By Tzu-Wei (Joy) Tseng
My childhood dream was to become an elementary teacher. When I heard that the Toastmasters Youth Leadership Program was looking for an English Coordinator, I jumped right at the opportunity, because I saw it would be a dream come true. I was thrilled at the prospect of engaging with youth and helping them develop communication and leadership skills, which I have learned and gained from my own positive experience at Speak With Style Toastmasters.
In the first four (out of eight) sessions of the program, I created agendas that were similar to what we have at Toastmasters for adults and prodded the students to sign up as speakers, evaluators, or Topicsmasters. Students always came prepared with their speeches and questions for Table Topics®, and I was amazed by their abilities to organize their thoughts carefully in writing and articulating them in speech at such a young age. I did, however, also notice their struggles to provide feedback on the spot, even after my attempt to remind them about the sandwich technique, but I only later realized how much they found giving instant evaluations intimidating, at a time I least expected.
I allocated 15 minutes during the fourth session to have a group discussion on students’ thoughts on how they have found the sessions so far. Their feedback was positive, describing the sessions using words such as “joyful”, “lively”, and “energetic”. I was relieved to hear that I was on the right track of supporting them as coordinator, and fifteen minutes passed by swiftly.
However, as I moved on to reviewing roles for the next session and asking if anyone would like to be an evaluator, no one raised their hand. I was flustered by the lack of enthusiasm and wondered, “Why?” A student responded timidly, “It is hard.” I learned they found it hard, because unlike a speech, evaluation is not something they can prepare for in advance. Though this feedback caught me at a time I least expected it, I was glad it was communicated to me and I still had the opportunity to help make giving evaluations a more enjoyable experience.
While being confused about how to enhance students’ experience of preparing for and giving evaluations, I came across Bruce Lee’s quote:
“All knowledge ultimately means self-knowledge.”
That gave me tremendous inspiration.
At Speak With Style, I enjoy giving and receiving evaluations because they create an ongoing dialogue between me, my mentor, and Toastmasters peers after the speeches were delivered. Reflecting on my own personal experience allowed me to discover that the interpersonal aspect of evaluating had been lacking in the past four sessions.
I re-designed the agenda so that giving speeches and providing feedback became a two-way street and a collaborative process (as shown in the flowchart below). I was extremely proud of the students when they took notes diligently as their peers were speaking, helped each other out by comparing notes, incorporated all three elements of the sandwich technique in their evaluations, spoke more confidently, and were courteous to their peers when providing clarifications. Them now being proactive and volunteering to be an evaluator was another hint that I had better supported their learning experience.
In schools, workplaces and even in informal interactions, we often face or need to give some form of evaluations. Evaluations, whether being on the giving or receiving end, may seem daunting, because they are often being interpreted as one-way judgments, but they do not have to be that way. In particular, I observed that the youth have the natural affinity for interpersonal collaboration. By reflecting on and drawing from experiences in which I improved my communication and leadership skills at Toastmasters, I learned that creating a learning environment that is interactive, collaborative, and courteous is key to help inspire our next generation of leaders.
Mini self-evaluation: to help speakers identify areas that they want to work on and let evaluators know what to focus on
Speech: speakers’ time to shine (evaluators please listen carefully)
Discussion among speakers: to help speakers reflect on their speeches and prepare what they would like to discuss with their evaluators
Discussion among evaluators: to compare notes
Evaluation: evaluators’ time to shine (speakers please listen carefully)
Paired-up discussion between speakers and evaluators: speakers may clarify anything that the evaluators said and thank them for listening to and providing feedback on their speeches. Evaluators may provide clarifications to speakers and express their gratitude to them for crafting and delivering the speeches.