Managing learning in an informal setting can be challenging and also immensely rewarding.  One of the strengths of the community radio sector is the informal nature of the learning and the fact that young people feel that the environment they are in is, in some respects ‘not like school’. At the same time it is important that young people know that there are some expectations or guidelines that you will need them to adhere to in order to participate in your training.

Research has shown that community radio training is most effective when it is:

‘Hands on’ – involving young people getting out recording audio and vox pops, and making radio broadcasts as soon as possible

Collaborative – involving young people working together to produce radio shows

Engages the whole person – being aware of the emotional needs of young people, taking account of their social and cultural backgrounds and histories in relation to learning

Tailors learning to individual needs – by building on what learners already know and are interested in

Teaches the language of ‘radio’ – how to talk about the radio sector and the process of radio production, how to critique radio

Includes reflection on learning – helps young people to think about what they have learnt during the process

Encourages experimentation and creativity – supporting and encouraging ‘new’ approaches and practices that challenge mainstream representations and stereotypes

 

More generally, in addition to these points, the flexibility of community radio’s approach to training is key, as Mary Dowson of BCB points out:

Think practical

Practical or hands on approaches are important in motivating and engaging young people. As a practitioner at Forest FM said in our ‘Yacking away’ report, “when you work with young people, their learning has to be proactive and interactive, not passive – forget PowerPoint.”

 

Do’s and Don’ts

  • don’t talk too much
  • don’t assume you know better than your learners
  • do spend time chatting informally to young people and getting to know them as people (not only as ‘learners)
  • do make sure that you know enough about your learners to be able to provide an appropriate amount of support BUT don’t assume that you can solve all their problems. You may need to signpost them to other services that can support them better

 

An Asset Based Approach

It is important to approach young people from the perspective of what they bring to the training (rather than assuming you are there to ‘teach’ them everything you know!)

Developing an asset based approach to training is therefore key to the success of your work. Assets may include:

  • The practical skills, capacity and knowledge of young people
  • The passions and interests of young people
  •  The networks and connections that young people already have – including friendships and family connections

 

Collaboration

Encouraging young people to work together not only improves their capacity to work in teams (a key skill for life) but also ultimately enhances the quality of the radio shows that they will produce.

Collaboration is not always easy and it is important to negotiate clear guidelines through discussion with young people at the start of a project.

It can sometimes be helpful to support young people to negotiate roles within a production team at the start of a project and providing support with time management is often useful.

We all sometimes need support in managing our relationships with other people and it is important that you are available to provide young people with support if they need it.

 

Working with the ‘whole’ person

One of the strengths of the informal learning sector is that trainers take account of an individual’s emotional and social needs.

If you can take account of these needs you are more likely to attract and retain those learners that have found traditional educational institutions difficult.

Young people who have not thrived in traditional education institutions may need help with their self esteem and confidence, creating a supportive environment in which learners and trainers give plenty of positive feedback is therefore essential.

 

Reflection

Reflection is key to learning and, although it can be challenging to find time for it you should try to ensure that you are regularly asking young people to consider what they have learnt, how they feel about this learning and also how they might be able to use this learning in thier future practice.  If you do this you will also find that you have some great evidence for your station about how your training helps young people to learn a variety of skills and therefore great evidence for that next funding bid!

There are a number of ways that you might do this:

  • you could ask learners to keep an audio or video diary of their experiences
  • you could put aside 5-10 minutes of each session for young people to reflect on the last session in small groups
  • you could hold regular group sessions where the focus is on looking back on what you have learnt and thinking about moving forward.  These group sessions could invovle sharing photos, audio or video of previous sessions in order to enhance reflection.  You could use smiley faces or stickers, graffitti boards or lego to encourage young people to reflect in creative ways.

You can also reflect, as a trainer, on your approach to training, and whether it is meeting the needs of the people you are training. What has worked so far? What hasn’t worked? Why might these approaches have worked or not worked? What might you do differently in the future? Some of the trainers in the Connect:Transmit project have successfully used this reflective approach to keep their training approach relevant and appropriate. They meet up before each training session and ask the above questions to help discuss how they might need to adapt that day’s session.

