Winter Write-up or How I’ve neglected my writing and I need to change

Something happened. Something snapped. I’m hoping it wasn’t a muscle. I’ve been working out more, so that might explain it. Then again, this is a mental thing. 

Let me start again.

Last night I was writing. Well, rewriting I should say. Any hoot, in the midst of my literary lat pull downs it occurred to me that I don’t write often enough these days. 

There were a group of us talking about how much time we commit each day, often to unnecessary futile tasks. If we committed just 7 minutes a day to writing that would be 200 words a day (assuming 30 words a minute). 365 days x 200 = 73000. A novel.

I like my morning preparation for the day. The routine works. Early bus. Arrive I. Plenty of time for a coffee. No rush and easy start to the day. Time on the bus to listen to music, get in the mood. It’s almost meditative.

No doubt it has its benefits, but in the meantime important words are being left unsaid. Or, rather, unwritten. I do two bus journeys each day. 20 minutes or so each. Even if I was to reduce my writing time to 20 words a minute, that would be 800 each working day. In 6 months that would be over 100,000 words. 

Writing can also be meditative. And I exercise most days so I think I am sound in mind, spirit and body. I definitely need to rethink the routine. 

I kinda persuaded myself that university work was a good excuse to set aside the blog, but I’m not so sure. Seems like a cop out to me with hindsight. I reckon I could easily have made the time for both.

So the blogging is back, each weekday, and maybe the weekend if I get a chance (fuck, I just need 7 minutes). In the meantime, I need to reacquaint myself with writing projects, which I’ve handled with kid gloves for the past few months. Not acceptable. Bad mental-projection-of-myself-as-a-writing-slave-monkey.

Looks like the bus has nearly arrived.

Remember, 7 minutes.

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Back to the frontline: getting a refresher on core skills

Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m spending a day working on caseworker duties.  

I’ve always been conscious that as I move beyond the frontline role I might become entrenched in a narrow skill set, and forget the key skills that support the workers I am meant to lead. Having empathy for their point of view and their specific roles is vital if I am to do my job, so that’s why I am refreshing some of those skills.

My main area of concern is client interaction in the context of assessment and investigation. My current role has a limited scale of involvement, usually based on safety planning meetings and dealing with telephone calls. It’s been some time since I interviewed a child, visited a home with the intention of assessing that environment, or speaking with parents to guage their capacity. In my role, I am reliant on my team telling me what they think, and so I need to trust their instincts and skills. Spending some time in their shoes will help remind me of their pressures and responsibilities. Given they often ask for my perspective based on my experience, I think it’s good to make sure I don’t get rusty.

I’ve opted to do the casework role with the other team. It’ll take pressure off my team, and widen my scope of learning. Since it’s only a day I’ve opted for the intake week, when there are new referrals being managed.

It’s a good opportunity to learn from colleagues, and show that as frontline workers they have a little to teach us. 

The left hand & the right hand

I’m the midst of 3 days training at work. I can’t say I’m enjoying it. That said, I rarely enjoy training. Sometimes it gives me opportunity to think up new ideas, design new processes etc. Not this time.

I think I’m trying to disengage. It’s the type of training I traditionally struggle with. It gets me a little bothered; emotional. Bordering on Hulk-like rage. It’s mainly because of a heightened belief that most of the facilitators don’t know the business. Actually, that’s not entirely the truth, it’s more to do with a lack of humility about the front line role (the facilitators, not me). It’s like some of them have forgotten what the work is like, and the others that haven’t worked in child protection before don’t bother to consider the gulf between knowledge and experience.

So this time I have kept quiet at the back, as is my wont. I have had opportunities to speak out – some unbelievable nonsense has been uttered in the last couple of days – but I know little good would come of it. I imagine my reputation has spread wide enough in head office (not very far, just north of the river) and not in a good way. Just a suspicion. I don’t intend to add fuel to the fire unnecessarily.

Meanwhile, it turns out there is an air of confusion. Yesterday the training referenced something that contradicted separate training I had the week before. This morning, thanks to the convenient distraction of urgent issues, I was largely absent. As we munched over our carbohydrate heavy sandwiches and cake, I got the distinct impression that there was a lack of clarity from the AM session. It appears some of the, erm, guidance, contradicted procedure (or general understanding of it). A number of people suggested I would have liked to be there, but I know better. I’d say something I would regret.

I must say it’s refreshing to see the training from the staff side of things. I should have mentioned it’s district wide, so most of the office is in attendance. Normally one or two staff members are off to training, and as team leader I get the feedback afterwards. This time round I see the same training and experience it. I can think about how to manage outcomes for staff, deal with the confusion.
It’s rather telling that the left hand doesn’t know what the left is doing. It demonstrates a lack of consistency. The silo effect – not one Department, but lots of mini-Departments doing their own thing. Neoliberalism in action.

It’s unfortunate – I’m sure the facilitators mean well – but it’s a more common reality of work in government these days. Troops can’t function with contradictory orders. Like any good CO I need to step in and restore some discipline. Not the harsh barking orders kind, but the kind that leads and motivates. There will be some good lessons out of the training – I always find it’s the subtle I get the most from – and it’s just managing the adjustment the team get from new information. I just have to keep them on course for the greater purpose. 

5 learning points about learning

Went to training yesterday. Those who know me will know to expect me unleash a gargantuan rant about how useless the training was. For the benefit of everyone, here is a small, toned down sample.

1. No matter where are you are going to facilitate training, make sure it has all the requisite technology needs for you. Asking for things like a) a power cord for the TV to show your PowerPoint presentation and b) is there Internet, are two basic questions to resolve before the presentation.

2. Adults are like children; they can be unruly, disruptive, stoopid (deliberate misspelling for humorous effect…share in a chuckle), and spend time on their smartphone. However, like teachers, a single facilitator should be able to handle a group of about 20. We were less, but had 3 facilitators, all of whom sat at one end. This is too large a set of facilitators for such a small group. It might be reasonable if the plan was to split into smaller groups, but this didn’t happen.

3. Tailor the presentation to audience. We were two distinct groups of attendees, with an obvious distance between our knowledge of the subject matter and the other group. I think if the gap is too wide, consider having two different sessions. Furthermore, think about the aim from the presentation and training. This was repeat training for me, and I have even facilitated training on the same subject matter so my expectations were pretty high.

4. Physical environment matters. We were crammed in a room in an external agency building where they had clearly just redecorated. There was no natural lighting (…sigh) and the air conditioning was on deep freeze. Think about the workspace.

5. Keep the subject matter specific. In a single day training, you’ll be lucky to cover more than one specific issue well. We had three, and it made it difficult to focus. Remember that the training is more efficient and effective based on what the attendees get out of it, not the cost of facilitating. 

So that’s my list. Normally I wouldn’t so sanguine about it, but I was in a good mood, and my hopes weren’t that high.

Normally, I get little out of in house training, except it gives me time to think and come up with ideas for work. On this occasion, I had already gathered some ideas for work over the weekend, so didn’t get that benefit. I did however get some benefit of thinking time for some writing projects, so the whole day wasn’t wasted.