Total time: 1 to 4 hours, approximately
• Allow trainees to concentrate on the specific professional demands of their jobs as PCV's;
• Focus trainees on what they will actually need to learn and do during technical training in order to be competent fish culture volunteers, allowing them to sort this out from other aspects of being a volunteer, such as those that will be covered in language and country specific cross-cultural training;
• Provide a transition from the "pre-training" they have experienced so far to the individual approach to technical training that will characterize training from this point on.
Note: This session follows the Expectations session or Orientation (if Expectations was incorporated) . Except for the brief, approximately five minute introduction, there is no set time frame for this activity as it is strictly individual and will vary among the trainees. An approximate time frame for the entire exercise is from one to four hours.
1. The facilitator (generally the Master Trainer) gives an introduction, reminding the trainees of what has been covered up to now and making a link between the Expectations session and this one. Point out that administrative business has been addressed, introductions have been made, and some time has been spent becoming acquainted with the area. There have been discussions on what training might be like, expectations of trainees have been discussed, and some of the ground rules and logistics of the program have been explained. Tell trainees that the staff thinks of everything up to this point as "pre-training". Now, if they are ready, actual "training" will begin.
Remind trainees that, as has already been discussed, training is fast-paced and can be hectic. Tell them this may be their last opportunity to really take some time to be alone with their thoughts and think hard about the questions about to be uncovered on the newsprint sheet that is hanging at the front of the room. Tell them that they may find the questions help them to get focused. Ask trainees to think about the questions and write down their thoughts. Point out that paper and pens are available up front. Tell them that after a while, trainers will come around and ask to read what they have written, and that trainers may ask to speak with them. Remind them that this is an individual exercise and they should not talk with one another.
2. Uncover newsprint. Newsprint has the following six questions:
• Where are you going?
• When you get there, what will the people expect of you?
• What will it take for you to be effective?
• Where are you now?
• Why are you here?
• What do you need to do here?
3. The staff sits quietly and waits approximately 30 to 45 minutes before circulating around room. If during this time a trainee appears to be finished and takes out a book to read, starts writing letters, or begins some other unrelated activity, a trainer should walk over and quietly and politely say something like, "That's not training, please put it away for now".
4. After some period, approximately 30-45 minutes, staff members begin to circulate and ask to read what the trainees have written. The staff should have previously divided the room among them so that each trainer works with certain trainees. The objective of the timing is to give everyone ample time to give more than a cursory response to each question, yet not to leave trainees sitting for so long that they become confused and get off track in addressing the questions from too many different perspectives, thus becoming scattered rather than focused. This is difficult to assess.
5. Trainers begin to meet individually with trainees (meet in a location outside of the room) to discuss what they have written. If a trainee has responded to the questions in a very abstract way or if the responses suggest that he/she is preoccupied with vague speculations about what life in a foreign country will be like, with innermost feelings about deciding to join Peace Corps, or is otherwise not yet at a point of focusing on the job at hand in technical aquaculture training, the trainer should spend a few minutes talking with the individual, then send him/her back to the classroom (see Trainer Notes for more specific suggestions).
6. When the trainer feels that the trainee has focused in on spending the upcoming ten weeks on learning the specifics of aquaculture so that he/she will be able to be an effective, professional and credible aquaculture extensionist, the trainer gives the trainee a training notebook and guides him/her to the next activity (Pond Observation Exercise).
Resources and Materials:
• Comfortable classroom for the group, with other meeting areas nearby for individual meetings between trainers and trainees;
• Newsprint or poster prepared with the questions listed above;
• Flip chart stand or tape;
• Notebook paper;
• Binders (at least 1 1/2 inch diameter rings), one per trainee;
• Dividers for binders (one packet per trainee).
• This component is a modification of an exercise that has been controversial since Peace Corps aquaculture training began. In past programs, it was extremely ambiguous, i.e., trainees received no instructions and very little guidance. Rather than feeling focused as a result of the exercise, some trainees felt even more confused, and viewed the exercise as a "mind game". Over the course of the three years that the University of South Carolina conducted the training, several modifications were made in an attempt to find an approach that retains the value of the exercise, but eliminates the negative repercussions. Although the exercise remains controversial, the design presented here is one that we feel worked well. Some trainees still claimed that it was a "waste of time", but the majority felt that it had value for them, and was very helpful to provide this opportunity for trainees to prepare themselves and focus their concentration for training. Those who did not consider it useful, while not appreciative, at least did not seem to harbor the same type of bitterness that was the norm for many in earlier designs;
• The skills and attitudes of the staff have a tremendous effect on what the trainees gain from this exercise, on their feelings and attitudes, and on the trust they will feel towards the staff and the program. It is imperative that the staff spend a good deal of time discussing this exercise and that everyone on the staff has a clear understanding of its purpose. They should spend as much time as possible practicing, through role playing, to develop their techniques and learn about their styles before actually beginning to interact with the trainees;
• Properly implemented by the staff, this exercise should be perceived by the trainees as a helpful, positive experience. The staff's attitude toward the exercise will do much to determine its success;
• Each trainee will approach the questions differently. Often, trainees with a strong technical background will already be thinking in terms of further developing their technical skills, and will jump right in with ideas about raising fish. In many cases, trainees with weak science backgrounds express some fears about their ability to learn the technical skills, and often they will even avoid the whole technical issue, concentrating their responses instead on their personal feelings about working in a developing country, experiencing culture shock, etc. As with all generalizations, however, there are plenty of exceptions, and in reality their will be a wide range of largely unpredictable responses;
