Last year, four of our school district's instructional coaches encouraged me to attend an eight session training on "Coaching". Wanting to know how to be an effective coach, I wholeheartedly signed up for the training with two other district coaches. I was excited, really excited that I would learn listening strategies and ways to gear conversations with our teachers in a way that would make me a better coach. It would be held in Tucson and we would dedicate eight days to become a better coach.
Carrie, Denise, and I walked into the training site on that eventful Thursday morning. The room was small, underground, painted gray, and my first thoughts were BUNKER! There were small narrow windows inches from the ceiling and a sense of claustrophobia immediately set in. As we looked around, Carrie and I saw the dreaded "Circle of Trust" in the corner of the room. I wanted to grab my notebook and purse and sprint right out of there! The horrified look on Carrie's face summed it up! She turned and said, "If we have to hold hands and sing Kumbayah, I am SO out of her!" Nervous laughter erupted from my mouth and I looked at Denise who was giggling so hard that I think she had tears in her eyes. We cautiously set our things down on an empty table and were encouraged to take a seat in the circle.
Little by little, the other participants came into the room and happily took a seat in the circle. We were introduced to our trainers. The strange thing was was that none of them looked like TRAINERS. One wore a sleeveless black sundress covered by a crocheted, open weave sweater vest. One wore a capsleeved t-shirt, faded navy blue Dockers that were too short, royal blue socks, and blue Crocs. The third was younger and dressed contemporary, but her long hair came past her knees. I kept looking and searching for the "real trainer". Someone with a suit or at least someone wearing black pants and a conservative sweater... But this person never appeared! Then, the one with the Crocs stood up and introduced herself and she rang an oriental bell, declaring the session "open".
As with most new things and trainings, we all were encouraged to introduce ourselves and share where we worked. However, this was accompanied by drawing a "Zen" card from a deck and explaining how the quote related to ourselves. ZEN CARD! NO WAY! How hippified was this training going to be? This was definitely pushing me to the edge of my comfort zone. When the cards were handed to me, I took the pack and shuffled through every card looking for some statement that related to me. No randomness here! I looked up and about eleven horrifed pairs of eyes and two amused (my friends) were focused on my actions. Trying to look relaxed and non-threatening (to myself and the strangers) I introduced myself and read the quote about intuitiveness.
I started taking mental notes as the group began to introduce themselves. Connie, from the Cherokee nation, was working as an academic and cultural counselor for Native American students in a school district in Tucson. Mark was an engineer. Ariel was an engineer who formally worked at the University of Arizona as a professor for Women's Studies. Jayne, with a charming British accent, was a life coach consultant who occasionally worked with the trainer who wore Crocs. Ruthie Dee Javelina (interesting name) worked for the U of A in their Repsonse to Academic Intervention (aka tutoring) Department. Wanda, who desperately needed a pedicure, was a parent who was having issues raising her only child, worked for a Non-Profit. Stacy, Lisa, Danielle, and others worked for a "Non-Profit". No company name, just non-profit. As people introduced themselves, it finally dawned on me... I was in Social Service Purgatory!
From there, it was down-hill. Carrie, Denise, and I were immersed in the doctrine of listening reflectively, keeping our comments and observations to ourselves, observing body language, etc... I am sure the group and participants observed that my body language was screaming, "EIGHT FREAKING SESSIONS!!!" The time there dragged. It was endless, no matter how hard I tried to pay attention to the details of the people were surrounding me.
At trainings and workshops, the participants usually spend time working in groups, posting thoughts and/or comments on giant Post-It notes that stick to the wall. The presenter with the Crocs took a poster she made and reached above her head to adhere it to the wall. With her arms extended above her head I couldn't help but notice that she had an incredible amount of underarm hair protruding out of the cap-sleeve of her shirt! I know I did a double-take and whipped my head around to say something to Carrie and Denise. I whispered my observation to Carrie and made her look. About that time, the presenter raised her arms again, and we both saw the shocking hair that was lurking out of her shirt! Screaming, "EEEWWW!" would not be considered professional, but at that moment, I decided I could no longer try to care about what I was supposed to learn. I had been surprised, shocked, and was now trying desperately not to dissolve into hysterical laughter. The thread I was hanging by was growing very thin and one small move, one little bit of humor could send me right over the edge of no return.
I wish I could say that we took a break, I got myself undercontrol, and things improved from there, but that was not the case. Finally, it was approaching four o'clock and "Hamster-Hiding-In-Her-Arm-Pit" declared that we needed to migrate to the circle of trust. I was exhausted and this was due to trying to swallow all the laughter I had inside me. The black sundress presenter tossed a "ball of respect" my way and when I opened my mouth, a lot of nervous laughter escaped! It was like trying to hold back the creature in the movie "Alien". I pleaded being overwhelmed and tossed the ball to Denise who gave a similar comment and some laughter escaped from her as well. Carrie, pretending to be shy, said something quiet and reserved. The hair past her knees presenter took the oriental bell and chimed our encounter closed for the day. I jumped up, raced to get my notebook and my purse and hustled out of the bunker with my friends as fast as we could move. When we got to the parking lot, I said, "When we get back to Douglas, I am going to KILL the coaches who insisted we come here!" This was echoed and basically "Amened" by Carrie and Denise.
One session down and seven more to go!
I wish I could say that Day 2 was an overall improvement from Day 1 and that I had taken hold of the information that was being presented. Instead it was Day 2 of Jana needs to practice self-control. I was exhausted from the previous day's stifling the hysterical laughter, but there was still an issue with my not being able to make it through one hour without a snicker, giggling, or some type of humor overload. It didn't help that Carrie would frequently make little comments about the presenters or the participators. That usually set me off. It also didn't help that I found myself back in the circle of trust with a Zen animal card. We still worked in small groups or pairs and we were encouraged and prodded into changing partners regularly.
