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  • What is a staff training program?

  • Why run a staff training program?

  • When should you run a staff training program?

  • Who should be in charge of the staff training program?

  • How do you actually plan and run a staff training program?

Let's look at two community-based organizations, the Princeton Parenting and Health Center (PPHC) and the Gooseneck Parent and Child Support Project (Gooseneck). They do similar work -- community education in mother and child health and parenting -- in similar communities. Each has hired a new staff member to make contact with and provide services to new parents.

Elaine, who has a degree in psychology but has never done this specific type of work before (and has no children of her own), has relocated to Princeton to take her job with PPHC. On her first day, after showing her her desk and introducing her to some of the folks she'll be working with, the director gives her a town map and a list of the names of the families she will be responsible for, and wishes her luck. After lunch, Elaine sets out to contact the families in her caseload, a little worried about what she'll do or say when she meets them.

Mark has credentials similar to Elaine's, and has just been hired by Gooseneck. When he reports for work on his first day, he learns that, for the next week, his job will consist of orientation and training. Over several days, he is introduced to everyone in the organization, to several of the families he'll be working with, and to the community.

Mark spends parts of two days going on family visits with veteran staff members, and discusses with them what they did and why. He reads and discusses with other staff some social work theory and a lot of material on parenting education and child nutrition. He role-plays some situations with other staff members, and gets some direct instruction from the program director in social work practice and community health education, and in the specific ways those are interpreted by Gooseneck. He also gets a chance to work with the families he's met, and to get feedback directly from them and, later, from his supervisor, who's accompanied him on his first visits. By the following week, when he's on his own, he feels he has a pretty good idea of what he needs to do, and how to go about it. And he knows that his training will continue.

Which situation would you rather be in? One where you're thrown into the thick of things with no training whatsoever and expected to figure it all out from scratch, or one where your training has prepared you for the work you're going to do? You probably don't have to think too hard about the answer to that question.

This section will help you think about how to plan and run a training program for all the people in your organization, so that they not only begin their jobs with the tools to do them well, but continue to develop their skills for as long as they continue in those jobs.

What is a training program?

For starters, a good training program is just that -- an actual program, which looks at training as not just a one-time event. What makes a training program different from an orientation program is that it covers a much broader area.

Orientation is an introduction to the organization, the job, the target population, and the community. Even if it goes on through the first few months of employment, it is only an introduction, meant to get a staff member used to her new job.

Training is directly related to the skills, knowledge, and strategies necessary to do a particular job. It can include teaching staff members new skills, exposing them to unfamiliar ideas, giving them the chance to practice and get feedback on particular techniques or styles of working with people, or simply encouraging them to discuss their work with one another. And it can, and should, be ongoing throughout a staff member's employment.

What is included in a training program?

As with much of the Community Tool Box, what follows here is an ideal. Most small grassroots and community-based groups probably don't have the resources to do everything, or perhaps even most of the things, on this list. You can do something, however. The literacy program the author ran for several years used the talents of its own staff members for a lot of its ongoing training, for instance, and took advantage of opportunities to partner with other organizations as well.

A comprehensive training program might include the following:

  • Training for new staff who've never done this particular work before.
  • Training for new staff who may be experienced in the work of the position, but not in the particular method or style which your organization uses.

An adult literacy program that had pioneered a particular method of using whole language reading instruction for adults often hired people who had taught reading before, but in different ways. Whole language theory and practice were therefore the subject of much of their initial training, as well as of ongoing staff development.

  • Staff development: ongoing training for all staff.
  • Professional development. While this term is often used interchangeably with staff development, we've chosen to define it as leading either to specific new knowledge, or to the next level of expertise. Professional development might encompass several possibilities:
    • College or graduate courses.
    • Attendance at conferences.
    • Study circles: groups of professionals who meet regularly to discuss readings and/or members' writing and research on topics of mutual interest. A study circle may have a facilitator to help guide reading and discussions, or members may take turns acting as facilitator.
    • Field-generated courses or workshops: courses or workshops that grow out of the needs of practitioners, who find people to teach them.
    • Institutes: Courses run by non-academic institutions, often involving observation and hands-on practice instead of or in addition to lectures, discussion, and reading.

