This is a guest post by Nancy Seibel, a facilitator and coach for Keys to Change who uses a range of VisualsSpeak products with her clients. One of the interesting things about this story is she is using our coaching tool, Exploring New Options in a group setting.
In August, I facilitated a 2-day meeting for the Infancy and Early Childhood Mental Health Committee of the New Jersey Council for Young Children, which is the state’s early learning council located in New Jersey’s Department of Education.
The meeting’s purpose was to provide input into the creation of a new approach to formation of the infant mental health workforce. Gerry Costa, my client and Director and Senior Lecturer at Montclair State University’s Center on Autism and Early Childhood Mental Health, explained that “formation” refers to the development of the knowledge, skills, attitudes, beliefs, values, intra-personal and interpersonal capacities needed for effective work with young children and their families. The stated outcomes for the meeting included identifying learning domains and topics, providing participants with approaches useful to their own work, and gathering volunteers to stay involved in the work moving forward.
What Made Us Successful
By the end of our second day we reached the stated outcome goals. That’s important. Equally important is that the meeting process was successful. Participants went out of their way to let us know that, both at the meeting and afterwards. The meeting’s success was a combination of many factors. These included my client’s vision for and commitment to the meeting, the collaboration in planning it, the thoughtfulness in inviting key participants, and the openness to my use of VisualsSpeak images as an important part of the agenda.
Who Was In The Room
The participants were a group of 24 high-level experts in the field of infant mental health. The direction we hoped to move in was a new one. Informing it was a long history within the infant mental health field. This history includes knowledge, wisdom, evidence, a body of work, and interpersonal relationships, along with conflict, discussion, debate and dilemma. The task at hand called for honoring and building on the existing knowledge, products, experience and wisdom coupled willingness to think in new ways and move in new directions.
How We Used The Images
We used VisualsSpeak images in 2 ways during this meeting, both on the first day. First, we used the large Icebreaker Set for introductions. Each person selected 3 images. One image represented them, one represented a gift they brought to the meeting and one represented a hope for what they would get from the meeting. I asked participants to introduce themselves by making one brief statement about each of their three cards. A facilitators’ note: the entire activity took about 45 minutes. The introductions held everyone’s interest. No one tuned out as we went around the room. I think the exercise helped people feel connected and engaged, especially as there was a mix of seriousness and humor in the introductions.
Second, based on planning conversations with my clients, I developed an exercise on “Avoiding the Quicksand.” I showed a slide with an image (found here, and purchased from the artist) and discussed the experience of getting stuck in the quicksand. I defined the quicksand as questions that are compelling, but that derail us, push certain “hot buttons”, are ways of avoiding progress, or signs of resistance. I provided directions (found on the Discovery Channel’s website, and available elsewhere as well) about what to do if you get stuck in quicksand. That got everyone laughing. I then had the participants work in small groups. Each 4-person group had one Exploring New Options deck to use in identifying quicksand issues that could bog us down.
This turned out to be such a useful exercise! We never got stuck in the quicksand throughout the intense 2-day meeting. In my experience this is quite unusual! The exercise helped people self-monitor. They commented that at times they chose not to bring up what they internally decided were “quicksand issues.” When participants did say something that might be a “quicksand issue” they noted it as such. We were readily able as a group to put aside those quicksand issues that came up and to spend our time and energy on those that were relevant to our purpose.
We’ll be doing a brief follow up evaluation to collect participants’ experiences. The in-person feedback was exceedingly positive, enthusiastic and energetic. Not only did everyone enjoy the process, make new professional connections and gain new ideas and tangible products to use in their own work, we ended up with the hoped-for tangible outcomes to guide next steps in our work plan. VisualsSpeak images helped people connect to themselves, each other and their capacity for creative, innovative thinking.
Nancy L. Seibel, M.Ed, NCC, BCC
Director Keys to Change, LLC