It’s an exciting, albeit somewhat nerve-wracking time in this staff development manager’s professional life.  I just finished leading the first two of three weeks of new hire training here at Gwinnett County Public Library.  I am still new at my position, so this marks the first time that coordinating, overseeing, and teaching new hire training has been my sole responsibility, even though I have previous training experience.  While I had the help of some excellent in-house subject matter experts as co-trainers, this new endeavor of leading a couple weeks of classroom training was still larger than life.  In fact stepping in front of my class of new employees for the first time evoked the same heady rush I was hammered with when I made my first live tackle in football a lifetime ago.  Does anyone else recall their first “real,” live teaching experience?

Since football season began in earnest this past weekend, going with a gridiron influenced conceit may be appropriate.  Let me share a few of my most valuable practices with those new to teaching in the classroom:

  • It’s always first and goal: The class you are teaching should have a stated goal(s). Each play you run from scrimmage – every piece of knowledge you share, every learning aid, and all the exercises your class performs during training – should directly support the goal. If the situation permits, share goals and objectives with trainees and supervisors days before class. Now everyone is on the same page.
  • Know your playbook: Even though a trainer is not necessarily on center stage during class (we are the guide on the side, after all), it is still vital that you know your game plan for the day. Have you tested all the practice scenarios to ensure that the directions are clear, or more importantly, that the exercises work? Do you have all the resources you’ll need for the day? Have you preempted questions that may arise? If not, then it’s probably time to go back to the Xs and Os.
  • It’s drill time: Do at least one condensed run through of your material in the actual classroom before game time. This should increase your comfort level with your material and build your confidence. More importantly, this should give you an idea of how a room feels to your trainees. Environmental noise can be distracting, but it is the only noise that the trainer can control. Does the room need more light? How’s the temperature? Are tables set up in such a way that trainees can move around? We have little to no control over physical and psychological noise, but we can make sure our trainees are comfortable.
  • Some of the best quarterbacks are running quarterbacks: Maybe I’m cursed, but something unexpected happens during every training class in which I’ve been involved. Don’t panic if the unexpected happens. Improvise. Usually when anything goes wrong in training, it provides a learning opportunity. I’ve even found that intentional mistakes can open up dialog in the classroom.
  • Make halftime adjustments: You’ve taken a break halfway through your four hour training session and you’re an hour behind schedule. What do you do, hot shot, what do you do? Go to your playbook (class outline and trainer’s notes) and see if there’s anything you can skim over, or eliminate from the remainder of class. I personally recommend trying to cut out lecture-type components and keep the hands-on practice stuff when feasible.
  • Study your game tape: When it’s all over, really read your class evaluations. I’m sure that plenty has gone well, but is there any consistent criticism? Don’t worry about the outliers so much – focus your attention on the recurring themes. I’d be a little worried if everything grades out perfectly. You’re probably not getting honest feedback here.