Connie was pretty cool to talk to when we worked together. She asked me about my heritage and if I had any Cherokee blood in me. This was a surprise as my father had told us many years ago that his great grandmother was from the Cherokee Nation. I told her that she probably had all types of "wannabe Native Americans" ask her questions about her background. We laughed and joked for a while which cemented her into my acceptance file for the day.
Near the end of Day 2, I was trying to focus on the presenter, taking notes, and maintaining self-control when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a leg move in the air. I turned to Carrie who had also seen some type of movement. Standing on one leg at the back of the room was Ruthie Dee Javelina, moving slowly into different Yoga poses. Okay, day over. Time to go.
Day 3 and Day 4 are pretty much a cosmic blur. We had a two month break from the first two days, but the memory of the horrors we experienced were still on our minds. Day 3 and Day 4 included more Zen, more trust circles, more information and practices, more Non-Profits, and more laughter. What changed was we were located to a sunny room with large windows at a different location. We could walk to a local CVS during our break and no one seemed overly concerned with us returning on time. This could be that some of our fellow participants were not overly enthused with us either. We had two of the original three trainers, but black sundress's husband was in Houston receiving chemotherapy at the Anderson Cancer Center. We would learn from the long haired trainer and the trainer who still wore Crocs. It went by at a slightly faster pace and I learned to live for the outdoor practices in a lovely courtyard. At the end of Day 3, the presenters announced gleefully that we would be moving back to the Bunker for future training. "NO," I said very loudly which caused everyone to look at me. I finally confessed that it was just way to creepy to be underground without natural sunlight for long periods of time. To my pleasure, the presenters said they would try to secure our "Garden Spot" and would let us know if we could use it for the remaining trainings.
Day 5 and Day 6 things finally took a turn. We met at the Garden Spot, in our same room as before. More of the participants were missing from the initial training, so we were a smaller group. Black sundress was back, but would be moving to Houston for several weeks due to her husband's cancer. Lisa, one of the non-profits actually requested to move away from Carrie and me stating that she wanted to work with others. None of the men ever returned, and much to my dismay, Connie didn't return either. I really liked her. Ruthie Dee, our Yoga Queen, also did not return and I found myself wondering if the non-returnees received part of their expensive registration fee. I actually participated and laughed when appropriate during both days. During Day 6, we had to give comments that we have and would receive on a job performance evaluation. The Non-Profits shouted out, "Needs Improvement, Satisfactory, In Order To Be More Productive..." I was alarmed! I didn't receive comments like this on my evaluations. I looked at Carrie and Denise in dismay and they had similar expressions on their faces. I stood up and said quite loudly, "OMG! If I received comments like that I would either cry or quit!" They turned and looked at me (of course I sat on the back row) curiously. Finally, I had done something other than laugh! They started asking us questions and probing into our evaluations and our expectations for ourselves. It was amazing! There had been a break though! When we sat in the circle of trust at the end of the day, there was a different feeling going on in our group. Or maybe it was just me.
Finally, Day 7! Cruising in a little late, which had become a bad habit, the three of us came to a screeching halt when we entered the room. There was a man there, one we had never seen before. No introductions, This had probably happened before we blew in. We started as usual...Zen card and chime and we took our usual seats together at our favorite table. Only something was definitely going on! The man was interupting and making comments during our presenter's time to shine! What the heck!!! I thought Denise was going to slap him! We all gave him the Douglas Unified Stink Eye! How rude could he be!! Who was this interloper? Every time he spoke I glared at him. During a small group session, I asked him who he was and what was he doing in our session. Much to my embarrassment, he politely informed me that he was a "Senior Presenter" and was there to monitor our group and the trainers. Oh No! He didn't just say that! Monitor our group? Needless to say, everytime he said something, we just sat in our seats, occasionally rolling our eyes. During our CVS break, I told our long haired presenter that he was undermining their hard work. She got tears in her eyes and agreed that he just didn't fit into our little group. I think she told our presenter who wears Crocs because she gave me a sad little smile like we were in on our own private little secret. The time flew by and when we were sitting in our closing circle of trust, I just couldn't look him in the eye. I felt like I was betraying our presenters.
Day 8. For some strange reason, I just didn't feel good when I left our hotel. I couldn't put my finger on it, but the atmosphere didn't seem right. We went through the motions: Circle of trust, practice, CVS break, more practice, lunch... However, there was a break through that did make me laugh. During a small group practice, our presenter who wears Crocs, informed our group that she had a hard time dressing appropriately for workshops! Denise, Carrie, the presenter, and I just burst out laughing! I politely kept it to myself that I think she had made huge steps by shaving off the hamster, as it might hurt her feelings. We noticed that the long haired trainer had a little "baby bump" and that was some cause for sincere jubilation. And before we knew it, it was time to walk up to the Nazi trainer-man, collect my certificate, and take my seat in the circle of trust for the last time. We tossed around a ball of respect and Jayne rang the oriental chime for the final closing. We all signed a lovely card for black sundress, hugged each other goodbye, exchanged professional cards, and left the Garden Spot.
I learned a lot in the eight sessions. I learned how to coach someone into a planning session, a reflection, and other hopefully useful tools for my work. But what I really learned was that given enough time, I could adapt and maybe even morph into some who accepts, not just tolerates the differences in strangers. Even someone with a hamster growing under her armpit.