Planning annual Foster Grandparent in-service training

Abstract: 

Training helps build a strong Foster Grandparent program. Even with a lifetime of skills and experience, Foster Grandparents respond positively to guidance, which can help maximize the contributions they can make to the children they serve. This practice describes a successful training model created by LEARNS, a partnership of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory and the Bank Street College of Education, based on work sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).

Issue:

Training — both orientation and ongoing — for Foster Grandparent Program volunteers is required (CNCS requires a total of 40 hours — 20 hours delivered pre-service and four hours of training each month). Program directors want to make it as effective and engaging as possible.

Action:

The four hours per month of in-service training required by CNCS allows project directors to plan ahead and develop an overall training design. The plan can systematically incorporate topics and sessions that focus on enhancing the quality of services the volunteers provide. Consider using a team approach to establish systems and create relationships that improve training quality and reduce the planning effort each year.

The planning team should include broad representation: a Foster Grandparent trainee, station site supervisor, advisory council member, key partner, and a project staff member. These individuals will provide different perspectives on training needs and a range of ideas and resources for addressing them. Once established, the training team should work together to:

A. Conducting needs assessment

  • To assess training needs, consider interviewing or surveying:
  • School or station staff to determine skills, behaviors, attitudes, and knowledge needed by Foster Grandparents
  • Current Foster Grandparents, to establish what they wish they had known or been trained on when they started to volunteer
  • Incoming Foster Grandparents for self-assessment of training needs
  • Project staff, based on past experience with current volunteers
  • Program partners (especially those with social service expertise) around special needs or characteristics of children or youth served
  • Ask each group to identify essential training topics and indicate priorities

B. Organizing training topics on a calendar and begin planning the required 20 hours of pre-service training

Orientation often begins with a placement interview attended by the project coordinator, and an opportunity for the Foster Grandparent to observe in the classroom in which he or she will serve. Many Foster Grandparent project directors recommend scheduling focused pre-service training after these interviews when Foster Grandparents first report to service sites, to help establish the reporting routine. Include current Foster Grandparents in pre-service orientation to serve as mentors; they often recruit new volunteers and are known and trusted guides. If you are working with Foster Grandparents who have special needs or are not fluent English speakers, it's important to learn about and accommodate these needs in advance.

Pre-service training content can be categorized into four main areas:

  1. Introduction to the Foster Grandparent program: Rules and regulations; benefits; reporting and attendance; other expectations; all aspects of stipends.
  2. Orientation to the station or school site: Check-in procedures; site or school calendars; sick and emergency report procedures; introduction to station supervisors and staff support; orientation to classroom or other service sites; information about school or organizational culture.
  3. Introduction to the content of the service assignment: Survey of skills; child development characteristics of age group; specific assignments/expectations; reporting systems; communication systems with teachers or other station staff; clarification of performance measurement/expectations.
  4. Observation/experiential preparation: Simulations or web-based training with discussion; videos or other media demonstrations with discussion; observation of current Foster Grandparents at site; observation of other tutors or mentors; observation of teachers and other professional or para-professional staff.

Ongoing training calendar

Once Foster Grandparents are in place, provide additional orientation and training around topics that Foster Grandparents and supervisors need and request. Topics may include student management, follow-up on procedures and record keeping, and deepening of content area skills (e.g., tutoring, mentoring). Throughout the year, four-hour monthly trainings can continue to develop your volunteers, honing their skills and creating self-improving teams. Site coordinators can be important resources for identifying ongoing training needs through their onsite observations and communication with both teachers and Foster Grandparents. Site visits can be designed to include notations about training application and identification of training needs. Consider small-group training focused on specific needs in areas such as adolescent literacy, English language learners, or children in foster care. Possible topics include:

Literacy

  • Reading readiness skills
  • Pre-reading skills
  • Reading aloud
  • Strategies for supporting the five components of reading instruction (phenomic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, text comprehension)
  • Writing activities
  • Working with English language learners
  • Literacy games
  • Storytelling

Mentoring

  • Positive (asset) youth development
  • Establishing trust and building relationships
  • Setting goals and boundaries
  • Dealing with crisis
  • Serving children with special needs
  • Cultural responsiveness
  • Target populations (e.g., children of prisoners, dropouts, teen parents)
  • Motivating youth
  • Life skills

Homework help topics

  • Organizational skills
  • Subject area strategies
  • Nonfiction reading strategies
  • Reinforcing concept vocabulary
  • Using technology

Other child/youth topics

  • Counseling and guidance concerns
  • Conflict resolution
  • Child development
  • Behavior management
  • Diversity/disability training

C. Identifying trainers and training resources

Begin by looking at your closest training assets: Do any current Foster Grandparents or staff have the appropriate background, skills, knowledge, and desire to tackle these topics? What training can the school or station provide? Often Foster Grandparents are included in professional development offered at their sites. Other potential training resources are in the following areas:

