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In Support of Frontline Staff Delivering In-Person or Blended Programs This Fall

It has been two years since Covid restrictions required us to switch to online program delivery. Terms like “meeting learners where they are at” and “learner-driven delivery” took on a whole new meaning. Frontline program staff learned to deliver effective programs and create positive, supportive, welcoming learning environments for an online classroom dynamic.  The scope of adjustments successfully made is a testament to the creative and wise leadership of Calgary Learns’ funded partners and to the commitment and passion of their frontline staff.

This spring at our AGM, Calgary Learns asked the leadership of partner agencies what is most needed as they prepare to return to in-person classes this fall.   The answer: a refreshment (defined as ‘the giving of fresh mental or physical strength or energy’) of in-person facilitation skills.

We have been, for the most part, delivering programs online for two years. Returning to the classroom is going to require a different skill-set. Some of our experienced staff are concerned about making that transition smoothly.  Then there are the practitioners who joined our organization during Covid when we all met over Zoom – they will be facilitating in-person there for the first time.  We need to go into the fall confident that we’ve got this.” 

Agency leadership staff

Come September, organizations will deliver learning programs in a variety of ways to suit the needs of learners.  In this issue of TFTF, we share ways agency leadership are supporting practitioners in the transition back to a blended and in-person version of learning.

 Leadership of our partnering agencies want to support their frontline staff to have the confidence and capacity to meet learners where they are.  This is critically important because most often, it is practitioners who convey the organizations’ values and mission to those they serve. The challenge is often about time-constraints. My site-visits with agencies this spring and summer affirmed that the pace in frontline work is full-out, as it has traditionally been, only with the dial turned up in these uncertain days of Covid. As a result, staff  are often  hitting the ground running, with leadership doing all they can to help practitioners feel ready to build positive learning environments. We all know how tricky this is when leadership is, at the same time, attending to the intense pressures within the non-profit sector. 

In support of your unique and emerging organizational and learner needs, I offer some resources and process ideas from practitioners. When it comes to support and planning with frontline staff, they might be valuable to consider in your team conversations. It is my hope that sharing wisdom gleaned from the field here will see a strong offering of your important programs this fall. 

Two suggestions we heard from the field, as relates to moving to in-person or blended learning are:

1. Revisit Learner Needs

Whether or not we are online, in person, or a blend of the two, a suggestion from the field is to revisit assumptions about what our learners need. In gathering your team together, it can be helpful to share with each other what learners have told your staff about what changed for them in the move back to in-person classes.  

When we see learners from their perspective, it informs our creativity in how we set up the learning space, in how we know when to deliver content flexibly, and in how we can be intentional in building on the strengths of those who show up.  This is important, because when adult learners feel seen by the staff delivering the program, it makes it easier for them to learn what they need in order to advance their goals. and to become confident in owning their unique learning journey.

2. Revisit Practitioner Needs

Organizational capacity to meet learners where they are begins not only with knowing what learners need, it also has much to do with leadership knowing what practitioners need to effectively and confidently deliver the learning. Are your staff new to the organization, hired during the pandemic and having only delivered online programs, or are they returning staff with experience in both online and in-person delivery? How have staff and volunteer retention impacted your teams and your delivery? In the last two years we have seen the makeup of staff and volunteers delivering programs change. Sometimes dramatically.  Given these changes, knowing what practitioners delivering fall programs need, and considering how the needs may be new compared to past years, will go a long way ensuring a strong team.

In this spirit, feedback from the field gleaned from the Digital Divide consults may support leadership teams in preparing for fall programs. Here are some of the questions that organizations might engage, based on our learnings from the last two years, in preparing for fall programs:

  • How can you ensure practitioners and volunteer tutors have the time and flexibility they require to meet learners’ needs in the in-person, online or blended learning environment?
  • How can your organization support practitioners and volunteer tutors to have the digital and/or physical resources they need to facilitate learning in one or more modalities?
  • Are there people in your organization with the knowledge and skills with technology needed to support practitioners who may be required to facilitate an online and/or blended delivery?
  • What new protocols are needed to support a blended learning space?
  • Do your practitioners and volunteer tutors have the support they need to balance privacy concerns with their need to connect with learners in an online and/or blended delivery? (This is a question that arose related to organizational policies.)
  • How will in-person, online or blended learning program delivery affect your organization’s practices around practitioner and volunteer tutor recruitment and training?
  • What different skills and strengths are needed to work across in-person, online or blended learning environments?
  • What processes do you have in place to assess and address unique practitioner or tutor skills/gaps to instill confidence and ensure effective program delivery?

Checking in with instructors and tutors shows that you have them in mind and recognizes that there may be un-named challenges. Frontline practitioners, in their commitment to contributing the organization and being cognizant of all that leadership is managing these days, might feel they “should know/should be ready” for the area of work they are responsible for. Checking in about challenges frontline staff do not wish to burden leadership with, but which are real for them will be time well spent.

If staff are veterans to in-person facilitation, you might have a conversation about what they remember working well. Those new to in person adult foundational learning might benefit from mentorship by an experienced staff member. Additionally, hearing from a past participant of your program, can be valuable.

Many of the skills for online learning transfer easily to in-person learning. It’s fundamentally about caring, connected instruction, regardless of the medium.

In a team brainstorming session or a conversation with learners who attended both in-person and online classes, it might be valuable to inquire about what was different about the online environment in a good way.  For example:

  • Type of material/curriculum (e.g. use videos)
  • Delivery of the learning (e.g. pace, breakout rooms, individual support) 

Lastly, I’ve included two resources that may support your process. They are helpful when read “backwards”, as they attend to the move to online learning. 

  1. Calgary Learns curates insights shared during Community Conversations. Tips collected from the field can be found here:

2. Ways to Transfer In-Person Activities and High Leverage Practices to Remote Instruction. Jayme Adelson-Goldstein (Lighthearted Learning).  Reading the information in the chart from , left to right, might well prompt ideas for delivery techniques.

Final Thoughts

Whether online or in-person, we know that adults learning at the foundational level often come with complex challenges and that they show immense courage in returning to the classroom. Many have negative narratives about their ability to learn, and, with this in mind, we know that a welcoming learning space goes a long way to turning those narratives around.  Mostly, it is about being authentic, kind, and bringing eyes to see the unique and individual needs of learners showing up this fall. This posture and preparedness apply both online and in the classroom, and might just take some fine tuning as we move from one place of learning to another.  Ultimately, this refresh to in-person facilitation draws on the same skills that practitioners used to pivot to online learning: flexibility, humility, patience, compassion, and a focus on the needs of the learners.

Going forward, we invite you into a Community Conversation to brainstorm and practice ideas for how to create a welcoming space and a positive learning environment for the adults who are gearing up to walk through our doors.

Please join us for an upcoming Community Conversation: Reboot & Renew on September 19th or September 28th (choose one of the two dates). 

 “We’ve got this, and we will learn as we go.”

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