Don't tool me wrong

Nov 2013
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Dear fellow trainers and youth workers,

Don't tell me it has never happened to you 16 as well. Whether you are an experienced trainer or you are just embarking on this adventure, I bet you have had this moment when you felt that the tool you chose just wasn’t working...

Different things can go wrong when using a learning tool. I’ve listed a few below and I have to confess - some of them have actually happened to me!:

  • you mix up the order of the instructions, or even forget some of them;
  • you forget to bring some of the material needed and you either find out at the beginning and you seek an alternative or you find out in the middle of the session- and what can you do then?
  • your group doesn't understand what you have asked them to do, or why, and you end up with a dozen puzzled eyes looking at you, waiting for clarification;
  • you choose a tool without taking certain sensitivities among the group into consideration and you end up with reactions from the participants that might even interrupt the process and disorientate you from your initial learning goals. In a sense, you are being asked to debrief and guide the learning process in another direction;
  • feel like adding more examples here from your personal experience?

The level of messing up with a tool can vary a lot. It can be disastrous, or you might be the only one who actually noticed. Even if it hasn't happened yet to you, trust me, it very probably will one day. Now, ask yourself how prepared you are for such a situation and what you would do. Can you see an opportunity to learn when a tool goes wrong?

While thinking about what to write on the theme of a tool going wrong, I decided to share my soundtrack for such moments with you. Play it at full volume as you read! 

I am weak (by Nina Kravitz)

You feel weak when you blame yourself for what went wrong. You should have chosen another tool, you should have made sure that you had all the materials you needed, you should have asked someone to help you, you should have gone through the instructions once again.You could have told your co-trainers that you were not prepared or you didn't feel really comfortable using this particular tool. But now it has happened and you just feel weak, don't you? 

Oops, I did it again! (try it by Max Raabe and Palast Orchester rather than by Britney Spears)

Admit it- it might not be the first time that this has happened. Last time you might have been lucky and no one noticed, or you dissimulated, or your co-trainer saved you somehow. Now, you can admit it or keep it to yourself - or better still, use it as an opportunity to learn. 

I'm a loser (by Beck)

You might even think you are a loser, you are not worthy of your role, people will not trust you again and you just made a fool of yourself. Don't expect anyone to ask you to deliver a training session ever again.You just messed it up, loser! But if I am not mistaken, you have tried hard to become a trainer, haven't you? Can you just give up and live with this feeling of defeat? 

Bulletproof (by La Roux)

What if you start by thinking that no one is bulletproof? That no matter how much you prepare, a tool might just go wrong. Training is an activity that takes place in the present tense. No matter how much of a fortune teller you are, you cannot always predict everything. And by saying that no one is bulletproof, this also means that you should be open to receive criticism from participants or co-trainers- - I mean, at the end of the day, you were the one who just messed up, weren't you? 

Getting away with it (All messed up) (by James)

Now, disappearing is always an option. You can just run away, having messed everything up and leaving even more mess behind. This is often called the ostrich approach. But experience has taught me that you don't gain anything by retreating into a shell. And take a moment to think: how would you feel if you were a participant and your trainer just left closing the door behind himself? Or if one of your co- trainers did it to you? 

Blame it on the boogie (by Jackson Five)

It is our natural instinct to try to justify our choices and our actions.When something goes wrong, the initial reaction is to blame someone else. Well, in our case, don't blame it on the tool. It is the use of it that makes the difference. The same tool might have worked perfectly in another environment, with other participants or with better preparation on your side. Most of the times we tend to blame others for our mistakes for the sake of our ego, but a responsible trainer always looks inside first. 

Nobody's fool (by Parov Stelar)


This applies especially to the people you train. Don't count on their ignorance - they might even know more than you. They have the critical thinking and emotional intelligence to read your reactions.They will understand if something went wrong, don't try to fool them. Participants look up to you. Would you prefer to leave them puzzled or to do something about it? 

The right thing (by Moby)

There is no one single right thing that you can do in these situations - it depends on what went wrong and at which stage of the process you realised you’d messed up. Different things call for different responses.You just need to find what feels right for you at that particular moment. 

Can we start again? (by Tindersticks)

In some cases you can, in others you can't. It depends at which point in the use of the tool you realised that it is just not working. If you try to start again, you’ll need to explain why. Avoid interrupting a process by asking people to start again just like that.You are not a director in a rehearsal. Your “play” is actually “on stage” when you train. 

With a little help from my friends (by the Beatles)

This song applies almost to everything. In our case it means that you can seek your co-trainers’ help.They might be in a position to save you.When trainers work together, they develop a specific kind of code to communicate with each other - it might be with their eyes or with a simple word.Ask for their help without feeling ashamed - next time they might be the ones in need of being “saved”. 

Sorry seems to be the hardest word (by Elton John)

Sometimes you can simply say “sorry”. It is hard most of the time (in real life and in training as well), isn’t it? However, remember that a dignified apology can go a long way to restoring trust.And that's what you are trying to do here, right? 

Enjoy the ride (by Morcheeba)

Laugh about it, don't turn it into a tragedy. Remember that a training exercise should be an activity that brings out the best in people- and that includes you as well. 

Nothing really ends (by Deus)

Followed by An end has a start (by Editors) Your training doesn't end when a tool goes wrong.The tool is part of a larger process, isn't it? You need to find the courage to go on.You can also think of using the same tool in another part of the training - it might work better there. In this case, make the connection with the moment using the tool went wrong. It will help participants develop a certain kind of learning that you couldn't reach otherwise, could you? 

What if (by Coldplay)

Now,think about your options.Yes, you need to react fast, to be prepared for such moments. So what if you just turn this little failure into a learning experience? Think about it. Especially when you are in a Training forTrainers session - this is a very good moment to actually discuss this. You might have not planned to include this session in your program - but trainers are flexible human beings, aren't they? And trainers should be prepared for the unexpected, right? 

Everybody's got to learn somehow (by The Korgis)

When something goes wrong, it is a perfect opportunity to learn, isn't it? 

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