Both staff and professional development require a certain amount of organizational support. At the very least, ongoing training and professional development need to be viewed as part of every staff member's job, and a certain amount of paid time should be devoted to them. Other types of organizational support can include:

  • Payment of some or all tuition for academic courses (usually limited to a specific amount of money or coursework per semester).
  • Registration fees and travel reimbursement for conferences or institutes up to a certain amount.
  • Release time (paid release from one's job during work hours) for specific training activities.

Finally, a training program should apply to everyone in the organization, from administrators to line staff to support staff. All need, and should have the chance, to become continually better at what they do, improving both their own and the organization 's effectiveness.

Why run a training program?

A training program looks like it might involve a fair amount of work and cost some money. Does your organization really need one? The answer is yes, for a number of reasons.

For new staff, there's what seems an obvious answer: a training program is necessary so they can start their jobs with some idea of what they're supposed to do and how to do it. But there are a number of other ways in which a training program can help new staff members:

  • It shows them that the organization is serious about what it does, and therefore encourages them to be serious about it, too.
  • It makes them feel that the organization is supportive of them.
  • Having the proper training boosts their confidence in their ability to do their jobs.
  • A training program can help to convince new staff members of the value of the organization's philosophy and methods.
  • It enlists them as "regulars" in the organization by giving them a vocabulary and way of looking at their work similar to those of others in the organization.
  • It shortens the time needed for them to become competent at their jobs.
  • It reduces their need to ask other staff for advice or information, and thus increases their independence and decreases the drain on other staff members.
  • It greatly diminishes the chance that they'll make mistakes that cost the organization in prestige, public relations, credibility, lawsuits, or money.

For veteran staff, a training program also has numerous benefits:

  • It helps them to become continually more competent at what they do.
  • It increases their knowledge of the field by introducing them to the latest research and theory, and can expose them to new ideas which ultimately may improve their own effectiveness and that of the organization.
  • By keeping them from becoming bored and stale, it helps them to maintain interest in and enthusiasm for their work.
  • It can expose them to other practitioners with different -- and perhaps better -- methods.
  • It gives them one more reason to stay with the organization.
  • It keeps the organization as a whole dynamic: thinking, growing, and changing. A dynamic organization is almost always a healthy and effective one.

In short, a good ongoing training program for all staff increases organizational effectiveness and keeps it increasing, rather than allowing the organization to stagnate.

When should you run a training program?

Training for new staff should clearly be conducted as soon as possible after they're hired. The ideal is that it be part of their orientation -- if the orientation period is long or comprehensive enough -- or that it at least starts before they begin work, so they'll know what they're doing. But a well-planned training program should run all throughout the life of the organization.

Staff development should be scheduled regularly, as part of the normal operation of the organization. Probably, at minimum, everyone in the organization should have the opportunity for some ongoing training at least once a month. Some organizations may conduct or sponsor ongoing training much more often, sometimes as part of a weekly or biweekly staff meeting. Such training opportunities could be as low-key as a half-hour presentation at a staff meeting, or as formal as a presentation or workshop by a nationally known expert in the field, depending upon the organization's resources.

Many state or federal grants and contracts require and fund staff development, and union contracts sometimes include paid staff or professional development time.

Professional development opportunities may be more difficult, because they generally require money. Most small organizations simply don't have the resources to pay for staff members' college or graduate courses, and may not even be able to afford conference fees. While some staff members may be more than willing to pay for their own conferences or courses, it would be unfair to require everyone to do so. A compromise might be to ask staff members to take advantage of at least one professional development opportunity per year. Some of those opportunities - study circles, for instance - are free or almost free, and can be arranged by staff members themselves, or by the organization.

Who should be in charge of the training program?

This question really refers to two different aspects of running a training program. The first is that of who actually controls the program ( i.e. who determines the subject matter, frequency, and form of the training). The second is that of who conducts the training itself. The two may be, but need not be, the same person or group.

There is actually a third facet to running a program as well: coordination. Someone has to be responsible for scheduling, communication, finding outside presenters if necessary, etc.. The question of who coordinates in this way may or may not be less loaded than the others. A member of the support staff might, in fact, coordinate training as part of his job, or the director might insist that she be the training coordinator. However your organization does it -- and having the responsibility rotate among staff members is a possible answer -- it's absolutely crucial to have effective coordination, usually invested in a single person. Without it, a training program will get lost in loose ends and unfinished business.

