For all of us working creatively with people living with dementia it can be an ever changing playing field where people’s needs can shift and change significantly over short periods of time. In this context how is it possible to identify when an activity has been successful, and how may that success manifest itself? On the simplest level it is good to take time to ask yourself what you think makes a successful workshop or activity specifically in relation to the setting that you are working in. Remember that success in one setting is likely to be totally different to success in another, and should always reflect the needs and aspirations of the people who are participating.
For example, in some settings that we work success may mean a group of people sitting down together and having fun taking part in a range of activities over an hour or even longer. In others it may mean a somebody who has been upset or distressed being calm and relaxed for a couple of minutes in a one to one context whilst listening to a piece of poetry or handling different sensory stimulus. Taking this into consideration it is worthwhile to consider things that you can look out for which may be good markers of something going particularly well. For example:
- A group or individual might have worked particularly well – for example people may have really focused on a warm up game that you decided to do, or spent time and attention creating a piece of artwork.
- Somebody may have done something unexpected or new – for example somebody who doesn’t normally talk may have shared a story or joined in with a song.
- You feel you did something particularly well – for example somebody may have been upset or distressed and you feel that you helped them with their emotions in a particularly sensitive or effective way.
- You feel that an activity or game went particularly well – for example an activity that you planned may have worked out exactly as you had hoped it would, with people engaging and enjoying.
- Member of a group or individuals may tell you what they have enjoyed, or what they feel has gone well. Though this feedback may manifest itself in different ways – for example somebody may tell you specifically that they enjoyed themselves, or they may hold your hand tightly and give you a smile.
Once you start to get a clear sense of the successes that you are looking for you will begin to spot them everywhere. We find it really useful to spend five minutes at the end of an activity or workshop to jot down what has gone particularly well within a reflective journal. You may choose to record your success in a different way which suits you, but however you do this there are certain things that can be really powerful to record for later reflection:
- Write down things that have gone particularly well – “The song that we sung today went really well because everybody joined in and most people enjoyed adding actions.”
- Write down things that people have said or done that are surprising or that you feel pleased with – “John told us a story about a holiday that he took with his family when his children were young which was really lovely” or “Carol really focused on the craft activity and created a detailed collage that she was delighted with.”
- Take photos of workshops or activities, or of things that people have made. You may not be able to do this yourself but could you ask somebody to come along and do it for you whilst you are acting as facilitator?
- Write down any feedback that people have given on their experiences of taking part – “Alan said that he enjoyed singing the song, as it was one that he had never heard before” or “Alison said she was delighted to see how much fun her mum had during the activity.”
Of course, as you become more aware of your successes you will also start to be more observant of the things that don’t go so well or that you aren’t so happy with. This is also a crucial part of reflection and there are certain questions that you may want to ask yourself when things don’t go to plan:
- What didn’t got well? What were you not happy about? – “Members of the group never really found their flow with the activity and people found it hard to settle and engage”
- What do you think caused this to happen? Was there anything you could have done differently within the workshop that may have stopped it happening? – “I think this could have happened because there was a lot going on this afternoon and it was difficult for people to ignore the coming and going.”
- What could you do differently next time? – “I may be tempted to do something that requires less concentration or focus at this time on a Tuesday because it is always a busy time for us in our setting.”
REMEMBER…Most workshops / activities will be a mixture of things that go brilliantly and things that do not go to plan! Don’t be afraid of this – because making mistakes or dealing with the unexpected is how you will learn, and develop your skills.