Reflections on Democracy Coach Training

On September 21-22nd, GC’s newest cohort of Democracy Coaches in four program sites participated in a training workshop to prepare for the start of the school year. Below, Director of Programming Meghan Trombly reflects on the experience in a letter to the Fall 2013 Generation Citizen Democracy Coaches.

Dear Generation Citizen Democracy Coach,

Dragging oneself out of bed on an early Saturday morning to travel across the city for a day of workshops is not most college students’ ideal weekend.  But then again, you’re not like most college students.  You are ready to stop talking about change and to lead it.  By participating in training last weekend, you, and over 200 DCs across from Boston to New York City to Rhode Island to the San Francisco Bay Area have taken the first step towards doing just that.

I remember the first time I stepped into a GC classroom this spring. To be honest, after seven years of working with small groups of elementary school girls, I was a little overwhelmed. The Generation Citizen classroom was larger than I was used to.  The students were older than I was used to.  They were brasher than I was used to.

As the class noisily broke into groups, I spoke with a few students.  They passionately described how they were trying to get the school board to fix the myriad of hazards in their school, from broken handrails with sharp edges to rusty water fountains. In the midst of our conversation, they hurriedly rushed away.  They returned with a camera. To drive home their message, they showed pictures of the dangerous areas.  After the class, I spoke to the Democracy Coach about her experience.  She explained how some days, and some students, were more challenging than others, but at the end of it, how inspired she felt when the students really began to engage in making change.  That’s how I felt after training.  Some moments were more challenging than others, but at the end of the day, I was inspired.

For the first time, Generation Citizen used standard workshops, including leading curriculum and advocacy, across all of our program sites.  Some of the workshops were more effective than others. However, I was impressed by how much our local staff personalized the workshops to their Democracy Coach cohort.  I was also impressed by level of Democracy Coach engagement.  You jumped right into lesson simulations and tough discussions.

In particular, this year marked the first year that Generation Citizen had a cultural competency workshop.  In the line of privilege activity, we started in a straight line holding hands.  We then stepped forward or backward based our person experience to a question.  As Greater Boston Program Associate Leila read, “Taka step forward if your parents read to you as a child” and “If you were raised in a community where the vast majority of police, politicians and government workers were not of your racial group, take one step back,” and people moved forward and backward, our arms began to stretch.  I felt a sense of disconnectedness as it became harder and harder to hold the person’s hand next to me.   During the debrief we engaged in real, open, and honest conversations about our own backgrounds.  However, conversations like those can go on for hours, and we only had minutes.

As the workshop continued, some Democracy Coaches questioned the usefulness of the workshop itself and how the content related to their role in the classroom.  That is exactly what we expect from you.  As you go through the semester, we want you keep an open-mind, and to also push us to do things better.   The goal of the workshop was to encourage collaboration and diversity.  We wanted to explore how our own background influences the way we see the world, and often, how we interact with others.  Essentially, we want to make sure the GC is encouraging students to become more politically engaged, regardless of specific political affiliation.  We look forward to reviewing your feedback and updating this, and all, workshops to be even more effective in the future.

Lastly, I was particularly struck by Generation Citizen’s current place in our organizational development.  Our first Democracy Coaches in the Bay Area participated in training.  At the Boston training, current Tufts Chapter Director and former Democracy Coach, Billy reunited with Michelle, a student in his GC class last year who is now a Democracy Coach herself at UMASS Boston.  Our community is growing larger and larger and our potential for change is enormous.  This semester, together, you and GC’s other DCs will partner with 75 teachers and Generation staff, Local Advisory Boards and National Board of Directors to engage nearly 5,000 secondary school students in action civics.  You will create one powerful force for democracy.  Welcome to the movement!

~Meghan Trombly, GC Director of Programming