Control of the training

There are a number of choices for who or what controls a training program:

  • The director, program director, another administrator, or training coordinator, with or without input from other staff members. In a large organization, there might even be a training coordinator for each department, or for each group of services.
  • Organizational policy: the subject matter, form, and frequency of training may be specified by the organization itself, either in the bylaws or in personnel policy.
  • A particular staff member or group of staff members.
  • All staff collectively (including administrators and support staff).
  • Staff and other interested parties, such as participants, who may have knowledge of the training needs of the organization.
  • An outside facilitator or organization.

Federal adult literacy funding mandates that each state have, in effect, a staff development resource. In Massachusetts, the Department of Education supports SABES (the System for Adult Basic Education Support). This organization provides free staff development for staff members of all Department of Education-funded adult literacy programs. The five regional SABES centers periodically survey administrators and line staff in the programs in their regions, and organize workshops, courses, and study circles in the areas of most interest to practitioners. SABES also conducts regular trainings for staff members new to adult literacy.

While many adult education programs conduct internal training in addition to whatever SABES activities their staff members attend, many others rely totally, or at least partially, on SABES for their staff development and training.

  • A combination of some or all of these.

Yet another possibility is joining with other organizations with similar needs to conduct joint trainings. Especially where none of the organizations alone has the staff or financial resources to conduct a full-fledged training program, this can be a great way to provide high-quality staff and professional development.

Even if the organizations have different specific purposes, the trainings could cover areas in common. Trainings on substance abuse, domestic violence, or youth issues, for instance, could be relevant to many community organizations besides those particularly working on those issues. Training in counseling skills or conflict resolution would be useful to almost anyone.

Such joint training can also be made available to the public. This can educate people about the issues and gain support for the organizations in the community. Please see Examples #1 and # 2 for some successful joint training ventures.

As is stated many times elsewhere in the Community Tool Box, it is extremely important for organizations to live their beliefs. Effective organizations usually have a consistent view of how they treat people, whether those people are members of their own staffs, of the target population, or of the larger community. Toward this end, an organization should ask itself some important questions before deciding who should control its training.

  • What are the political implications of your choice? If the director determines the course of training, even with the input of other staff members, that says something specific about the distribution of power in the organization. The same is true if the control of training is a joint responsibility of all staff.
  • How important is it that training in your organization be participatory? What is the organization's stake in doing things in an inclusive and democratic way?
  • How does the control of training reflect the organizational philosophy? If the organization tries to foster a collaborative atmosphere, then training should be viewed as a collaborative effort as well. If the organization seeks to empower its target population, it's important that it also empower staff. An empowered staff would have at least some control over its own training.
  • How distinctive does the training need to be? Does the organization use a self-developed or very unusual method, and has it developed a specific course of training as a result? If that is the case, how much room is there for flexibility and the introduction of other issues and ideas?
  • Are many or all staff members already knowledgeable in the field, or are they one-sided in their knowledge (i.e. are most familiar with only one of several possible methods for doing what they do)?

In general, staff members are far more likely to actually use what they get from a training program if they have at least some control over it. It makes sense, for instance, for those actually working in the field to determine what they need to do better, or what they need to know more about in order to do their jobs well. A training program imposed from above becomes simply a chore, another boring meeting to go to.

A model that often works well is one where staff members take turns being responsible for staff development sessions. Staff members collectively determine their training needs, and then divide up the responsibility for providing training in the areas selected.

Some staff people may have the expertise -- or want to do the research to develop it -- to conduct trainings themselves. Others may know or find appropriate outside presenters or materials (a video on the topic, for instance). Still others may use their turns to present ideas or methods that they have learned about or used elsewhere, or to discuss issues they care about. The important thing is that those who are to be trained make the final decisions on what the training will be about.

Conducting the training

In many ways, deciding who will conduct the training is simpler than deciding who will control it. Possibilities are a program or training director, other staff members, outside presenters (including participants and other community members) or organizations, or some combination.

There is also the possibility here, perhaps with the exception of initial training, of individual staff members planning and carrying out their own programs. See the material below on training contracts for one way this can be accomplished.

Again, there are questions an organization should ask itself here:

  • Who has the expertise? The answer to this question will probably vary from topic to topic. Some or most training might be conducted in-house by staff members with the right background and experience. At other times, an outside source might be necessary.
  • Is it important to involve the community -- either members of the target population or people from the community at large?
  • Do you need special training that no one on staff is competent to provide?
  • What, if anything, can you afford to pay for training?