Learner Relationships

  • School counselors
  • Teachers, including special education teachers
  • Staff from youth and social service agencies
  • Juvenile justice staff
  • Child and mental health specialists
  • Mentoring project staff
  • Higher education faculty

Project Operation

  • Project directors and coordinators
  • Board members
  • Staff from other national service projects
  • Volunteer association or organization staff
  • Corporation State Office
  • Training and technical assistance providers

School or Site Culture

  • School principals or other site administrators
  • School clerical and support staff
  • Classroom teachers
  • School specialists (reading, psychologists, librarians, counselors)
  • Parent organization members
  • Parents

Learning Support

  • School or district teachers and reading coaches
  • Title I reading specialists
  • Higher education faculty
  • Retired teachers
  • Graduate students in education
  • School or city librarians
  • State and local councils (e.g., literacy)
  • Professional organizations (for specific subjects, i.e. math, computers, history)

Selecting a trainer and planning training

In an initial conversation with a prospective trainer, explain your training needs, obtain detailed information about the trainer's availability, and fully describe your audience. Because training needs may change, avoid scheduling trainers too far in advance, unless a high-demand presentation requires it. When you are ready to schedule, establish the training date in a phone call, reviewing the agreed-upon details in a follow-up letter or email that includes: time, date, and place; detailed description of the audience (age, gender, special needs, language considerations, education/ economic profiles); room set-up; and available equipment. You might also want to ask questions that communicate possibilities for collaboration on training design, such as:

  • How will the trainees provide input about their needs?
  • Can you collaborate on establishing training objectives?
  • How will the trainer assess what trainees already know and what they need to know?
  • Will there be opportunities to learn through experience or practice?
  • Will activities include collaboration and team building?
  • Will the training activities address a variety of learning styles?
  • How will the trainer check for feedback and incorporate training input?
  • Will the trainer support your evaluation plan, providing feedback on the trainer's skill, the overall design and assessment of learning?

Ask trainers to provide extra copies of materials so that Foster Grandparents can share them with classroom teachers. If the group is very large, training content can also be emailed directly to teachers.

D. Creating a training evaluation plan

  • Training evaluation should be systematic.
  • Use written evaluation forms, collected immediately after the training, to gather feedback from all participants and create a record of work.
  • Use follow-up evaluation surveys, after a month or two, to help establish whether trainings have introduced new strategies, knowledge, or skills that are changing and improving the program over time
  • Useful feedback can also be gathered in weekly meetings, during follow-up phone conversations, and a variety of other forms, including: reflection activities; informal questions, feedback, and discussion; pre- and post-session "tests" of participant skills or knowledge; self-assessment checklists.

E. Clarifying responsibilities for scheduled training

Identify, as part of your training plan, who will accept the following responsibilities for each event:

  • Hosting agency (room, room set-up, budget support)
  • Foster Grandparent volunteer organizer (communication, welcoming, rewards, transportation)
  • Staff organizer (trainer needs, promotion, evaluation, reporting)

Once a planning team is identified, the unique planning needs of each event will emerge. A team approach will help ease the planning burden and provide cross checks on important details that will make the training a success. Over time, teams may develop a checklist to use for future events.

F. Establishing a reporting system and feedback loop

Have team or core members who put together the Foster Grandparent training calendar meet quarterly to review past training evaluations and to make needed improvements throughout the year. If the planning team establishes clear reporting requirements and deadlines assigned to individuals in charge of each training event, they will have adequate information for making judgments and recommending improvements. Important reporting categories include,

  • Attendance
  • Written evaluation results
  • Site-visit reports
  • Staff impressions of the event
  • Feedback from the trainer
  • Post-training or end-of-year follow-up surveys to assess training application and determine the most useful sessions

Reflecting on the success of training events and planning improvements for subsequent years will lead to an increase in training effectiveness.

Outcome:

Over time, team planning can lead to routines and extended partnerships that serve the community in a variety of ways. Examples of high-end development of Foster Grandparent training may include:

  • An established course in tutoring skills, offered by a local community college in partnership with volunteer programs
  • Shared training programs across national service streams, creating intergenerational learning and maximizing resources
  • Mentoring and shadowing programs capitalizing on skills of the most highly trained and experienced volunteers
  • Shared training with PTAs and parents, developing parent skills to support student learning

According to LEARNS, a strategic and focused training program can:

  • Develop the skills and knowledge of individual Foster Grandparents
  • Improve the quality of services to children and youth
  • Foster peer learning and self-improving teams
  • Provide opportunities for reflection and feedback
  • Address challenges
  • Improve performance measures

For more information:

Related Resources: 

Senior Corps, Foster Grandparent Program

Citations: 

LEARNS. (n.d.). Planning annual FGP inservice training: Models and resources. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. 


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