Monthly Archives: May 2007

Mediation Training, part 2

Today went much better than yesterday, no doubt mostly because we all got an extra hour’s sleep, although I wish they’d cease and desist with the interactive analogy-building team games right off the bat. My brain barely functions for the first hour or so that I’m awake and what juice I do get from it tends to be heavy on input (I can listen, read email, check messages, etc – passive thinking stuff) and low to non-existent on output (ie active thinking, answering emails that require thought, coming up with cogent new thoughts, writing and so on). So games that require me to cogitate fresh out of bed are just about as doable as nailing Jello to a wall. Gah.

I usually just hover around looking participative until someone else figures out the big secret or whatever, and then just go with the flow. Gods fortend I should have to report of what we learned or what the purpose of the game was. 😛

Other than that, though, I think today we really made some serious headway into getting a handle on this mediation thing. We moved on to taking the discussion from the storytelling phase (each party telling their side of the story) to summarizing what’s been said and the main points that need to be dealt with in the final agreement and on to bridging into brainstorming ideas and creating solutions.

BTW, I learned today that if you have what you think is a good suggestion, but it’s obvious that the two parties aren’t going to come up with it on their own, while you can’t just say, “Hey, why don’t you ask your school counselor to help you find an after school job?” (since outside ideas may be way off the mark, may distract them from coming up with their own or could just not get total buy in and then it’s all your fault if it doesn’t work out), you can say something like, “So is there any way your counselor could help you with this?” So my rant from yesterday is tempered somewhat. It’s still tempting to just jump in and rearrange all their problems for them (ah, the lure of the busy-body!), but it’s easier knowing I can subtly steer them in a direction if I feel it will help, with it still being their idea in the end. (And we role-played a scenario that ended up having something very like that happen in the process, which gave me a great idea of how that would look in action, which was awesome.)

It’s kinda cool. We’ve been role-playing and practicing our mediation skills enough times now that we’re starting to sound like we know what we’re doing – sometimes for minutes on end! – and we’re beginning to see how it all comes together as a solid process.

We’re also getting into greater detail about tricks and tools for dealing with things like emotional escalation among participants, sticky questions like what do you do if it’s not going anywhere or if you think there’s a power imbalance that’s getting in the way of the process (for example, one participant is the other’s boss or parent). And our role-plays have been letting us each deal with stuff like this in action as well as in discussion, so you get a real(er) feel for how different it is to know what to do and to actually be able to do it smoothly and professionally on the fly.

I must say that I’m finding myself extremely grateful for my years of life coach training, and leaning heavily on those skills during this process for tools like communicating cleanly without using trigger words or tonality, reframing, being comfortable with discomfort, listening for what’s not being said as much as for what is and just all the stuff I’ve done over the past few years as a coach. I’ve been pulling tricks and tools out of my “coaching bag” that I haven’t used in a long time trying to keep an even keel in the role-playing exercises. I can’t imagine how hard it would be for me without this pre-existing training.

Heh…speaking of coaching, I told my favorite coaching joke today (it’s a conference favorite that speaks to the difference between coaching and therapy), and it was a big hit with one of the trainers whose background is in counseling but who has recently become a coaching convert. Basically, the joke goes as follows:

A therapist has been working with a client who has a phobia of someone hiding under her bed and attacking her in the middle of the night. But after several years – during which the therapist has pulled out every tool and strategy he has to get to the root of the problem and followed the client down every rabbit hole of possible causes – they’ve made no progress.

One day, the client misses her appointment. Then she misses the next and the next. Worried, the therapist calls her up to see if she’s okay and she tells him that she’s fine – in fact, she’s been seeing a life coach for a few weeks and she’s been completely cured of her phobia! For the first time in years, she can sleep soundly all night long without a care.

Curious, and not a little jealous, the therapist asks the client what it was the coach did to cure her phobia – hypnosis, talking therapy, visualization, what? What did he miss?

Laughing, the client says, “It was nothing like that at all. My coach simply told me to cut the legs off of me bed.”

That’s what I like about mediation. We don’t care if your daddy didn’t love you enough or your mamma didn’t potty train you well and that’s why you have anger management issues and ended up clocking your neighbor at the block party over a borrowed tool that wasn’t returned. We just want to find a way to fix the problem today, based on what we have to work with right now. It’s a lot like coaching, just way more structured and narrowly defined in terms of what you’re doing and why.