How do you actually develop and run a training program?

There are four major considerations in developing and running a training program. In the order you need to look at them, they are:

  • Planning
  • Methods
  • Logistics
  • Evaluation

We'll examine each of these in turn.

Planning

General rules for planning a staff training program

  • Involve staff members in the planning and implementation of training programs. Whether they are in direct control of the training or not, the people who do the work are in the best position to figure out what at least some of their needs are. Even new staff can participate in planning in this way. What are they most nervous about? In what areas do they feel least prepared or least competent? The answers to these questions can help to structure a useful and effective initial training.

For both new and veteran staff, there is always the tension between what they know they need and what they don't know they need. If you can foster the understanding that exposure to new ideas and techniques is an important part of any staff member's growth, then exposure to such can become an accepted and valued part of your staff training program.

In addition, staff participation in planning and conducting a training program gives staff members ownership of that program, making it far more likely that they will take it seriously and benefit from it.

  • Respond to staff members' needs. If they're involved in the planning of training, make sure that involvement isn't just nominal, but leads to specific workshops, sessions, etc.. Some things you can do to ensure that needs are met:
    • Cover the topics that staff members identify as important. This doesn't mean you can't add to these topics, but simply that the ones they identify should be addressed. If, for some reason, this isn't practical, that should be discussed and a rationale presented for what will be covered. (Some organizations identify topics by doing an annual -- or more frequent -- staff training needs assessment.)
    • Try to arrange the training in the forms and situations staff members most want: study circles, particular presenters, etc.. Just as important, don't set up situations that staff members particularly dislike -- if everyone expresses distaste for lecture-style presentations, don't plan any.
    • Find materials that address the issues appropriately and interestingly.
  • Schedule training around staff member's needs. For new staff, that means as soon as they report for work, so that they can get the foundation they need. For staff development, it means several things:
    • Schedule at times convenient for as many people as possible.
    • Schedule well in advance so that you can get the presenters you want, assemble materials for staff to examine beforehand, get readings together, etc..
    • Build in enough flexibility or unscheduled time to address real issues that come up in the work when they need to be addressed.

Remember that you're planning a program

A training program is more than just a series of unrelated workshops. It should reflect a way of looking at what your organization does, as well as the needs of the staff. Some organizations plan training a year at a time, choosing to focus on one or a small number of topics, and scheduling discussions or presentations months in advance. Others see a training program as a progression as staff members build their skills and knowledge from the initial training throughout their time in the organization. Still others see a program as covering the areas that staff members need to do their jobs well, which often means responding to immediate concerns (We're getting a lot of participants who are using heroin. How do we deal with that?).

All of these are legitimate ways of looking at a staff training program, and there are others as well. What's necessary is that your staff training plan end up with a program that has some reason behind its structure. An unrelated series of presentations or activities might have some value, but it will benefit neither the staff nor the organization as much as a training program that forms a coherent whole.

Decide what areas your staff training should cover

Obviously, the decision here will depend on the work of the organization and the expressed needs of staff members, but it will also vary with the philosophy and intent of the organization. Some organizations may want a training program to address issues that aren't -- or don't seem to be -- directly related to their stated goals.

If an organization whose stated goal is job training believes that work readiness is dependent on individual development, it might therefore include information on psychological development in its training program. Organizations concerned with empowerment might include training on how the organization expects staff members to interact with and treat participants. Less introspective organizations are more likely to focus training only on job skills -- vaccinating children, teaching literacy, understanding federal regulations.

That said, there are some general areas that most training programs should address

  • Specific job skills and information. Any training, especially initial training, should cover the particular skills and information people need to do their jobs. Teaching techniques, federal regulations, and new medical information might all be training topics for one organization or another.

In some cases, of course, people in your group have been hired specifically because they already had most of the skills and information they needed. (You don't have to teach an RN how to take blood pressure, for instance.) Training should take that into account, and focus on upgrading skills, or on information that's new or specific to the organization.

  • Skills unique to your organization. If you have self-developed or unusual ways of doing things, it's obviously important that staff members understand both how to use these methods and why your organization uses them.
  • New techniques, developments, theories, policies, laws, etc., in your field.
  • Other areas that staff members need to be familiar with, over and above their job skills, in order to do their jobs well (strategies to deal with someone who's suicidal, for instance, or to resolve conflicts). Into this category falls most training in such areas as interpersonal skills, cultural sensitivity, and diversity.
  • Specific issues of importance to the organization. Depending upon the nature of the work and of the target population, some possibilities here could be domestic violence, the spread of AIDS, welfare reform, ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act), the economics of particular neighborhoods or regions, trends in federal funding, etc.. These issues might not be related directly to the goals of the organization, but may have great impact on its work because of their effect on participants.

