One of the goals I had for myself when I took on the Senior Program Manager position was to establish a professional development series for our staff members. As a volunteer, the most valuable thing organizations can offer (if they don’t pay a salary) is a step forward in their professional development—sometimes it is a letter of recommendation, other times it is a suggested contact, or, in this case I have been working on a workshop series: public speaking, managing organizational conflict through difficult conversations, networking and interview skills. These four classes, which barely scratch the surface of skill development, have still provided an incredible opportunity for staff to work on common needs and support each other. It has sparked good conversations about overlaps in interests, areas of improvement, goal setting, and next steps after Expo.
Right: Concept mapping helps generate links between different thematic areas.
My initial interest in Expo stemmed from two areas: first, I liked the model of hiring local SHS students to teach the JHS students instead of the foreigners teaching; and second, Expo provides opportunities to gain field experience to those who have not yet been field tested. With so many people interested in getting their foot in the door with international development, competition is high and anything that helps give our staff members a leg up on competition is enormously helpful. Expo's work, while run by volunteers, is at the professional level that requires them to manage difficult situations like giving feedback in a cross-cultural setting, tracking and reporting on program budgets, cultivating relationships with school officials, and coaching teenagers in leadrship and small group management skills. Now that the first few workshops have been completeed, we are hoping that all staff can contribute to the series -- highlighting both their passions and expertise as well as giving them a place to practice nascent training skills.
Left: Staff members participates in Raccoon Circles ropes games.
So what does a professional development workshop at an international education NGO entail? Expo has a commitment to activity-based learning and small group interaction. My background with implementation science instilled in me the need for debriefing and in-the-moment coaching. Literature on new skill development emphasizes practice, role play and scenarios to ensure that participants don’t just intellectually understand but can also apply it to real-life contexts in their own words. Expo’s professional development series has thus far included: ropes exercises in the vein of Teamwork and Teamplay, a mock interview panel, Think-Pair-Share activities, spectrum exercises, role plays, team brainstorming games, freeze-frame practice sessions (where you can take a team timeout at any point and ask for advice before continuing) and concept mapping. We strive to emulate the promising practices in training and education—nothing but the best for our staff! While I am phasing out in terms of leading these workshops, the next few workshops in the series will include a focus on curriculum development and writing, classroom management and increasing student achievement. Maybe I can fly back to Ghana to participate for my professional development!
Below: Isabel, Georgina, and Patrick give each other feedback on public speaking.