Posts Tagged ‘learner support’

Blind leading the Sighted

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

As some of you are aware, I undertake training assignments through Charity Days. I, together with a couple of hundred other trainers, am registered with Charity Days and we offer our services to charities free of charge. Charities contact Charity Days, explain their needs, the trainers are contacted and those who are able to offer assistance do so. The charity then decides who to work with, and training happens.

There are obvious benefits for the charities, but the benefits are two-fold. I really enjoy meeting and working with people who have such a dedication to their chosen charities, I find it fascinating to observe and work with new organisations, and – perhaps best of all – I learn.

Over the past few weeks I have been delivering some Train the Trainer sessions for Guide Dogs for the Blind Association – so that staff and volunteers can equip their volunteer speakers to be as effective as possible. I have been to Worcester, Forfar and Leeds so far, and have one more booking in Manchester.

I have run sessions with several dogs in the classroom, and at Forfar the classroom had a window on to both a training arena and lovely dog kennelling (the dogs’ desire for mealtime was a minor auditory distraction!).

My practical learning, however, related to training blind and visually impaired people – I can’t recall having delivered training to seriously visually impaired people before. Having a few such people in the groups, it enabled Heather – my very dedicated and well-travelled Guide Dogs co-trainer – to seek their personal views on how to make training as accessible and engaging as possible for blind and visually impaired people. I found their help invaluable, and I was able to practice and implement some of their suggestions as the days have progressed.

Heather very kindly documented the contributors’ thoughts, and I have reproduced their tips here in case they may be of assistance to you now or in the future.

· Layout of the room should be described fully early on, and clear verbal instructions given during housekeeping rather than using pointing.

· The room should then not be changed throughout session unless absolutely necessary, and clear details should be given if this does occur.

· When there is a break, or people leave the room, ask that all attendees push their chairs in to reduce obstacles.

· When giving directions or explaining the layout of a room, image or training model, use a clock face to describe where items are – i.e. door at 8 o’clock or 3 o’clock. This is much clearer than using left or right, or other directions.

· If the visually impaired (VI) participant is to stand to give a talk or presentation, ensure they have a table or other solid surface to lean on so that they can retain their bearings.

· All attendees should introduce themselves in order of seating around room, so that VI participants can identify others more readily when discussions take place.

· The trainer / facilitator should ensure they know the names of participants and use them whenever addressing the person concerned.

· If using visual aids such as slides and flip charts, all text should be read out and any images described.

· VI participants will learn by listening and memory. Keep messages simple and clear, and allow time for new information to be taken in.

· It is generally better to have tables or desks as these enable VI participants to use note takers if required.

· Exercises should not be visual, and if a mental problem solving exercise is used, it should take into consideration the amount of information to be absorbed.

· Do not use colours to distinguish.

· Lighting should remain consistent in all areas of the room.

· If part of the session relates to demonstrating to sighted people the issues around being visually impaired, it is advisable not to use blindfolds. It is recommended that simulated spectacles are used so that attendees can gain an understanding of the barriers VI participants face as only a very small percentage of VI people are totally blind.


Story of a life

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

When I was doing my ‘A’ levels many years ago here in England, there was a guy in my English Literature group who had just transferred from a school in New York. I can’t remember his name. There was always an air of mystery as to how and why he had arrived at our school. He was regarded as being very street-wise and was a key member of the in-crowd.  I didn’t mix with him too much, but did walk with him towards our homes on a few occasions – generally after we had an English lesson at the end of the day.

I have two key recollections of him. The first was when we were walking past some horses and before I could tell him not to walk behind them, he did and got booted to the floor. He may have been street-wise, but was not animal-wise. The second was that he introduced me to the words and music of Harry Chapin. He was a big fan, a very big fan.  I am now a big fan and have been for many years, and I have him to thank for introducing me.

Harry Chapin

Within the training context I have used Harry’s music and words on many occasions over the years. They can be really impactive for delegates in some key learning areas, and the affective nature of the experience can leave a lasting impression – as long as it is debriefed with skill and care. The two songs that I have used most regularly are “Flowers are Red” and “Why do Little Girls?” They are great for exploring diversity issues.