Determine how much training your staff needs, and when it should happen

  • Initial training. How long should training for new staff last? When are you going to need it (i.e., do you know when you're likely to be hiring)?
  • Staff development. How much staff development should each staff member engage in during a year? How often should it take place, or does that matter?
  • Professional development. Should there be an organizational standard for the amount of professional development a staff member should be involved in each year? If so, should there be any time considerations placed on that standard (i.e., professional development has to be completed by a certain time each year)?

Some organizations approach all these questions through the use of an individual training contract with each staff member. In this case, each person in the organization -- often in consultation with supervisors, other staff, etc. -- plans his own training program for the year. A program may include courses, workshops, conferences, study circles, observations at other organizations, research, self-directed reading, etc. -- in other words, any activity that will enhance his skills or knowledge.

Once the program is finalized, the organization and the staff member sign a contract, with the staff member agreeing to participate in the activities named, and the organization agreeing to provide specific support (a certain amount of tuition for a course, release time for observation visits, etc.). The staff member may be required to check in with a supervisor or mentor a certain number of times during the year, or the contract may simply be reviewed at the end of the year.

This method has the advantage of constructing a program for each staff member that should speak directly to his needs. It has the disadvantage of staff members going off in different directions, and not necessarily informing one another of what they've learned. An organization might compromise by running its own, somewhat shortened, training program in addition to negotiating training contracts with each individual, and/or to end the year with a seminar in which each person shares what she's learned.

Methods

There are some general guidelines to keep in mind when considering what methods to use in a staff training program.

  • If the training is meant to teach a method or technique, it should be conducted using the method or technique in question. If you're trying to teach group facilitation skills, for instance, then you -- or whoever is conducting the training -- should be demonstrating those skills in the presentation itself.
  • Similarly, training methods should be consistent with the mission and philosophy of the organization. If the organization is collaborative, for instance, then the training program should assume that everyone has some relevant knowledge and experience to contribute. The training should be viewed as a collaborative effort, rather than as an authority offering some of his knowledge to others who are essentially ignorant.
  • Vary presentation methods to keep people interested and excited. This is true whether training is in-house or is largely conducted by outside presenters. Among the many methods available are:
    • Discussion/study circles
    • Group activities: small-group problem-solving, collaborative projects, etc.
    • Multimedia: audio-visual presentations (videos, audio tape, overheads), use of computers and the internet, etc.
    • Physical activities: movement, manipulation of materials
    • Individual problem-solving
    • Role plays and simulation, including interactive theater
    • Journals or other writing activities
    • Arts activities: creating pictures, structures, poems, etc., either as individuals or in groups
    • Individual or group research
    • Readings
    • Lecture

You may notice that lecture, which is probably the most common method of presentation, is listed last here. The reason is that studies have shown that lecture is the least effective method of learning for most people. For most subject matter, group learning and/or hands-on involvement are usually more effective: the give-and-take of a group discussion, even if the group is only two, is far more helpful to most people than listening to someone tell them something, and actually practicing the activity is even more powerful.

Discussion is interactive: it gives people the chance to wrestle with ideas, to translate those ideas into their own terms, and to make them their own. The same is true of several of the other methods listed above, particularly the use of physical activities, role plays, and the arts.

  • Be aware of different learning styles. There are many descriptions of different learning styles, but all come down to two issues: how people take in information; and how they organize and use it. Although most people can use a range of different styles when they need to, everyone seems to have a style that they prefer, and which they can use best.

A common way of looking at cognitive style is to divide an area into four. Each of the two lines - one vertical and one horizontal - that divide it into four squares (see diagram) represents a way of handling information. Although different theories use different names for the styles they discuss, most actually describe the same possibilities.

In most cases, one line forms a progression from sequential (in logical order, already fitting together) to random or intuitive (a piece here and a piece there, with their fitting together coming as a mental "click into place" at some point). The other line forms a progression from "chunking" information (seeing the big picture, often referred to as "abstract") to dealing with information as a group of separate details ("concrete").

