In theory, in practice

Let’s talk about pilot programs! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m piloting bits of my Coming of Age program at New Alternatives for Children (NAC). I’m especially excited about the upcoming workshop, which will allow participants to take what we discussed in our last meeting—coming of age rituals—and synthesize it for themselves by designing rites of passage that resonate with their personal definitions of adulthood. As opposed to the last session, where I needed to hit several conceptual points in a presentation and discussion, this is the part of the program where I have no agenda and no expectations. I’m not familiar with this group, but even the facilitator who knows them well is curious to see what the youths come up with. After the presentations, we will have everyone fill out another survey that will hopefully give us a measure the impact of the workshop and allow them to evaluate my role as an educator.

The group facilitator and I debated whether or not we should have participants fill out post-workshop evaluations so soon. I brought up the question partly in the interest of time and partly because I wasn’t sure that there would be any significant change to measure after just two meetings. The post-workshop questionnaire looks much like the pre-workshop questionnaire, but with an additional page of questions regarding the quality of the workshop and the instruction given. I suggested having people fill out only the second half of the evaluations, but Rachael, the facilitator, really pushed handing out the entire thing. She reasoned that it might be better if everyone had the material and experience still fresh in their minds, and furthermore, she wanted me to be able to walk away from this first workshop with as much information as possible.

Basically, Rachael is wagering that we might be able to capture significant information after just two workshops, whereas I am a little more skeptical. We both firmly agreed from the start to be ambitious with what we wanted to accomplish, rather than setting the bar low for the mentees and being conservative with the learning outcomes. Because the workshops within the program are designed to be progressive—in the sense that the ideas build on one another—I would rather evaluate after giving at least one other workshop. We gave the mentees a lot to think about, and it would be great if we could do the assessment after they’ve had the chance to sit with their thoughts for a bit. I also didn’t want to annoy everyone by making them fill out a questionnaire that was so similar to one they filled out just two weeks earlier. Rachael responded that the mentees might not even remember the contents of the first questionnaire, and anyway, she would explain to them the process and purpose of program assessment, which is something that they needed to be aware of anyway. In the end I relented because Rachael’s optimism and desire to give me as much data as possible charmed me. I get the sense that she’s very open to new ideas and differing opinions, but when she takes a stand on something, it’s for very good reason.

I feel very fortunate to have met Rachael, who has really been instrumental in getting my program ideas off the ground. She’s been generous enough to allow me to test out my ideas with her mentoring group, and has been very flexible when it comes to making the most of time constraints and securing better office space for our workshops. I’m hoping to sneak in a couple more workshops before the group takes a summer hiatus.

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