 

Mentoring

Mentoring is a highly effective one-to-one support system that can be valuable for volunteers and staff alike. It involves a senior, more experienced partner accepting responsibility for supervising the progress of a more junior one. Primary roles of a mentor are:

  • Setting development goals and monitoring progress towards them;
  • Listening to problems and concerns about radio work or other life issues;
  • Offering advice and ideas for change;
  • Assisting with skill development (coaching, tutoring etc.);
  • Acting as a role model and inspiration.

A good mentor will need:

  • Good listening skills;
  • Self-confidence;
  • Patience;
  • Reliability, dependability and trustworthiness;
  • A friendly attitude;
  • Empathy;
  • Neutrality (i.e. have no personal vested interest in the progress of the partner);
  • The ability to step back when necessary;
  • Confidentiality;
  • A sense of humour.

A good mentee (no really, that’s what they’re called) will need:

  • Commitment to progress;
  • Clear sense of direction and personal goals;
  • Trust in the mentor;
  • Openness and honesty.
  • Establishing a mentoring system

The most effective and enthusiastic mentors are usually those who have been/are being mentored themselves. If you can establish a system at the earliest possible opportunity, then it will quickly become self-sustaining. In practice, the early days of community radio stations tend to be highly chaotic and finding mentors when all the volunteers may be new and nervous won’t be easy.

Nevertheless the sooner you can start the better. Becoming a mentor is not an insignificant commitment. You can’t order anyone to do it or insist upon it – the relationship is highly unlikely to be effective if you do. So all you can do is encourage (or plead with) your more experienced volunteers to consider it. Stress that the mentor also has much to gain from the relationship; it can be a highly educational, rewarding and inspirational role to take. More cynically, it looks great on their CV – but this probably shouldn’t be their primary motivation. The key to successful mentoring is partnering the right people together. The chemistry of a great partnership is impossible to quantify or predict, but some factors to be considered are:

  • Experience in relevant role (i.e. broadcasters should normally be mentored by broadcasters, managers by managers etc.);
  • Gender, age, race, religion etc. – obviously these may not be relevant in many cases, but beware of culture clashes or sensitivities over lifestyle;
  • First impressions. Before formalising a mentoring relationship, send the potential mentor and mentee off for a cup of tea and a chat somewhere. They will soon tell you if there’s a personality clash.

 

What does mentoring involve?

The two partners should work out between themselves the best way to make the relationship work, but typical practice would be:

  • Regular meetings (maybe monthly or thereabouts), usually somewhere away from the radio station but ideally not at either partner’s own home either;
  • Occasional phone calls, e-mails etc.;
  • Emergency support when a crisis develops – the mentor should be easily obtainable but the criteria for what constitutes an emergency should be clear.

The last function in particular can be fraught with danger. If the mentee begins to make excessive demands on the time or emotional strength of the mentor, the relationship can quickly become unhealthy. The formal mentoring agreement (see below) sets out procedures as to what should happen if the mentor feels unable to offer the amount of support needed.

 

The mentoring agreement

Although the practice of mentoring should be informal and flexible, the relationship should be underpinned by a formal agreement negotiated between the mentor and the mentee, usually under the guidance of the station management. This will set out:

  • How much commitment will be required from each partner;
  • What expectations each should have of the other;
  • What rights and responsibilities each has towards the other;
  • What happens if either partner fails to keep their side of the deal;
  • What happens if either partner feels the relationship is becoming unhelpful;
  • How and when the mentoring period will end. It’s not good to let mentoring relationships fizzle out, so set a date (maybe 12 months ahead) when both partners can review their progress and, if they wish, make a renewed agreement.

 

External mentors

With volunteer mentoring agreements, it would be normal for both partners to be volunteers at the same station. With staff, that can be very difficult, the staff team would usually be too small for any kind of mentoring to be practical. Finding an appropriate mentor for senior management in particular is especially difficult, as there are unlikely to be many experienced community radio managers in the area willing to take on the role. There are however, many people with vast experience in either community or radio, if not both. The mentor for a community radio station manager may not know much about broadcasting or Ofcom licences, but have extensive experience of volunteer management, fund-raising, finance, training etc.

Alternatively she may not know the community sector but may have extensive experience in radio production and media management. This is where your relationships with other stations become most valuable. At present we are hoping to involve BBC managers as mentors for our own senior staff. As the community radio sector grows, we hope it will become commonplace for experienced station staff and even volunteers to offer mentoring to other community radio projects in their area.