— Dan Taylor (@DanMJT) July 17, 2014
It’s August! I like to joke with friends and family that it’s a month that doesn’t exist on my calendar. While most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is enjoying their last full month of summer, I’m preparing for the upcoming academic year by planning, facilitating, and attending training sessions for my department’s student leaders. Our August leadership trainings are an all-encompassing endeavor that run sun-up to sun-down. This probably sounds all-too familiar to many of you reading.
Why do we often block all of our training events into either August or September? Three possible reasons come to mind:
- Maybe it’s about timing – Certain months are slower times on either our calendars or for our student leaders’ calendars. August and September are also around the time when most student leaders begin their roles. Regardless, we want to cross our training task off the checklist so we can focus on other student needs. We can then rely on student leader supervisors to provide individualized development opportunities.
- Maybe it’s about cost – Training is an investment in student leaders, and investments usually require money. Materials, travel, food, presenters…all these have a price tag that can be hard to justify in an age of shrinking Student Affairs budgets. Repeated training costs will eventually catch someone’s eye.
- Maybe it’s one of a hundred other reasons – We know we cannot fit in everything we might want to cover, resulting in some seemingly important topics left on the cutting room floor. We are also aware that all the skills needed for our student leaders’ roles cannot be taught and/or mastered in convenient one-hour, or even day-long, events. Lastly, we spend copious amounts of our own energy trying to re-engage our student leaders who become exhausted as they are bombarded with information. These seem like some significant drawbacks to a condensed training period.
When I reflected on these concerns, I took time to look around for inspiration. While I have not always been able to follow the advice given to me by others, here are some lessons that have stuck with me:
- Prioritize – Start by training on skills and information needed immediately. As part of your training assessments and evaluations, ask what your student leaders wish had been covered, what they still feel confused about, or what they would like to see in future trainings. Don’t wait a year or even a semester to satisfy their cravings.
- Set future training dates now – It’s easier to get yourself and a group to commit to regularly scheduled events than constantly using Doodle polls to find out when everyone is free again. Use these future dates to train on skills and information needed later. These future dates are also excellent opportunities to tell an eager presenter, “We did not have time for you during our first round of training, but we would like to schedule you for one later this year.”
- Collaborate – If your student leader group is so small that it seems like an enormous effort to hold multiple training events, team up and each group supervisor can take turns presenting mutually agreed upon generalized topics. Group-specific breakout sessions could follow, driving home how the content is pertinent to the specific group.
- Rely on other student leaders – You probably know a few talented student leaders who are exceptional in their duties. Tap these leaders to share some of their knowledge and wisdom during a training event. Most will be eager to get in front of their peers.
- Make it virtual – We’re no longer living in the year 1999, when a 56K modem on your desktop seemed like the fastest thing in the world. Student leaders can access documents and multimedia content nearly everywhere on a wide array of portable devices. Training no longer has to be envisioned as gathering everyone in the same physical space for a set amount of time. The rise of online classes should inspire new ways to provide training content to student leaders year-round.
In closing, August, or whenever you hold your training, no longer has to be a lost time of year. By spreading training sessions out over several months, you might be able to cover more content than you ever dreamed. Your student leaders will have more time to digest and deeply reflect on the content. Small, repeated blasts of energy required for training events are more manageable than one big one. You may never even want to make the change back!
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