Monday, February 23, 2015

Another Kind of Objective Writing

Last week I had the opportunity to teacha two-day seminar on pedagogy at the Institut Luthérien Théologique de Meiganga (ILTM – Lutheran Theological Institute of Meiganga).  Guess what?  We talked about writing objectives!  This time (as opposed to the workshop ten days ago with Central African program leaders) students were writing objectives in preparation for teaching a brief lesson.
Group Work - Elisabeth in the background

At left, Lucien, student from CAR
Meiganga is about one hour northwest of Garoua Boulai on the road to N’gaoundéré.  Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson, the missionary who arrived in the area at the same time I did, is teaching New Testament (and other) courses at ILTM.  Through her and the Director, Rev. Dr. Jean Koulagna, I was invited to teach this seminar to about 40 students.  Their levels ranged from BAC studies (the formal – and difficult – test to demonstrate that one has finished high school), through undergraduate and Master’s levels.  We met in the chapel – the room that is large enough to hold all the students at work.  After the morning meditation, we turned the chairs around to face a black board kept in the back of the room.

I took many of the concepts and activities that I have been using at the Bible School in GB and condensed them into 12 hours (11 hours + a one-hour exam).  It was fun to work with these students. Of the 38 students three are women. 
I noticed immediately that their level of education and understanding is higher than the GB Bible School students (who only need the equivalent of an 8th grade education to be admitted).  They could find the main idea much more easily and learned the material much more quickly as well.  I had written the exam thinking of my usual students which turned out to be much too easy for them.  Still, their doing well is an encouragement to them – and to me. 

Class in Meiganga

Class in Meiganga
During the seminar we talked a lot about planning and what it looks like, including SMART objectives.  Pedagogy, though, can’t be taught without content.  In Meiganga, as in GB, I used my personal, informal translation of excerpts of Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s new book The Book of Forgiving.  (The official French translation comes out late in March.)  Forgiveness is such an important, and often difficult, concept to discuss, but it is also critically important for Theology and Bible School students to understand.  (Well, for all of us, really…)

Class in GB

Class in GB
In both Meiganga and Garoua Boulai, the students worked in small groups to read, understand part of Tutu’s text and then to prepare a 10-minute lesson.  Because we had ten groups in Meiganga, not everyone had a chance to teach, but we did watch and critique seven mini-lessons.  In GB there were only four groups so all taught (and I will include the group evaluation in their quarterly grade). 

Like in many other things, effective, thoughtful planning makes everything go more smoothly.  I hope that there is carry-over from these courses into their sermons, school work, and personal lives.  (I don’t hope for much, do I??)

Here’s hoping that you write (or at least think through) objectives and plan carefully so that you meet success in your work and play.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What's an Objective??

We had an amazing training session last week with leaders of all 21 programs of the EEL-RCA. 
Willie Langdji (ELCA regional representative who lives in Yaoundé) and I lead the workshop. (Look we even had modern equipment like an LCD projector, Power Point presentation, and computers!)  It was fantastic for lots of reasons.  First of all, they had to come to us in Garoua Boulai – and they did.  Next, all programs were represented.  And, they all worked diligently and long to understand and begin to implement concepts related to planning, monitoring, and evaluation. (As I write, I am thinking, in particular of my teacher friends who do this constantly and all others who understand the value and hard work involved in planning!)  As an added bonus, we got time to interact socially in a place where we (especially the Central Africans) didn’t have to worry about security issues.  (Lots of side meetings took place, too, on other church-related topics.)

So, what is an objective?  Can’t we say it’s a goal?  In common parlance, we often use these words interchangeably, but they are not the same when considering planning.  A goal is where we want to be at the end; it is long-term and general.  My goal in writing this blog is to increase your understanding of life in CAR/Cameroon, in general, and of EEL-RCA and my work, in particular. I could never do that in one entry – or even five.  In fact, the goal is better reached when I am not the only one working to achieve it. 

Village School Program + Babaoua accountant
Women for Christ + EEL-RCA intern

Medical Programs working together
Village Savings and Loan 
 An objective, on the other had is specific.  It is the result desired for the participants.  Notice that I write an objective in terms of the “beneficiaries.”  I plan my activities, but need to be thinking of the ways they will impact the participants/students/faithful.  This is really a hard concept to embrace – even when people are SURE they understand.  I am thinking, first, of student teachers I have worked with in Pittsburgh.  Their lesson plans generally have objectives expressed in terms of what they, as the teacher, will do.  Of course, we need to be concerned with our actions, but we are not likely to get to our objective if we don’t think about how our information/actions are received by our “target audience.”

Well, it came as no surprise, then, that the leaders we worked with for 2 ½ days last week began by writing their objectives in terms of what they would do.  For example, one team wrote, “Increase the capacity of trainers to teach classes.” (I’m loosely translating from French here.)  The implied subject is their team/project.  The next step for many was often to “put the learners first,” changing the sentence to, “The capacity of the trainers to teach classes will be increased by the training session.” Do you notice what happened there?  The group put the sentence in the passive sentence so that even though the trainers are now at the beginning of the sentence, the action is still being done by the program personnel!  What is required is a huge shift in the way of looking at the task.  What do the project leaders want the trainers to do at the end of the sessions?  What is the result they expect? 