Anyway, one more day and then we’re off to Greensboro for the Spring Summit, which should be fun. So don’t expect to hear from my until Friday night at the earliest and more likely this weekend.

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Mediation Training, part 1

Today we started our mediation training, which is going to be a three day crash course in how to professionally mediate conflict and resolve disputes. Annoyingly enough, when they changed the venue for the training, they forgot to confirm the change in time as well, so we all got up early to get there at 8am, only to sit around for an hour waiting for the mediation trainers to arrive. Fortunately, their schedule is less flexible than ours, so we don’t have to be there until 9 the next two days. Sweet!

Also, where is it written that trainings must either take place outside in the blazing sun or (as in this case) inside in refrigerated classrooms where the AC is single-handedly trying to stop global warming in its tracks? Even with my fleece hoodie on and socks with my summer shoes, I was freezing.

And can I take this opportunity to say that any training that lasts longer than an hour should automatically take place in cushioned chairs, preferably overstuffed lounge furniture. I feel like I spent the day being paddled in a walk-in freezer.

Anyway, today we got an overview of what mediation is (and what it isn’t). Basically, it’s a third-party-facilitated, non-binding conversation in which the disputants are led through a process to air their grievances and come up with their own workable solution rather than being adjudged and having a legally-binding decision handed to them.

By the end of the day, we had gotten through practicums of stages 1 and 2 of the mediation process – the introduction, where we get everything started by getting to know the disputants and laying out the basics of mediation and setting down ground rules, and the description of events, which is where each party gets a chance to tell their version of what happened to land them in mediation, facilitated and coached by the mediators.

The hardest part is knowing that as a mediator, I cannot make suggestions. Even if I see a way out that neither party sees, I can’t suggest it. Which is infuriatingly frustrating, because I know that if I were in mediation and there was a better answer than I or my co-disputant were capable of coming up with, I’d want to know it. But that’s the way it is. I understand the concept – you don’t want mediators “bullying” an outcome or meddling or otherwise taking the process out of the hands of the disputants. But still, it’s a hard one for me, given my coaching background, which is all about working with the client in a collaborative setting where suggestions based on my experience, knowledge and training are the point.

We did some role playing to practice our skills and I got first-hand confirmation that you couldn’t pay me enough to be a teen-ager again. I can really sink into roles in these settings, and in one session I was playing a teenage girl in mediation with a friend who takes and uses her books without asking (which, in the scenario, escalated into a bigger confrontation that got them sent to the Principal’s office).

Dude, I was pissed, hurt, distant, moody, angry for being used and taken for granted but too caught up in my anger to articulate it – all the stuff a teenager would be in that setting – and although I spent maybe 15 minutes in that role (knowing it was a role and coming out of it repeatedly for feedback from our coach) it was enough to remind me of just how screamingly craptacular being a teenager is. I marvel that I spent a decade or so feeling like that and came through without diagnosable brain damage. Or murdering someone.

Tomorrow we’ll get started on brainstorming ideas and creating a workable solution. I’m not sure if we’ll be receiving some sort of official designation after this or not, but it’s pretty intense stuff so I wouldn’t be surprised.

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Child Abuse Detection and Prevention training

Also known as “how to C.Y.A so you don’t get S-U-E-D at the YMCA.”

Basically, we had the Readers’ Digest Condensed seminar on how to spot abuse, how to question a kid (or not) to find out for sure if it’s abuse or just a bad teeter-totter experience, how to restrain and otherwise deal with a kid who’s bent on destruction (self or otherwise), and how to do all this while making sure you never put yourself into a position where you can be falsely yet plausibly accused of bad things.

Since my tour with kids in a hands-on situation is essentially over with (although who knows what errant opportunities will surface randomly between now and graduation), I have to say I didn’t exactly devote my entire brain to the training.

Also, since I spent most of my childhood getting on-the-job-training in this particular topic, it’s not exactly new material. Actually, I spent most of the time reading over the list of symptoms and indicators of abuse and making mental check-marks by examples that reflected my own personal behavioral quirks and issues (now and as a kid). Let’s just say that I wouldn’t be hard to pick out of a psychological line-up. ‘Nuff said.