I used one this week that I have never used before. It’s “Mr Tanner” and it tells the story of Martin Tanner, who loves to sing. Singing wasn’t his profession – he ran a cleaning shop – but singing made his life whole. And apparently he was pretty good at it. He knew he had a few flaws, but all his friends said he could take it further. I suppose in today’s world, he would have been encouraged to audition for The X Factor or similar. Mr Tanner listened to the friends, and decided to give it a go, and so hired a hall and gave a concert. The critics lambasted him. As a result he never sang again. “Music was his life”, Harry tells us, and in the space of a couple of hours at the concert, this had been lost and his life continued incomplete.

I used it to illustrate the impact a trainer – or manager – can have when giving feedback and encouraging people to take risks.  With false encouragement and (or) poor quality feedback that is imbalanced, there can be a huge negative impact for those we should be helping to develop. That’s not to say we shouldn’t encourage people to develop, just that we should do it with care and empathy.

And I’m pleased to say it went really well with the group of trainers I was working with – very impactive, created some great discussion and left a lasting impression.

As for Harry Chapin, I got to one of his concerts. An altogether different affair.  It was back in 1981, and I just wish I had known more of his songs before I went. After the show he signed programmes and was happy to go to the bar with people – all driven by his desire to sell as much merchandise as possible to help the World Health Organisation. He did about 100 concerts a year purely for raising money for charity.

Very sadly, three months later he died in a car crash in New York – which geographically takes us back to where I started from in this post.  As Harry used to sing to end his concerts, “All my life’s a circle …”


That’s one small step for most people; one giant leap for Paul

Friday, July 16th, 2010

I think I have now got to grips with a blog – or at least the basics of a blog. Unless you tell me differently?  I have also received some great feedback about the website.

What is even better is that two people have said that the site doesn’t do quite what they would like it to. One person said they really liked it and wanted to leave some comments both on it and about it, but couldn’t, and another person said that they wanted to ask for a bit of help / advice but thought that the contact section felt a bit too formal.  To me, the common denominator in those comments was that it needed to be more interactive.

Having had my thinking hat on, and having spent many hours tinkering (and I mean ‘many’, due to my lack of computer skills!), I have hatched a cunning plan … so cunning – Blackadder might say – you could put a tail on it and call it a fox!  A plan that will – I think – go a good way to addressing that feedback. In fact, I’m really excited about what I have come up with!

The excitement is mainly due my ‘solution’ also enabling me to work on something else I have been thinking about for some time. Lots of the websites that I frequent or have looked at have forums for their members – CIPD, TainingZone, CMI, Glasstap, etc. These are great, however, you also have to pay to access them and / or they are very specialist.

Many of the first line managers or aspiring managers who I coach or train do not have access to any such forums. From the discussions we’ve had, they would find such a facility of great use. I know from delivering learning events that often the most beneficial, valuable and thought provoking aspects are when  we look at case studies  to which there are no obvious right or wrong answers. Because that’s what happens in reality.

But I don’t have the capability or resources to set up anything on the scale of those previously mentioned sites. But I would like to offer a facility to those who have attended courses (and those who come across the facility and find it of use) whereby I can continue to offer them support.

 People also tell me that they would sometimes like the chance to make contact away from a workplace computer, and it isn’t lost on me just how many people use Facebook – and how versatile it has become.

So, how can I deal with all that? Well, I have created a ‘Breathe Personal and Organisational Development Facebook Page’. This will enable people to leave comments on the website and to ask questions in a more informal way. It will also give others the opportunity to contribute to posts that people have left. People will be able to pick up ideas from reading questions and comments that others raise. Almost a virtual action learning set. And, of course, it’s all free!

I hope people will use it to pose a question, get a bit of advice or perhaps a resource they have mislaid. I’ll not have the answers to all the points raised, but in such cases there’s a good chance I’ll know someone who will.  It will be interesting to see how well it works or what level of take up there is. I’ve had great fun learning as I have put it all in place, so if it’s of use to one person, it will have been worth the effort!

And, dear reader, you can help me. As you may be aware, it is possible to create a ‘Username’ for a ‘Facebook Page’, however, a page has to have at least 25 ‘fans’ for this to happen. So if you would be happy to be a ‘fan’, it would be great if you could support this little venture by going the Breathe Facebook Page (via this link) and pressing the ‘like’ button – assuming you do like the idea – and that will enable me to give it a proper name!

And if you can see any other improvements I could make, please do let me know …

But – unfortunately – I haven’t solved the whole problem as I have now found out that one of the people who sent me the feedback isn’t on Facebook! – So let’s get back to that drawing board …