So this past week was crazy for me. I went to VISTA Leader training in Lombard, Illinois on Tuesday, so I spent Monday trying to wrap things up before I left (and desperately attempting to set up my Out of Office email!).
I began my journey on Tuesday, which just so happened to be September 11th. I felt really anxious flying on 9/11, but Bradley Airport wasn’t busy and I got through security pretty quickly, so I calmed down significantly. On my way through security, one of the TSA staffers asked to pat down my pony tail. I guess it doesn’t pay to have really big hair like I do. Once I got to my gate, the airport held a moment of silence for the 9/11 victims, which made me tear up a little bit. At the same time, I thought the moment of silence was a great, poignant way to acknowledge 9/11…even though some assholes felt that ordering their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was more important.
I also had a celebrity encounter once I got to O’Hare. I was running through the airport, trying to find baggage claim and the transportation from the airport to the hotel. I turned to my right, and saw a huge group of kids that looked vaguely familiar. The girls were wearing long denim skirts. I looked up to their faces again and realized that it was the Duggars. Well, I’m pretty sure it was the Duggars. I didn’t want to ask and have to actually talk to them so I continued on my merry way.
I met a few other VISTA leaders from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York at the airport, and, to our surprise, we got picked up by a classy limo! I was totally expecting one of those airport van-limos, so that was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, I found out that my hotel was about an hour outside Chicago, and with our jam-packed training agenda, wasn’t really able to get into the city. On the other hand, I got my own room (with two beds)!
All the main training sessions started on Tuesday. The training team presented some great sessions on leadership development, communication, and conflict resolution (all of which will be extremely helpful to me throughout this next year). I got to attend some competency-based workshops on Tuesday, so I chose “Difficult Conversations” and “Leading a High Achieving Team.” The trainers gave some great advice for dealing with conflict, working in a professional environment, and coaching team members to success throughout their VISTA years.
Most importantly, I also got to meet some great VISTA Leaders from around the country. Let me just say that it is wonderful to meet with people who share similar work experiences with you. There’s only one other VISTA leader in Connecticut, and he’s at a project out in Fairfield, so having all of these awesome people in the same building for a few days was great. I picked up some great ideas for the monthly meetings that I run, including professional developments and training. I also found a few ways to streamline my communications with my VISTAs! The trainers introduced this great meeting technique called Open Space, where conference attendees determine what they want to discuss. During Open Space, we discussed dealing with difficult members (luckily mine are pretty awesome!) and starting a training series with no budget. There were a couple other discussions going on, but those two piqued my interest most.
All in all, Leader Training blew PSO out of the water. PSO was a great introduction to VISTA, but due to the number of VISTAs and their varying work responsibilities, it was hard to actually do skill building workshops. To put it into perspective, there are about 7,000 VISTAs in the country, and 175 VISTA leaders. There were about 200 people at my PSO, and 90 at my Leader training. Leader Training was a much better environment for training. I left Leader training with improved competencies in communication and mentoring/coaching/counseling, plus I learned more techniques to engage and support my VISTA members.