Some days the world just comes together and I feel like I really made a difference in people’s lives. Helping adults learn and grow is always rewarding but this particular experience was mesmerizing and special.
I was teaching a leadership class to faculty and staff at a local college. The group was small, only eight participants but it was a cohort that had already been through 5 – four hour trainings and numerous lunch and learns. The most exciting part of their curriculum was that they were asked to work together to solve a retention issue for the college. I had only a small part in their journey. It was a 1.5-hour lunch and learn on conflict resolution and a four-hour class called Professionalism, your brand and presentations. I was not given much direction on the topic just some bullet points so I decided to design it so that the participants would get both personal and professional development.
The class was designed so that each exercise built up to the presentations at the very end. Each participant would discover and document their unique strengths, talents and abilities as it relates to professionalism and leadership. There were many reflection exercises where they wrote about a topic (i.e.,professionalism) and then highlight the words that resonated with them. They then answered questions about their roles professionally and personally in their lives and created a list of their top 5 values. They did an analysis of all of the information. After they had completed the analysis, I had them walk around campus and talk out loud to themselves; reading what they had written so it would “sink in” for the extroverts.
Next, I demonstrated my story and elevator “pitch” so they had an example of what I was expecting for their presentations. I gave them about 15 minutes to pull it together; then they signed up for an order on the white board. It is amazing how important it is to people when giving presentations to know if they will go first or middle or last. I wanted them to be comfortable.
The presentations were incredible. The first to go was a professor who comfortably sat in front of a table in front of us and talked about when he was a middle school math teacher. He described five different students and how he had noticed and diagnosed their issues and helped them in this pre-teen time in their lives. He talked not just about math and school but, about their lives, motivation and direction. It was touching to see this self-proclaimed “Jedi-master (geek)” talking about his former students with such tenderness.
Next, one of the ladies did not know what “she wanted to be when she grew up”. I suggested that she talk about what she does best. She described her past jobs in customer service, in retail, at hotels, etc. It seemed that she had an epiphany as she was talking – she paused and said, “I just realized that all of my jobs are helping people and now that I work for this college my family life is way more important to me”. That was an amazing statement for her – a realization in front of the class.
A young woman went next and described working for 13 years with disabled students. She said that after five years most people burn out but she loves to help them. Then she dropped the news on the class; she is leaving her position and going back to school to become a psychologist. The class literally jumped out of their seats and congratulated her but were shocked to hear that she will be leaving their group and the college.
Next, a guidance counselor spoke. She was one of the quietest of the group and started talking about Lee, a student whose mother died and he went to live with his grandmother – then she died. She told us that she was all that Lee had, and how she helped him. As she shared his story she got tears in her eyes, her voice cracked, and she had a difficult time continuing. We all teared up when she told us that he has only two classes left before he graduates.
The next woman commented, “how am I going to follow that?” She had just had a baby and said she was still a bit hormonal but gave her presentation about how she almost died while giving birth and not to take life too seriously. She had a most wonderful elevator speech about how much she cares about the employees she helps in the HR office. We all continued to share tissues.
Finally, the last person told about how he was bullied in school and realized that he has a natural talent to detect how students need help understanding issues. He is now a professor who helps his students not just understand his curriculum but realize that they CAN get a degree and make a difference.
I love to see how people can discover their unique gifts and share them with others. It is heartwarming to hear how these leaders used their experiences to help others in the world. While working at George Mason University I facilitated leadership classes where the participant’s shared their projects and the presentations. They also did get very personal and emotional as they were sharing their projects with their peers.
I still keep in contact with some of those leaders and they continue to inspire me. I have learned through reading, that people remember and learn better when the curriculum is tied to emotion and they can apply their most emotional moments, experiences and thoughts. But, experiencing these breakthroughs is a pure pleasure and honor. I thanked this group for participating and sharing. One of them told me that this is the first class that he did not feel like he had just lost 4 hours of his life. I guess that is a great compliment.
What types of classes or learning experiences have made a difference in your life or in the lives of your participants?
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