An individual's cognitive style is defined as the area into which she falls when scored on a questionnaire designed to see both where she falls on the line between sequential and intuitive, and where on the line between abstract and concrete. The diagram below gives a picture of the four areas.

 

Thus, someone might be described as "abstract-random" or "abstract-sequential." Each description brings with it a particular preference for interpreting the world. It's often said, for instance, that engineers are concrete-sequential: they deal in concrete issues, and they want everything in logical order. If issues aren't concrete and sequential, then they try to make them that way.

Teaching to as many different learning styles as possible helps everyone develop their ability to use a variety of strategies. Different kinds of problems demand different kinds of solutions, and the more easily a person can switch styles when necessary, the better learner and problem-solver he'll be. In the long run, it's one of the best ways to make sure that everyone learns what he needs to.

You may notice that lecture, which is probably the most common method of presentation, is listed last here. The reason is that studies have shown that lecture is the least effective method of learning for most people. For most subject matter, group learning and/or hands-on involvement are usually more effective: the give-and-take of a group discussion, even if the group is only two, is far more helpful to most people than listening to someone tell them something, and actually practicing the activity is even more powerful.

Discussion is interactive: it gives people the chance to wrestle with ideas, to translate those ideas into their own terms, and to make them their own. The same is true of several of the other methods listed above, particularly the use of physical activities, role plays, and the arts.

You can address different styles by planning either individual activities or a series of activities that include several of these ways of presenting information:

There are various ways to approach this issue. Asking people to draw pictures or to act out something often engages "right-brain" functions; asking people to make a list or to create a statistical profile prompts "left-brain" learning. One of the reasons that role plays and the like are often such powerful learning tools is that, through the use of feedback after the experience, they engage both, and help people to integrate them. Thus, when they've learned something in that way, they both "know" it intuitively and understand it intellectually.

  • Use visual - through the eyes (slides, video); auditory - through the ears (tapes, lecture); and kinesthetic - through movement and touch (games, things to build with, etc.); and similar methods of presenting information.
  • Provide opportunities for people to work in large groups, small groups, pairs, and alone, since some people learn best in each of these situations.
  • Pay attention to "right brain-left brain" differences. Although this common description can be misleading (these activities are not actually dichotically divided into right and left sides of the brain), the differences to note here are between the emotional/intuitive/artistic (right brain) and the logical/sequential /mathematical (left brain) ways of thinking. Some people respond more to ideas in sequence, for instance, and others to ideas connected to anecdotes or to literature.

There are various ways to approach this issue. Asking people to draw pictures or to act out something often engages "right-brain" functions; asking people to make a list or to create a statistical profile prompts "left-brain" learning. One of the reasons that role plays and the like are often such powerful learning tools is that, through the use of feedback after the experience, they engage both, and help people to integrate them. Thus, when they've learned something in that way, they both "know" it intuitively and understand it intellectually.

  • Try to address both the big picture -- an overall view of the ideas or techniques you're introducing, and how they fit into your organization and the field -- and the smaller details that make up that big picture.
  • Use humor, games, and other fun activities as much as possible. Virtually everyone learns more, and more quickly, when they are having fun than when they feel bored or under pressure.
  • Especially if there are skills or techniques to learn, try to design activities with as much opportunity for feedback as possible.

Feedback - a constructive critical response - is one of the most important tools available for training of any sort. Having a chance to practice a skill or explore an idea with feedback from observers or other participants can be a tremendously powerful learning experience. (This experience can be even more meaningful when the practice is in a real-life situation under the supervision of a veteran staff member or supervisor, as in the case of practice teaching.)

To use feedback well, it's important to understand that it has a serious effect on people at whom it's aimed. If you're not careful, it can be devastating. A few guiding principles can help you employ feedback in a way that's almost always helpful:

  • Feedback should be positive first. Remember that, in most cases, the person it's directed at is often doing something she's still a beginner at. Find something good to say before you address problem areas.
  • Feedback should be clear and concrete. Rather than "You didn't do that well," try "You seemed to have some difficulty when X happened. What were you thinking/feeling there? What might you have done to make things go differently?" or "What if you had tried A instead of B in that situation? What do you think might have happened?"
  • Feedback should be directed toward mastery of the activity, not toward criticism of the person. "You really stank that up" is not helpful. Approaching feedback as a joint problem-solving activity is much more so. Responses like those in number 2 above both involve the person in problem-solving and indicate support for her learning.
  • Feedback should actually be useful to the trainee in a real situation. It should help him understand the situation more clearly, and give him some tools to use when that situation arises again.
  • There are many ways to provide feedback besides third-person observation.
    • Video- or audiotaping the trainee provides a record of the activity, which she can then react to alone or with others.
    • Video- or audiotaping someone else -- a veteran staff member, perhaps -- doing the same thing the trainee was taped doing can furnish her with another model.