And, to make the task more challenging, the objective must be SMART!  (Look familiar teachers and planners?)  S=specific and simple; M=measurable; A=acceptable; R=reasonable; T=timely.  (I know that the Pittsburgh Public Schools added e for everyone to make the objectives SMARTe, but we stuck with the original SMART.)  So, then, the objective from the last paragraph could be, “At the end of the training sessions, trainers teach effectively so that more of theirs students achieve the minimum grade on exams.”  That’s SMART. 

During our training sessions last week, it took most of the first two days to get to the point where program leaders had written acceptable goals and objectives.  We worked on other things along the way and provided individual assistance and suggestions, too, but most of them got there!  People also got to the point where they felt they understood the difference between a goal and objective and why these both are important for their work.

We also worked on clearly identifying activities and all the needed resources – especially going beyond identifying how much money is needed to explaining how these amounts were calculated.  And, they reorganized their budgets according to activities to better track spending – and to fit into the new mandatory format.  This idea, too, was new for many – to think about the budget AFTER having thought out activities instead of saying, “We have so much money, now let’s start to think of what we can do.”

Oh, then we went into another “easy” task –identifying what tools are needed to evaluate each objective and activity as well as the indicators that the activity is successful or the objective met!  All of these tasks are, of course, interrelated and part of in-depth planning.

Church leaders have, also of course, planned in the past, but they have had little practice with in-depth planning – despite valiant efforts by partners and missionaries in the past.  But, in a country where people live day-to-day seeking ways to survive, the concept of planning for tomorrow, next week, or program activities for a year is foreign. 

I am proud of those who worked with us during this workshop.  Despite all the hardships that continue to surround them, they worked hard to understand and implement the skills being taught.  Most of them came away with a clear understanding of why they are asked to plan and with models of what it looks like.  One person said, “I have been completing forms for years, but never really understood them.  Now I understand how they are connected and what partners have been asking us to do.  I never could have done it without this workshop with explanations and the model forms provided.” 

We still have a long way to go.  Understanding during a workshop does not easily translate to doing in-depth planning with only the leadership teams of projects (some of whom were not at the workshop).  All projects and institutions are to have their year-long in-depth planning forms completed before the end of February.  We will better know then how close we were to meeting our objective, “All project/institution leadership teams write four clear, complete planning documents for 2015 before the end of February.”

The first team came to GB yesterday to talk about the work they had already completed since the workshop.  They had done good work, but had really only understood about 50% of what was presented – but I still applaud their efforts.  After we worked for three hours, they were closer to full understanding.  (Their next revision will show how much closer…)  I hope to be able to work with other teams in the next couple of weeks.  Certainly all planning documents will be reviewed with an eye to improvement.  Wait!  We are doing what we are asking them to do!  We are monitoring and evaluating their work and reflecting on ways to improve it…  I hope this will be another positive model for these hard-working, beginner long-term planners.
  P.S.  We ate well!  Local women prepared meals for us.  And, on Thursday, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Anne Langdji’s work in the region.  No, she couldn’t be there with us as she was with Micah in Yaoundé doing other work, but we toasted her and talked about her work with many of the workshop participants!  Here’s Willie raising a toast to her.  The picture of Anne was taken during a serious discussion at the Protestant Hospital of Garoua Boulai when she was here in November.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Gift

When we go to visit someone, we often take a small gift.  Invited for dinner?  Take a bottle of wine
or some flowers.  Staying overnight?  Take a hostess/host present.  It should be no surprise that people here also take gifts when they visit.  The gifts just aren’t the same.

Several days ago, a Central African friend studying in Cameroon came to visit me.  He has come to visit before, of course, but this time, he brought me a present – a live rooster!  Yep.  Not what I would have gotten in Pittsburgh! 

I know that those of you who live in the country or on/near a farm, will laugh at me, but I am city/suburbs raised.  Sure I’ve seen chickens and roosters – even up close.  Now, especially, I see chickens all the time as they wander around the station where I live looking for food. 

I am not ready to kill and pluck my own chicken.  I will freely admit that these are skills I don’t want to learn.  I could, I suppose, if I had to, but… 

So, for 24 hours, I left the rooster in the entry way of my house with his feet tied together.  I had arranged for a woman I know to do the killing and plucking.  Then, just for some variety, I had her cook it for me, too, so I could have a more African sauce.  (Really, it was pretty much what we eat with some vegetables, oil, and, of course, the rooster.)  It was nice not to have to cook a meal yesterday as well. 

While he was visiting, the rooster made little noise – certainly not crowing in the morning.  He ate grains of rice, drank and then spilled water, and defecated.  Repeat various times.  He even managed to get on top the microwave to roost by the end of his “visit” with me. 

As do others here, I take presents sometimes when I visit.  I have to say, though, I probably won’t be taking a live chicken.  Yes, they sell them in the market, but how does one pick a healthy chicken among those for sale?  I have seen people care them in various ways – upside down by the feet, sort of nestled in the crook of the arm, and in a bag.  Still not something I want to learn…

It is appropriate that the neighbor’s rooster is crowing outside my door as I write!  Chicken and vegetables anyone?