Anyway, that was the morning. The afternoon was spent tidying up all those records and stuff I didn’t get done yesterday, so I could turn them in and be mentally clear for my three-day weekend and the mediation training and Americorps Summit events that will be taking up all of next week. Mission accomplished. I got it all done, printed, tallied, totaled, sorted, stuffed, mailed, stapled and turned in today. Dropped by the school to get my time sheets signed, and then clocked out until Tuesday.

So if you don’t hear from me for a few, I’ll be at the White Squirrel Festival. No, really. One of my favorite local bands, the Firecracker Jazz Band is featuring – seriously hot swing jazz that’ll knock your socks off. And, yanno, lots and lots of white squirrels.

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The parting of the ways

Today was my last day at both the school and the homework club. And while I’ll miss working with my school buddies and the kids and Sarah at the club, I realized today that I’m going to miss the walk between the two most of all. On most days it was a respite from the worries of work, my own private walking meditation that allowed my soul to breathe a little freer between assignments and deal a little easier with the chaos during them.

I spent a little extra time enjoying my walk today, since it’s the last time I’ll be doing it – lingering over the flowers and the cooling puddles of shade, waving at the porch-buddies I’ve met over the year, petting dogs out for a walk and otherwise soaking in the fullness of the day with the bittersweet rawness of sensation that comes from experiencing something you love for the last time.

It was a perfect day for it, too – literally, tinged as it was with the realization that any day now it will be getting to hot to be enjoyable. So while I’ll miss this daily escape from the busy-ness of life, I leave it knowing that I’ve had the best of it these last few weeks and that it’s leaving me as much as I’m leaving it. It is enough. I’ve got plenty to look forward to for the next few months at Emma. (Plus a lead on a killer end-of-corps road trip – hubby and I are both big Evanescence fans.)

The kids who finished the service project this week went to Red Lobster to celebrate that and the end of the year, leaving me at the club to round up the paperwork and records (aside from the fact that I’m a vegetarian, the smell of seafood makes me extremely nauseous). I left before they got back, so I made do with a hasty “bye!” from them shouted on the way to the van as they left, which is as it should be. I’m not one for lengthy leave-taking drama – it always feels awkward to me.

I did have a wee parting ceremony at the school, though, thanks to my supervisor and Ms Ferris. They gifted me with a lovely card, a FACES t-shirt and a gift card to Urban Burrito (my favorite!) to remember them by, followed by a brief group hug and a round of wish-you-wells and promises of reference letters to come before everyone had to scatter back to work. That’s my idea of the perfect good-bye – short, sweet and low-drama. It’s nice to be appreciated. 🙂

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As a writer, I’ve used the term “redolent” innumerable times and yet, until recently, I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced the word in a physical sense, and therefore never really understood its true impact.

But for this last week, on my walk between assignments the air has been redolent with wild rose, honeysuckle, blackberry and now silver lace vine perfumes, mixed with a strong backbeat of humid greenery in its first full flush of new growth.

The heavy, sun-warmed air has the perfect level of buoyancy to allow the fragrance to build until it saturates the surrounding space, and the breezes are just strong enough to waft them around deliciously without diluting the scent or scattering it like leaves in a storm (or worse, teasing you with hints of scents but never delivering the real deal).

Each breeze, each corner I turn, each pocket of hot, lazy air I unexpectedly walk into envelopes me in an almost aching sweetness that leaves me with a loopy-grinned and deliriously giggly, with an irresistible urge (which I don’t bother resisting) to endlessly snorgle the greenery as I go.

It’s my last week on this route, and it could have been rainy, or chilly or just ‘meh’ – Spring’s an unpredictable hussy, after all. Instead, it’s almost like Mother Nature’s going all out to bid me farewell with everything she’s got.

Damn, I’m going to miss it.

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What next? Musing on alternate futures

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” – Woody Allen

Around this time of service year, thoughts start turning to what you’re going to be doing after you get out of Americorps. Of course, some people already knew what they were going to be doing before they even joined, such as folks who are doing the ‘corps between graduate levels and so on. I, on the other hand, have now developed a plethora of paths and am finding myself stuck in analysis paralysis on which way to go.

Just as an overview, here are a list of goals and/or things I want to do in the future and some of the pros and cons and obstacles relating to them:

Rev up copywriting to create a full-time income without taking up full-time hours.

