Behind the scenes – What goes into making your classes?

A rare photo of me facilitating during Lesson One of our Fall Hatch session. As Education Manager, I'm normally the one behind the camera.
A rare photo of me facilitating during Lesson One of our Fall Hatch session. As Education Manager, I’m normally the one behind the camera.

I love my job. I get to work with artists and help create and manage education that can support their ability to achieve their hopes and dreams. Those hopes and dreams contribute to making an incredibly diverse and creative arts ecology for our community, from which everyone benefits. Each year, C4 Atlanta services over 400 artists through our training services. That’s a LOT of creative hopes and dreams for Metro Atlanta!

In order to service the city’s musicians, painters, circus artists, dancers, film producers, tattoo artists, actors, and more! A lot of thought and preparation goes into what we offer. As former artists ourselves, our staff understands that where you put your (often very) hard earned dollars makes a huge difference, and we are committed to offering as high a standard of adult education as possible. What goes into that? An awful lot.

All too often being a good educator is equated with expertise in a particular content area. But all of us at some point in our lives know that this simply isn’t true. Each of us have been “trained” at some point by an expert who wasn’t actually skilled at education: a trainer who couldn’t explain to you what they were doing, a professor who’s MO seems to be “read the book, and figure it out for yourself”, or a brilliant musician who can’t seem comprehend how to translate their talent to a young student.

In addition to our almost 20 years of combined experience in education, our staff puts and incredible amount of infrastructure behind each class that we offer. So what DOES it take to plan and produce class at C4 Atlanta? Let’s take a look.

Most of our classes start with suggestions from our students. Every educational offering includes an evaluation, and every evaluation includes a question asking “What other educational offerings would you like to see in the future?” Some of our best courses have come from suggestions from artists like YOU!

Let’s assume that we’ve already done the funding legwork to ensure that we have the finances in place to even create a class in the first place. Often this is the longest part of the process. Securing grant funding make take years depending on the program. This can also include the time it takes to develop a relationship with and introduce our organization to a funder who has an interest in the type of education we’d like to offer. Other classes are developed with more agility. We test a concept, get feedback, and expand on it until it becomes a full course offering.

Chelsea facilitates Financial Literacy. She really loves to talk about numbers!
Chelsea facilitates Financial Literacy. She really loves to talk about numbers!

In order to develop a class, we first need to start with visioning the objectives and expectations. What are our goals for student learning and what skills will students walk away with? What is a reasonable given student expectations and feedback? What information is relevant and current? What do we want the class to look and feel like? What kind of student experience will it offer? What kind of time frame is reasonable; is the class a one day offering or will the content require several sessions to cover adequately?

One of the original lesson plans for our Hatch class. This course took over three years to develop, from initial planning to final implementation.
One of the original lesson plans for our Hatch class. This course took over three years to develop, from initial planning to final implementation.

In order to more fully form our overall course objectives, some research is usually necessary. Our staff regularly stays on top of the most relevant research in the field, and what information may be on the horizon to contribute to our learning opportunities. It is important for us to be aware of what is trending in the field and how the needs of working artists may be changing over time.  We are also fortunate to have a wide network nationwide of friends in the field to help point us toward additional information when we need it. In some cases, these friends have also become content collaborators or class partners.

Once overall class objectives have been identified, we can then begin to create lesson plans. For a multi-week class such as Ignite or Hatch, we can break up the course objectives into individual classes, each with it’s own individual lesson plan. For a one day or pop-up class, one single lesson plan is usually all that’s necessary. In our lesson plans, we identify specific learning outcomes for each individual class (based on our larger class objective(s)), activities and modules to be presented, outside support materials for the facilitator for more information, evaluation criteria for both the students and the facilitator, and a list of facilitator and student materials needed to execute the class. Having a strong, robust lesson plan makes our next steps much easier, so we work hard to make sure we get it right.

A student hard at work completing an exercise during Fundraising 101. It's important to include opportunities for hands on learning, no matter what class we create.
A student hard at work completing an exercise during Fundraising 101. It’s important to include opportunities for hands on learning, no matter what class we create.

