Why We Train: Drops in a Bucket

While conducting a Train-the-Trainer series this past summer, one of my participants asked:

How will we know if we are successful?

It’s a great question. We all want to know how successful we are at achieving our training goals, but there is not always a fast and easy way to measure our success.  In large part, it depends on our specific goals and objectives for a training.

If your aim is to increase accurate knowledge about transgender people, identities and experiences, there are many evaluation techniques you can use (such as report backs, reflection sheets, pre and posttests, or post-session follow-ups) to check and see if your participants learned what you wanted them to. Or, you might have a skills-building goal, where you want your participants to be able to do something better as a result of a training (such as using gender neutral language when teaching reproductive health, or, being able to distinguish when it is appropriate to ask for sensitive personal information and then ask the questions in an affirming manner). Skills acquisition can be evaluated with strategies such as role-play, demonstrations, or scripting out possible responses to likely scenarios.

For many of us who are facilitating transgender-related trainings, one of our most crucial goals is to shift people’s attitudes so that they are less prejudiced and more affirming of transgender people. Measuring attitude change during a training is one of the hardest things to evaluate. While there are some statistical measures that can be useful when conducting academic research on the success of trainings, they are generally less useful as a standalone evaluation strategy.

This can leave facilitators wondering “Was I successful?” “Did I make a difference?” and “How can I do better next time?” These questions can be challenging to answer.  Some indicators of success that we can look for are when participants are:

  • trying to use more affirming language by the end of a training (such as correct pronouns, gender markers and terms)
  • reflecting on past experiences they had and wondering how they might have better handled that situation, (or thinking about potential future situations and how they will handle them)
  • approaching you during breaks or after the trainings to connect with you, often to share about their lives, why the topics are important to them, and questions they have but didn’t want to ask in front of the group
  • indicating that they are nervous that they might “mess up” because they want to be able to do it the right way
  • asking for more resources so that they can continue to learn after the training
  • reporting that they learned a lot and eager to try to apply it in their work or life
  • leaving quietly, clearly still thinking about what was presented, or, leaving excited, happy and eager to apply their new knowledge

While helpful, these indicators are only part of the picture. It is crucial to remember that a majority of integration of learning often happens after the training session. While we may occasionally hear from a participant who reports back about what they learned and what it meant to them, it is rare.

It is more common that as facilitators we will never fully know what changes happened as a result of our trainings.  A person may leave a training without any indication that they have shifted their views but the information that they learned may be applied in the days and weeks following a training. They may be on their way home from the training and their own cognitive dissonance may instigate a shift, or upon further reflection something just “clicks” and they have that a-ha! moment. They may see a tv segment or blog post about a transgender person and view the information differently than they would have prior to the training. They may encounter a student, patient or client that is transgender, and respond in a way that is more affirming than their response would have been otherwise.

It is also likely that you won’t know how these changes impact transgender people’s lived experiences. While our participants may not leave experts on how to be affirming after one training, it is entirely plausible that they will have slightly better interactions with transgender people they encounter.  And while “less bad” is not an end goal, it is a small step in the right direction. If the people we train are less likely to ask an invasive question, use derogatory or offensive language, or make anti-transgender jokes or comments, then that is one less horrible interaction that a transgender person has to endure.

Drops In The BucketThe truth of being an educator is that we will never know the full impact of our work. Since acquiring expertise, shifting values and mastering new skills are goals that happen over time (rather than a single training), it is often best to consider individual training sessions as proverbial drops in the bucket of individual and systemic change. When we use the very best educational methods, do the best work that we can for that day, and provide the necessary tools for participants to integrate change into their lives, we contribute to the larger picture and our true end goal of a society that values transgender people, and is fully respectful, affirming of transgender people’s identities, experiences and lives.
photo credit: Peak via photopin (license)

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