One advantage of these strategies is that you can repeat parts of the activity as many times as necessary in order to analyze what's happening and to understand what went right or wrong in those particular instances.

  • Giving feedback can be just as powerful a learning experience as getting it. Just as the best way to learn something is to teach it, the best way to understand the dynamics of a situation may sometimes be to watch it and comment, rather than to be directly involved in it. It's crucial, therefore, that everyone have the chance to provide feedback as well as to receive it.

Logistics

The logistics -- the nitty-gritty of arranging everything so that the training can take place -- may not be the most exciting part of a training, but it's absolutely crucial. How well you take care of the details may have a lot to do with the success of your training program, so you have to start thinking about them early. For most organizations, the important issues will be location, setup, and materials.

  • Location. Do you want -- or do you have -- to hold training or staff development sessions at your workplace, or would it be better to go elsewhere? Other possibilities include people's houses; (free) institutional space (a library or college, for instance); rented space; space loaned by another organization; outdoors; or rented conference space, which may be far from home and very different from the normal work environment.

Your organization's resources -- probably not huge -- will go a long way toward determining whether you can rent space or not. Your organization's philosophy and style may help to determine whether you want to rent space or you would rather spend the money directly on the work you do.

Time and the amount of space needed can also be determining factors. If your staff development takes place during staff meeting time, for instance, then it's almost undoubtedly going to be in your workplace. If you're planning activities that involve a lot of physical movement, you'll need more space than you will just for chairs.

  • Setup. How are you going to set up the space? How formal or informal do you want it to be? Do you want comfortable furniture? Chairs in rows, or in a circle? Tables or desks to write on? Blackboards? These questions might influence your choice of location as well.

In addition, you need to consider trainees' comfort. Does your space have enough light, natural or otherwise? (Remember that fluorescent lights buzz, a noise that some people don't mind or don't hear, and that others can't stand.) Is there enough air circulation? (Rooms without adequate ventilation put people to sleep.) How's the temperature? (If you're too hot or too cold, it's hard to concentrate.)

Food changes the dynamics of any situation, making it friendlier and more relaxed. Do you want to include food, and, if so, will the organization provide it, or will people share the cost or take turns?

In general, creating an informal atmosphere is more conducive to discussion and to learning. The best learning comes out of thrashing out ideas among people, and that kind of interchange is more likely in an informal environment. Such an arrangement also creates less of a distance between the facilitator and participants in a training session. The partnership encouraged by informality leads to more ownership of the training by participants and more effective learning.

  • Materials. Training materials will, of course, be dependent on the nature of your training and the methods you choose. No matter what you do, however, there will almost undoubtedly be a fair amount of text and other paper that needs to be distributed (although it may also be posted to be downloaded from a web site or computer network), and other materials needed for particular training sessions. These have to be available at the right times, and that's probably the responsibility of the coordinator.

Having materials ready when they're needed can be a big job. It may mean getting many pages copied; typing text into a web site; making overheads, videos, or CD-ROMs (as well as finding the hardware to display them); creating Power Point presentations; assembling enough art materials for everyone to use; etc.. It may even mean putting together or writing a training manual, which might include some of these materials.

The planning you've done becomes crucial here. The more lead time the coordinator has to get materials ready, the more likely they are to be there when they're required, and the more flexible the training program, as a whole, will be able to be.

Publicity may or may not be a fourth issue here. It depends on the size of your organization (if you have a staff of 20 or fewer, informing everyone of a training opportunity isn't difficult, although you still have to do it), and, probably more importantly, on whether the training will be open to other organizations or to the public. If you're advertising it publicly, you'll need to follow some general rules for getting your message out:

  • Use as many different outlets as possible (fliers and posters; advertisements, articles, and press releases in print and broadcast media; direct mail or e-mail; community bulletin boards; etc.).
  • Use language that's easily understood by your target audience (including languages other than English when appropriate).
  • Put your message where your target audience will see or hear it -- in their neighborhoods, in stores they patronize, on radio stations they listen to, etc..

