cycle is! There is no need to dwell on your past mistakes, as long as you go out there and try again. In Eduk8, we collectively made many mistakes while developing the programme: but we gathered feedback, discussed it over and over, looked for ways to improve it, and tried again. This was the recipe for the improvement and growth of Eduk8 and all it’s events. We were never afraid of testing, because we understood that you can never know until you try. Now we have systems in place which work, because we tried and tested and compared. In a training room, it’s the same: you try, you test, you adjust, until you create processes that work. It took 6 tries until the Forward found it’s close to perfect process. It’s always better to build upon previous experiences instead of building things from scratch. It was essential in these developments to have always at least one person from a previous round, to be able to not make the same mistakes over and over. And if you can’t have that, it’s important that there’s proper follow-up and evaluation, which can be used when developing the next edition.
3. Follow-up is part of the process. You heard me right. Many of us (including me) tend to forget about this or procrastinate this until it’s impossible to do. Without following up an event (be it a single workshop or a training), the process is not finished. Again, think about the Kolb cycle: until you don’t evaluate, reflect and analyse, you cannot start the preparation of next, improved version of what you’re doing. Follow-up includes evaluation and reporting, as well as anything else that you find necessary (like community building, sharing outputs, dissemination, writing thank you emails, etc.). Evaluation is not only necessary for you to get feedback personally, but also to gather input on the training you designed, which will help you improve constantly.
4. Don’t promise things you can’t do - it will hurt your reputation more than if you never promised to do anything. People don’t expect you to work 250%, a 150% is just fine (after all, we’re in ESN, we all give at least 150%). Be clear with what you can and cannot do within your given timeframe, availability, competences and will, given the conditions. Let me tell you about one of the hardest lessons I’ve encountered in Eduk8. Being a freelance trainer, I often am required to write thorough daily reports for the trainings I’m contracted for, and it’s part of my work hours. Seeing how great of a tool reports were, I had the great idea to implement them in Eduk8. However, writing such reports take a lot of time and energy, in any case, but especially in the case of the Forward. I’m ashamed to admit that the Forwards in 2016 and 2017 were promised a report which was never delivered. In Eduk8 we don’t have the possibility to pay extra for trainers for this task, so I thought I’d implement the good practice without actually providing conditions under which it was feasible. It took two failed attempts to realise I was promising something that was not possible. Nobody would have expected me to deliver 70 page long extensive daily reports, yet I really wanted to do it because I thought they’re great. And I failed. But because I promised, everybody was dissapointed. Should I have never mentioned them to the participants, nobody would have minded that they never came to existence.
5. Being a perfectionist is not for trainers. First of all, forget perfect: you can always improve further. Learning never stops, don’t ever think you’ve found the magic recipe. Keep asking yourself: what could you do to improve the current state by 5%? Secondly: what is perfect for you, is maybe not great for somebody else. We all are different, have different experiences, backgrounds, expectations, needs. That’s the beauty of non-formal education: celebrating this diversity. But one major rule that’s important to always remember: you will never satisfy everybody. And that is ok. As long as you design your workshops and trainings in a way that everybody gets something they were looking for, you involve everyone and pay attention to diversify your methods to fit the different learning needs, you’ll be doing just good enough. There’s so many unexpected elements that will follow anywhere you go within the world of NFE, it’s best to accept and cherish ambiguity instead of trying to control what cannot be controlled. As a good scout would say: just be prepared. And no matter what happens: keep calm and carry on. Ambiguity is your friend and it will take you places you never would have gone otherwise. Embrace it in your trainings and build on it. You’ll see, magic is everywhere.
6. Being vulnerable as a trainer allows the group to connect on a much deeper level. You can’t expect your participants to open up without you opening up. Many trainers, especially at the beginning of their careers when they are more insecure, think that hiding their imperfections and pretending to know everything, controlling their every emotion will make them more professional. But it’s important to know: participants are looking for deeper connections. They are searching for inspiration. They are not looking for professional, they are looking for human.The most inspiring trainers I’ve had were always the ones that were not afraid to show their weaknesses, talk about their challenges and admit their fears. Being vulnerable does not make you weaker, it shows strengths!
7. Participants will copy you, with your strengths and your weaknesses. When you’re training people who might deliver a workshop themselves or become trainers in the future, it’s good to realise that they look at you as their role model. They will do what you are doing. When you pay a lot of attention to flipchart art in your workshop, your participants will pay more attention to it. When you use certain words or certain processes, they will pick upon these and use them. They will copy your games, your words, your behaviour. And this is a normal process: until they find their own style, this is a way to explore different ways of training. It’s good to be aware of what you are transmitting and be conscious about what you want your participants to take with them.
8. Training other trainers is tricky - you’re creating your own competition. And well, in the pursuit of honesty and vulnerability, this was something I was warned about when I started training other trainers, but only realised the truth in it much later. When you’re training other trainers, you’re empowering people to do what you do: this means you will feel at some point, well, replaceable. And that feeling is sometimes hard to accept. I noticed myself that sometimes I would try to prove over and over again that I’m more experienced, although it was absolutely not necessary. Just because you’re sharing your knowledge and skills with others, your experiences are not being taken away from you. Mentoring others in your own profession is probably one of the most rewarding things you can do. And when mentoring is done, it’s done. Enjoy the friendship, but don’t try to mentor someone who doesn’t need it anymore.
9. Be present! If you don’t give a 100%, the event will not be a 100%. The world of NFE is so incredibly unique, and it is simply a shame to miss out on the opportunity to really connect. When you connect with your participants, the magic in the training room becomes stronger. You will understand them better, and can focus your energy more on their personal development. As a freelancer, especially towards the beginning of a freelancing career one realises how difficult it is to juggle several trainings at the time: while you’re delivering a training, you are expected to follow-up the previous one and prepare the next one. I found myself preparing late reports in coffee breaks and writing grant applications in the evening of an event, instead of being with the participants or taking part in the social activities. Once I made it a rule to always be present, not only did the quality of my events improve, I simply enjoyed it more, I was more in the zone, and I made more lasting memories both for myself and my participants.
10. Ask how are you, and really mean it. Especially when somebody you are working with has gone awol. Instead of telling them all the things they need to to and stress them further, just asks how they are. Get to know more about them, their current life and understand the challenges they’re facing, before making judgements and blaming them for something they should have done, but didn’t. I worked on Eduk8 like a robot at times and I often expected others to be the same. I know I was harsh with many team members at time when they didn’t perform. It was a long learning path for me to become more human. A human that realises that life happens and sometimes we’re unable to perform. I’ve bashed people before realising they just lost a loved one, and I felt horrible. Before you judge, before you bash: just simply ask, how they are, and how you can be there for them. And if you’re the one that cannot do the work: just be honest, give a heads up, and try to ensure somebody takes over. In Eduk8 nothing is a matter of life-or-death and we can always find solutions...together. So don’t drop out, don’t disappear: communik8.