We’re doing a blog series on training your youth ministry volunteers and today we’ll discuss how to train your volunteers in practical skills. In the first post of this series we stressed the importance of defining what knowledge and skills your volunteers need to have. The second step was to assess what your volunteers already know and what they’re already competent in. The difference between those two is what needs to be taught.
Teaching skills isn’t easy. More than teaching theoretical knowledge, it requires an individual approach. Here’s why:
Different learning styles
The difference in learning styles plays an important part here. I’m someone who needs the theory before the practice for example. I won’t just ‘learn’ by watching someone do something, or by practicing myself, I need to know the ‘why’ first. Why is this the best way? Why does this work?
Some people like to observe, others want to dive right in. ‘Forcing’ people to learn skills in a way that doesn’t match their learning style causes friction, stress even. Be sure to give your volunteers room to learn in their own way and don’t make everyone do the same thing.
The solution is to discuss their preferred learning style with your volunteers. Do they know how they learn best? If not, just ask this simple question: if you’ve just bought a new dvd player, how do you go about learning how it works? Do they read the manual first? If so, what works better: reading info or seeing a drawing or schedule? Do they want someone else to show it? If so, do they want to hear an explanation first or see a demonstration? Or do they just try it themselves and see what happens till they get it right? It’ll give you a quick insight into their learning preferences!
Some people learn faster than others, especially when it comes to skills. That’s not necessarily related to intelligence though it obviously plays a role, as does their preferred learning style. It also has to do with how well they learn in general, their ability to anchor new knowledge and skills to what they know already.
An individual approach ensures everyone gets the chance and the time to learn in their own way, at their own speed. No one wants to be in a group that does a training on first aid for instance and be the only one who can’t get the compressions right. It will make people feel stupid and humiliated. Protect your volunteers, especially those who are vulnerable in this area.
As I wrote in a previous post: most people will ‘endure’ a theoretical training session in a subject they know about already. It’s good to be reminded of important things, a new trainer can give you new insights and it’s okay because you’re part of a group. With learning practical skills, that’s different.
I was ‘required’ to attend a training session once on public speaking. The idea was to give everyone who ever had to say something on stage (elders, worship leaders, announcement-people, etc) training in the use of voice, body posture, etc. We had to do exercises, like do a short announcement, and practice things. I was bored out of my mind all day and I became more and more irritated. I knew this stuff, I had taught it myself to others. Yet I was required to be there. It was a long, long day for me.
You shouldn’t want to teach people skills they already have, you’ll really demotivate them. Plus you’re wasting their time, which doesn’t show respect for the busy schedules most volunteers have. Instead, if you have a volunteer who’s already really good at something, have him or her help in the training. That way you not only affirm their talents and gifts in that area (and thus motivate them), you also teach volunteers how to help each other (unity).
Always keep in mind that the way you train your volunteers has a huge impact on their motivation. I’ve also written about this in a post on Grey’s Anatomy: How not to train your leaders.
How to realize this individual approach?
Here’s my advice on how to realize an individual training approach for your youth ministry volunteers:
- Teach in groups where possible, but always make room for differences in learning styles, learning speeds, ect. I’ve found it valuable to literally stress this at the start of a session, so people know they’re not expected to all learn the same way.
- Create a safe environment during the training so that there is room for failure, for trying again, for learning.
- Within one training session, use different approaches that match the different learning styles: teach instructive, put something on paper, use visual elements, have something to feel/touch for the kinesthetic types, do a demonstration, a practice exercise, give a theoretical basis for what you’re teaching, use a group discussion, etc. Everyone will learn that way, because all learning styles are taken into account.
- Don’t force people to participate in every element of the session. Personally, I hate ‘practicing’ exercises, like ‘practice having a spiritual conversation’ I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me. Others really hate presenting something to a group (which I totally dig!). Don’t make people participate in an element if they don’t want to.
- Do one-on-one training for those volunteers that are vulnerable in this area and make sure they know you value them just as much. Take the time to teach them and keep experimenting in teaching styles till you find a way that clicks for them. I’ve had a volunteer once who was very dyslexic, so any written information was a problem for him. That meant I did most of the teaching one-on-one, telling him what he needed to know, repeating it a couple of times in different words and contexts and then practice it together till I was sure he understood. Time consuming? Yes, very so. But an investment that ‘paid off’: he’s one of the best volunteers I’ve ever had, he was incredibly proud to be able to do this despite his dyslexia and he’s been a practical backbone of my youth ministry for years.
- Don’t try and teach skills people don’t need and/or don’t have an aptitude for. Make sure you only train them in what they need. The feeling of having to perform in an area they feel insecure in, can really cause stress for your volunteers.