From these initial lesson plans, we then begin to think about what is called an implementation plan. This is different from our lesson plan in that in addition to more specific detail, it also includes a breakdown of the timing of each section of a lesson. Specific case studies, anecdotes, concepts, discussion questions, or activities are outlined in the implementation plan, as are time for evaluations, introduction and/or closing rituals. This implementation agenda allows the course facilitator to effectively pace the learning of the class. It also allows those building the lesson to make reasonable expectations for learning, plan necessary breaks in learning in ways that will not disrupt the content delivery, and map out a student’s expected learning trajectory.  It’s important for concepts to build upon each other, and for students to have ample opportunities to practice the skills they are learning, and it’s important for this to be built into the design of the class from the beginning.

In our courses, it’s also important to us that students are building a network of colleagues and resources beyond what is provided in the content. Ample time for course discussion is factored into the implementation plan as well.

With strong plans laid, we can then begin to build presentations and supplementary learning materials for our classes. Powerpoints, workbooks, worksheets, exercise write-ups, and graphs or charts are created. Additional write-ups or notes may need to be included here for the class facilitator as well. The learning environment can also affect how we reach learners who have specific learning or ability challenges. The more that modifications or learning designs that can facilitate learning for a multitude of individuals and learning styles can be anticipated, the stronger overall our class will be for all students. To this end, our staff is currently researching Universal Design for Learning, with plans to incorporate this into all of our classes in the future. This is a core tenant of our upcoming strategic plan for the next five years.

Preparing workbooks for Ignite.
Preparing workbooks for Ignite.

Is the class ready to go yet? Nope. It’s time for a consistency check. Everything we have created needs to now be proofed. We’re not just looking for typos and grammatical errors, but also checking to make sure that what we have created theoretically works in a practical format: Did we cover the objectives we identified adequately? Are our timings correct? Should certain concepts be moved in order to facilitate better learning? Have we included a good mix of traditional instruction and activity? Did we plan enough time for breaks? Are the chosen visuals clear and representational of the concepts we are covering? Our implementation or lesson plans may need to be tweaked at this point depending on the changes that are necessary.

Now that the format of the course is complete, we’ll need a way to measure our efficacy at meeting our learning objectives, as well as our course facilitator’s ability to connect and share the content with the class. Course evaluations are an important part of each class. Questions are matched not only with the course objectives, but also with information that could be beneficial when evaluating our overall offerings and services. In the future, we hope to a create a unified assessment plan that includes all of our organizational assessment and evaluation goals and integrates with each individual course evaluation. As a core tenant of our new strategic plan, this will allow us to not only assess learning in a single class, but also to see how an artists’ learning in a single class incorporates with our larger service goals for the community.

It’s also time to begin thinking about class touch points. How are we reaching out to students who will be in the class? If you’ve taken a workshop with us, you know that we traditionally include a welcome and follow up to each lesson, and build a bank of additional resources for students. Chelsea, our operations manager, often helps with getting the resources online, while I maintain them for consistency, switching out certain tools or studies for newer versions. There may also be check-ins mid-course or other reminders necessary for upcoming class dates or homework. And our staff is always available for individual questions or clarity as it relates to our educational offerings. Moving into 2017, we will be remapping Ignite and creating a day-long training session for Ignite artist-facilitators. We hire artists who demonstrate a competency for teaching, breaking down complicated concepts, and who are earnest listeners to help facilitate Ignite and AIM Atlanta. For consistency, we spend a considerable amount of time for these artists to train alongside a staff member or long-time trainer.

Jessyca Holland
Photo of our ED. She would only approve this image. To be fair, she was working on a class design.

All of these considerations, research and planning go the creation of each and everyone one of our professional development offerings. But once the course is created, we never stop updating and improving. As trends change and research is released, our staff continues to work on education. We are committed to providing a high quality, inclusive, accessible learning experience to any and all who walk through our doors.

I’d like to close with that final point: accessibility. The cost of providing such a high quality educational experience is great. In an effort to keep course costs low, C4 Atlanta fundraises throughout the year. While we receive money from government, corporations, individuals, and foundations who believe in our mission to support the careers of arts workers, we also know that for some, any cost associated with professional development education is too great to bare. These are often the artists most in need of our services. In order to keep our classes accessible, C4 Atlanta offers an additional $10,000 in scholarships each year for training and education. Please consider making a contribution to our scholarship fund as we raise money through Power2Give through December 21st. The Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs will match, dollar for dollar, each donation given, doubling even the smallest of gifts to make them twice as impactful. Donate here: Donate to C4 Atlanta Scholarship Fund

Have a suggestion for a learning opportunity that you’d like to see at C4 Atlanta? Email me: audrey@c4atlanta.org

 

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