Pros: should be easy enough to at least get started on this with a bit of marketing and networking; I enjoy it; it results in income I can use to further other goals.

Con: need to update my woefully useless website to something effective and productive before making any big push, otherwise I’m just wasting my time when potential customers hit my page and realize that the cobbler’s kids really are barefoot; could take a lot of my time up for first year or so and not leave a lot for other activities; need to upgrade my skills via taking some courses; might not pan out.

Get started on project of creating economic development center in housing development

Pro: I’m really excited about this and eager to get started, so is everyone else I’ve talked to – I don’t want to let the energy or momentum flag; it would be a great legacy to leave if it was successful and it would be a great learning experience either way; I could make a real difference in people’s lives; there’s a fellowship available for projects like these that, if I were accepted, could pay up to $30,000/year for 2 years for start-up costs (including my salary).

Con: Need some way to pay bills while I do it if fellowship not available and that would cut into my time that I could devote to the project; no idea where to start or what I don’t know that I don’t know; need to get some hands-on experience in field (volunteering at local economic development charities) and possibly need more related education – both of which could stall the project for a few years.

Go back to school

Pro: I will have an ed award which will have to be used within 7 years; I love school; I could gain greater knowledge and credibility for other work; I already have an AA, so a BS or BA would only take 2 more years; my grades and Americorps service could qualify me for scholarships

Con: Takes time; ed award may not cover tuition thus creating more debt than I already have (which is a lot); going back to school could simply be my way of avoiding the question by hiding out in academia and not actually doing anything; not sure which educational track to pursue if I did:

  • Business and economics degree with an emphasis on non-profit management at College A: BS degree, tuition cost $21,000+ per year. Ideal for what I want to do with my life, but expensive beyond the hope of graduating without serious debt (which I already have plenty of) unless I could qualify for a full-ride scholarship of some sort, even with my ed award and the fact that the college will match it.
  • Management degree with focus on marketing at College B: BS degree, cost of tuition under $2000 per semester. Affordable without debt (or not much), but the degree is very general and the list of classes offers only one class aimed at non-profit management (an accounting class), otherwise it’s a standard management course full of classes I really don’t need or want to take.
  • Business Administration degree at College C: AA degree, tuition is about $700/semester. Affordable, but even less specific of a business degree than option 2. Lots of classes I’ve already taken in getting my AA in English, but I doubt they’ll transfer to another AA.
  • Web and Networking Tech certificates at College C: Certificates, not degrees. Tuition runs about $700 per certificate. Cheap way to get some portable and useful skills in line with my geek tendencies, lots of ed award left over to take other classes of interest. On one hand, it will enable me to be a useful member of any organization (ie the onstaff writer and geek who knows how to fix the network when it goes wonky, set up a blog and update the website, which is sorta kinda cool.) On the flip side, I’ll probably only be able to use it to get jobs I don’t really want (ie tech monkey who gets called at 3am because the networked latte machine is down and who gets screamed at all day because the mouth-breather in cubicle 4-A is pissed that the company’s firewall blocks his favorite porn site.)
  • Or, alternately, getting a degree from somewhere else in something else entirely.

And that’s just the “serious” stuff, and doesn’t account for stuff like wanting to resume my yoga practice once I get some of my time and energy back, or wanting to retrieve my crafting supplies from storage in Missouri and throw myself into a frenzy of making stuff.

As you can see, I’ve got lots of options and no real sense of direction yet. I do know I’ll be taking the rest of the year off to build my business and complete some existing contracts, and talking to some mentor-type colleagues. After that – and during that time – I’m not sure what else I want to pursue and in what order. There’s a lot of “prerequisite overlap” going on – needing to do “A” before I feel ready to do “B,” but embarking on “B” could make which version of “A” I need to pursue more clear, and so on.

Gah. My head’s all ‘splody. The future is confusing. I think I’ll go lie down.

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First day of the last week of homework club and school

This is our last week for homework club and my last week at school. So basically, I’m spending the week getting all the final records together and otherwise just hanging out and not starting any new projects. So, not much going on to report about.

I do have something going on re: post-Americorps plans, but it’s too complicated and nebulous in my brain right now to deal with briefly and it’s too frakkin’ late to deal with anything in depth, so I’m going to leave that until later. Maybe tomorrow morning, while I’m doing not much of anything except burning checklists I made for the next Americorps member in my position onto a CD.