• While there are no "right" answers, there is a set of ideas that it is hoped will result from these questions. Trainers should not be rigid in requiring exact wording or in trying to get every trainee to go through an identical thought process, yet they should try to guide the trainees toward these bottom line ideas. Following are the kinds of responses it is hoped trainees will eventually reach to the posed questions:
• Where are you going? This is a grounding question, and the trainee should be encouraged to give a simple, straightforward response, stating the country to which he/she has been assigned;
• When you get there, what will the people expect of you? Though the trainee might initially respond to this in a wide variety of ways ("They'll expect me to be very rich", "they'll expect me to ride a horse and carry a gun", "they'll expect me to speak their language", etc.), the objective is to direct the trainee towards thinking in terms of his/her professional role and the responsibilities he/she will be expected to fulfill in light of that role. Thus, what is being aimed for here are responses such as "They'll expect me to be an expert in fish culture", "They'll expect me to be able to answer all their questions and solve their problems related to raising fish", "They'll think I know everything about fish culture", etc.;
• What will it take for you to be effective? Trainees may have initially reacted to this question by thinking mainly about cultural sensitivity and language skills. These are certainly valid responses and should be acknowledged as such, but again try to direct them towards other aspects of being effective in a professional role. A main concept to try to get across here is the importance of being able to establish professional credibility. For example, "I'll need to know what I'm doing, and people will need to believe that I know what I'm doing", "I will need to be competent, and confident enough in my own knowledge to gain the trust of others", "People will need to perceive me as a credible professional", "I will need to present myself in a professional manner", etc.;
• Where are you now? This is another grounding question that serves as a reference point for the next question. Again, encourage a very straightforward response. They are at the Peace Corps Aquaculture Training Program;
• Why are you here? Some trainees will respond to this by discussing their reasons for joining the Peace Corps. This is an important personal process for some trainees, and if it seems appropriate, the trainer may take a little time to discuss it with them. But to help the trainees with the focusing process, ask them to answer in light of question number four. Help them to distinguish specifically that they are at the Peace Corps Aquaculture Training Program, rather than simply in Peace Corps or in a particular country. They are here in order to learn about raising fish and to develop the technical skills and expertise needed to be effective as fisheries volunteers;
• What do you need to do here? The response to this, again, is sometimes self-reflective and abstract. For example, "I need to work hard and listen to the instructors". What should be encouraged is a more tangible, directly job-related response, such as "I need to get experience raising fish", "I need to learn to raise fish by actually doing it", etc. This question can be used to get at the idea of learning through experience being the most effective way of learning. However, care should be taken here. In the past, the question posed was a different. It was, "What do you need to have?", with the objective being for the trainee to request a pond. (This was based on a modification of a previous approach to this exercise from earlier programs). Rigidly requiring that a trainee make this request seemed to be a key contributor to the frustration trainees experienced in this exercise. For many, the idea of jumping into a completely hands-on situation before receiving the more familiar type of preparation through lectures, readings and demonstrations is a completely foreign one, and will not even be considered. If the trainer simply hints around until the trainee is practically forced to say what the trainer wants to hear, it triggers resentment, mistrust and a sense of "playing a game". If the trainee feels that the best way to learn fish culture is through receiving lectures, reading books, and then trying to apply the [earnings under the direct instruction of the trainers, that is a perfectly reasonable line of thinking even though it is not the way training is conducted in this program. In fact, all of those methods of learning do occur in training, but not in the order that is likely to be the most familiar to the trainee. Thus, the trainer should not devalue or ridicule that suggestion. When the interview with the trainee reaches this point, a better approach is for the trainer to help the trainee see some of the advantages of having the opportunity to develop clear questions in order to recognize and be able to utilize helpful information that may become available, and also point out how learning a skill through actual experience impacts on the level of resulting confidence in one's abilities;
• The staff guides the trainees through this process through one-on-one interviews. Analogies can be useful tools in helping trainees think clearly about questions 2,3,5 and 6. It is extremely critical that trainers really read what the trainees have written and listen carefully to what they say. This will help the trainer to determine an approach that is consistent with the trainee's own thought process. In addition, it is easy to miss a point that has already been made and/or clearly understood by the trainee, and then throw that individual completely off track in trying to guide him/her toward the same idea. This is extremely frustrating to the trainee, since without realizing it, the trainer may have given the impression of dismissing that idea as unimportant;
• The manner and attitude of the staff has a great impact on how the trainee feels about this experience and on the value of the exercise. Although it is true that there is a set of ideas that are being sought in the responses to the questions, there are really no "right" or "wrong" answers. The staff should be very careful not to get so caught up in their own objectives that they give the impression that the trainee's answers are "wrong" or "bad", or come across as angry or impatient. This is a very individual exercise, and the way trainees respond will be as varied as their individual personalities. Since the goal is to help them focus, much will depend upon their individual states of mind as they enter the program. Some may already be thinking about what they want to feed their fish, while others may still be grappling with personal issues related to leaving home for two years. Staff members must be sensitive to this and must make every effort to make this exercise a positive, helpful one.