Simple Ideas

Gregory's Complaint

College / University | September 10, 2010

"You are a 100% honest man"

"You just tell people the truth, nice!"

"Women don't want to hear the truth, they want to hear what they want to hear"

Those first two quotes were from male coworkers. The third quote was not.

The first quote came from a professor who was a fellow student in a class. It was an all professor classroom, a place where honesty could perhaps been a casualty, in fact that is exactly what I was expecting based on the pre-class work. it seemed that all we needed to do was model political correctness and we'd be able to BS through the class without a worry.

The class was on advanced facilitation skills, this was the pilot offering of the course, so no one knew how it might go. On day one half the class didn't show. A variety of emergencies decimated our ranks. I didn't realize how much of a problem that would cause, but eventually I'd learn.

Our first facilitation exercise involved reproducing a quarter of a drawing and then putting our reproductions together. The other guys at the table did ink drawings or the painting. I noticed that the instructions did not prohibit the use of markers, so I did mine using as many markers as I could find. Eventually we complete the task and the facilitator asks us "what was your take-away from this. The other guys gave process based answers. I looked at the bright yellows, reds and greens on my sheet and declared "I like pretty colors."

My boss was sitting next to me choking back a belly laugh. I know, I know. This is how I get my reputation of being mentally handicapped. I just say whatever truth pops into my head.

Not long after this I'm describing a problem with a student who was missing class. Sometimes, a student can slink in the back way, grab a seat in the back and no one notices. But this student was at the front table. Not only was she at the front table, I explained, but everyone in the class stopped and looked when she stood up or sat down. I mean all conversation stopped and-

"Yellow light, yellow light Greg!"

"What? oh Yellow, yes that is a nice color, I used a lot of it on the exercise1"

See its that easy to get me to change subjects.

I can't say I was entirely sold on the value of this facilitation stuff as being useful to the students. It seemed to me to be little more than a ploy to get them to want to say something, then giving them time to say it, so that in the end they would feel good about themselves and the course. I didn't see it as a learning tool going in, rather it was a defense tool. I had taught with one professor who was a great facilitator and I thought, "huh, the student are really going to feel good about the other guy and not about me, so I need to learn this facilitation stuff out of self defense-even if it is little more than thinly disguised group therapy".

So I dove in and facilitated for all I was worth. Day two was heavy facilitation day, it seemed we were either facilitating or being facilitated all morning. At one point I was given a wildcard topic and brought up the issue of co-teaching and what you do when a co-teacher throws you under a bus. Turns out it had happened to everyone at the table except the newest guy who would eventually proclaim my honesty. He was surprised I'd bring up that topic and even more surprised by the stories that came out.

By the afternoon we were 12 hours into the class and looking at a solid 8 hours of exercises ahead of us. The observer noted that the session he just watched seemed to lack energy at which point I chimed in "Absolutely, I'm feeling burnt out from all these exercises." In fact I was trying to figure out ways to get my adrenals to fire to somehow power through the rest of the afternoon. I considered handstands as maybe the answer, but I didn't have to go to that extreme. As soon as I said I was beat everyone at the table seconded it. Then the instructors came on board and basically said "You know, here is where we banged into the class size issue-we had a bunch of large group exercises planned for two tables, but when we went from two tables to one there was only the small group, you guys are right, this is overkill" So they then switched up and did a panel discussion. As the panel discussion wore on, the guy next to me goes "You know if we'd have just facilitated this, we'd have been done an hour ago." True, but really, we were cooked and we had to prepare for our capstone exercise the next day. No way we could have bounced back from the grind to get there. Here going into cruise control for a couple hours made the difference.

This may have been the most important experience of the week for me, the second day burn out. I see that a lot on wednesday of some of our harder courses and now I knew exactly what it felt like and had some ideas how to bounce back from that.

I had to do a capstone facilitation exercise. The idea is that you take a lesson you teach, extract a section that could be a 20 minute facilitation and use that for the final project. Here is where my personality type really kicked in. I'm a chronic last minute type and so of course I was modifying my exercise every few minutes in my head. I was the last one to go, so I could do grand theft auto on what worked and what didn't.

The first professor was the newest and he did 8 minutes of teaching before he started facilitating. I realized I had 10 minutes of teaching in my plan and quickly dropped that. Second guy got the ball rolling quicker and I saw how that worked. The third guy used 5 minutes of set up time to do his teaching. Aha! I could now reinsert 3 minutes of my 10 minutes of teaching as set up, my plan really was coming together, though I still had in my head the idea that I might completely change my topic at the last minute, thus breaking the only real rule we had. I don't like rules.

The fourth session had me totally lost. It was a case from a 400 level program manager course. Everyone else read the case and got it on one read. I could see the head nods. All of them had been a program manager at one time and they got the drift. I read the case three times and got nothing, other than a reference to a curve ball.

When they started the discussion, I said nothing. The facilitator tried to engage me in the conversation, but I waved him off by saying "I'm a construction guy, I really don't have a clue". After the exercise was over they discussed ways they could have got me involved, but I elaborated that I'd have had to sat in a program managers chair for a year until any of the nuances in the case would be clear. I could tell from reading it that is was a very nuanced case, but it was like a first time player trying to figure out what the best poker players are doing at the World Series of Poker. That took me a year of experience and this was the exact same thing.

I did feel bad that I was the class dunce and didn't play in the last two of the facilitation's, but really, nether one grabbed me. Add to that the fact that I was changing my presentation every 5 minutes. In fact my trash heap was up to about two hours worth of material that was not going to be part of the 20 minutes. 5 minutes to go and I lock in my plan. I do a drawing that I need for my 5 minute set up. I open google street view and show a view of my house. This is being videoed to "ramp up the pressure" so I get mic-ed up and am ready to go. The mic does its trick as I forget to check the clock when I start. This is a timed event and I missed the start. I see it is 10:37 and I think I've maybe been talking 5-7 minutes when I notice this.

What we are talking about is our building where we work. Our dean always touts this as being a "free" building as the Navy gives it to us at no charge. But I point out there are many costs to the people in the building. The group comes up with a list that completely fills a 4 foot by 6 foot whiteboard. I wasn't actually doing this to poke the dean in the eye, in fact that wasn't even remotely my point. The point was that few people really look at all the costs to all the stakeholders, rather they just check what it costs them in dollars.

In the end, it went well. Since everyone has an office and uses the classrooms, they all played. The observers comments consisted mostly of "well done". There were a couple of improvements and they were related to a couple of smaller items that i did not add to the trash heap and should have. But over all it went well.

When it was all done the lead instructor gave out the certificates. As is his tradition, everyone gets a nickname with their cert.

He strolls over to me and proclaims "Greg....I don't have a clue...Maffett"

Which, thinking back on it, really sums up all this honesty stuff.


Any Comments?

Sharp Park Part 1

By GREG MAFFETT
Published: July 17, 2010

So this is actually a novelette, but once the 'web novel' radio button appeared here, I had this overwhelming desire to click it.