Evaluation

Like all your work, your training program should be dynamic, constantly changing to improve its effectiveness and meet the evolving needs of the organization. The way you assure this dynamism is through regular, careful examination and evaluation of what you're doing and how you do it.

There are some obvious ways to determine the effectiveness of your training program.

  • Feedback from staff members, both on individual sessions and on the training program as a whole. Obtaining honest feedback could be difficult if the level of trust in the organization isn't high. (Lack of trust is another problem, but not for this section. Both group discussions and individual conversations are the best ways to get real information. They allow for give and take, and give people a chance to polish their thoughts as they hear those of others.

    You can also ask people to fill out a survey (anonymous or not). This may be somewhat less revealing, but it may also give you accurate feedback on how helpful and interesting your training is. (Please see Tool #1 for a sample survey on training.)

    The important questions are whether staff members feel that the training program, in general, was useful, and how it can be improved. Can they point to specific training that has had a practical effect? Do they use any of the ideas or techniques they learned or were exposed to? Are they more open to innovation in their work than before? Has training improved their confidence or their feeling of competency? Does the training feel supportive? Would they consider the time spent on it a valuable part of their jobs? What areas of concern weren't covered? What would they like to see added or dumped in the future?

  • Feedback from participants, target populations, community members, etc., about the competence of the organization in the areas that the training program addressed. Have there been changes in the ways things are done or changes in the effectiveness of the organization? Have there been changes in the way the organization is perceived?
  • Observation and supervision of staff members in job situations. How easily did new staff members adapt to the techniques, ideas, and attitudes presented in initial training? Is there improvement, or a drive toward improvement, in the work of veteran staff? Have any of the ideas proposed in training been adopted in practice, and how well are they working? Do supervisors see differences in people 's attitudes, methods, or competency? Do staff members discuss training issues with supervisors and with one another?

    The goal of both initial and ongoing training is to help staff members become more effective at what they do. For various organizations, that may mean being more creative or more innovative, serving more people, having more success with current participants, involving more people from the community, or having greater political impact. Whatever your goals for staff effectiveness, you'll be many steps closer to reaching them if you have a well-planned and well-executed training program.

In Summary

A good staff training program is just that -- a program, with a structure and logic to it that make sense for your organization. It should continue throughout the life of the organization and include initial training for new staff, staff development (ongoing training for all staff), and professional development (the opportunity to gain new knowledge or skills, or to move to the next level of expertise).

Creating such a program involves planning that includes the people to be trained, and looks at both what kind of shape the training program should take and what areas it should cover. The development of a training program also requires thinking about methods (how the training will be presented), logistics (where and when training will be held, what's necessary to make it all go well, etc.), and evaluation (how you'll find out what was valuable and what was not, and what you should do to improve the program over time).

Developing a training program that meets the needs of both staff members and the organization, and keeps the organization growing and changing for the better, is a big job. But, the benefits to be gained will far outweigh the effort.

Contributor 
Phil Rabinowitz

Print Resource

Staff training/staff development

Online Resources

Staff development in schools from the perspective of the Kansas Department of Education

National Staff Development Council, the national staff development professional organization for K-12 education.

Staff Development, by Jocelyn A. Butler. Close-up #12 in the School Improvement Research Series. From Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory

Prince George's County (MD) Public Schools Some good general information on staff development, as well as material specific to schools.

SABES, the Massachusetts Adult Basic Education staff development support system. Excerpts from the Integrated Staff and Program Development Handbook, a staff development model for adult literacy education in Massachusetts.

"Staff Development and Change Process: Cut from the Same Cloth" Issues...About Change, vol. 4, no. 2, 1994. An article on the connection between staff development and change from the website of the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory.

Links for educational staff development

Cognitive/learning styles

Difference Is Not Deficiency Research on differences in cognitive style suggests minority students could contribute far more than they do now if given the chance. An interview with James Vasquez from In Context, the journal of the Context Institute.

LdPride Information and links on learning styles and multiple intelligences.

A synopsis of learning and teaching styles by Dr. Richard Felder of North Carolina State University. It includes a self-graded learning style assessment with explanation.

SNOW Adapting teaching to learning styles (audial/visual/tactile) as well as assessment of teaching style and teaching style inventory.