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A Self-Organized Workshop for Leader Applicants

Vicki Parnell
Burnaby BC Canada
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 2, April-May 2005, pp. 30-31.

Recently, I wanted to provide a new Leader Applicant an opportunity to connect with other Leader Applicants. I decided to host a workshop so that the Applicants in our area and their sponsoring Leaders could meet one another and complete some of their application work together.

The challenge was to provide an event that would adequately meet the needs of many Applicants who were at different stages of the application process. I determined that the best approach would be to give the Applicants the choice of deciding which topics would be most relevant to them. The workshop turned out to be a successful day that was easy to plan and facilitate.

Before the workshop, only basic planning was necessary. I asked the Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (CLA) to send me contact information for the Applicants in a wide geographic area surrounding my city. I found a location for the meeting and set a date. I sent everyone invitations with directions, instructions to bring any LLL resource books they owned, and food for lunch and snacks. I included basic information about what to expect on the day of the workshop. I asked for a minimal donation to cover the costs of putting this day together. The local Leader Accreditation Department representatives gave me valuable feedback during the planning stages and helped me draft my invitation and hone my ideas.

The week of the event, I put together packets for the attendees. They included copies of the Leader Applicant discussion checklist, Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG), Preview of Mothers' Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management (or Leader's Guide to the Preview for Leaders who were attending), and a few other resources that might be helpful. Each packet also included a pen and copies of forms the Applicants could use to keep track of what they discussed and completed at the workshop.

On the morning of the workshop, I set up the meeting room with a large circle of chairs in the center. As each woman entered, she registered, made a name tag, took a packet, and joined the circle. We briefly introduced ourselves and our children and got to know one another.

The next step was building our agenda for the day. On the wall I had used special masking tape (the kind that won't damage paint) to create a large, empty grid. Because we had enough space for three small discussion groups and enough time for three sessions, the grid on the wall had nine squares. Above the grid I taped signs saying "Group A," "Group B," "Group C," and along the left side of the grid were signs showing the times of the three sessions. I taped additional signs on the wall in various parts of the room to indicate where each group would gather.

I provided markers and large "sticky notes" and asked our guiding question for the day: "What would you like to talk about today to help you prepare to be an effective LLL Leader?" I asked attendees to consider their answers to this question, write their ideas for discussion topics on sticky notes, and stick them in the empty squares on the wall grid.

To get things started, I wrote "Mock Series Meeting" and stuck it into a square. I sat down and waited. A few minutes of discussion and thinking passed before a small group of Applicants asked what all the exercises in the packet were, as they were new to the application. I suggested that they offer "Getting Started with the Application" as a topic. This seemed to be when everyone suddenly understood what was expected of them and began scribbling down session ideas. Within 10 minutes, we had created our agenda and were ready to gather in smaller groups to discuss the topics.

The topics that ended up on our agenda were:

  • Active listening/communication
  • Tips to expedite the application (related to time, writing, etc.)
  • Mock Series Meeting
  • Combining the BRG and Preview
  • Ideas for Group organization and expansion
  • Helping mothers with latch-on problems
  • Handling our personal biases
  • Covering topics on the discussion checklist
  • Getting started with the application

As we separated into groups, the Leaders quickly conferred about their preferred topics. It was important to ensure that there was at least one Leader in each topic group to provide an experienced perspective. This worked well.

Once we had our agenda, I could participate in the discussions with everyone else. As workshop facilitator, I only needed to keep an eye on the time and gently remind people when to wrap up a session. Without preset session outlines and agendas, the discussions were free-flowing and relaxed, and the learning was intense. Each person was discussing something that really mattered to her. To emphasize the flexibility of our format, I reminded participants that people were welcome to move from group to group as they wished and do what they needed to meet their own needs to learn and connect with others. If a session wasn't meeting her needs, a participant could join another group, look at resource books, or make a phone call home. The Leaders didn't feel pressured to "present" topics for a set period of time but could find out what their groups wanted to learn or talk about and go from there.

I found two things interesting as the day progressed. First, the Preview was used more often than any other exercise or resource. By the end of the day, many Applicants had completed significant work on it. Although newer Applicants initially requested basic topics including "finding time" or "getting started with the application," they ended up preferring to discuss topics that directly related to leadership responsibilities. They wanted to work on application requirements instead of talk about them.

At the end of our day, we came back together to share what we had learned and found useful. Everyone spoke favorably about the format of the workshop -- they loved being able to request and talk about the subjects that were most important to them. They were eager to repeat the experience and carry forward the connection they had felt with others throughout the day. One mother offered her home for the next workshop, so we planned a tentative date. As everyone left and I quickly cleaned up the meeting space, I felt happy and relaxed and I realized that every other LLL event I've helped plan required more energy than this day did. It was a pleasure to offer this opportunity to Applicants, and it was lovely to feel energized instead of exhausted at the end of the day. I'm looking forward to making these workshops a regular event.

Editor's Note: Vicki hopes the information in this article will help others to plan and facilitate a similar event in their locale. Contact Vicki at vicki@parnell.ca (email) for a packet in Adobe Acrobat PDF format, including to-do lists, shopping lists, a photograph of her agenda wall, and basic forms for a workshop.

Vicki Parnell and her husband, Jeff Duncan, live in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada with their two children, Megan (9) and Calum (3). Vicki is a Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for the United States Western Division and enjoys corresponding with Leaders and Applicants all over the world. Monique Kitts is the Contributing Editor for "Preparing for Leadership." Article ideas and submissions may be sent to Monique at 3777 Cherokee Valley Road, Ringgold, Georgia, 30736, USA; moniquek@fastemailer.com (email); or faxed to 253.645.2230.

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