Recruiting & Retention Round Table at the AGM
Newer Learners Address an Old Issue
Greg Russell proposed that a round table discussion -- at Trinity during the AGM among people who have been ringing fewer than five years -- address the issue of recruiting and retention of ringers. Though this is a much explored topic in The Exercise, we don't often get to hear the reactions of those who have most recently had the experience themselves of being "recruited and retained." He asked me to organize and moderate the event and it duly took place at 12:30 on Saturday, September 5th, right before the AGM itself.
The "<5 Years Ringing" participants were
• Elizabeth Denne, (faculty) ringing at Smith since the summer of 2008
• Michael Bush, (faculty) ringing at Smith since the summer of 2008;
• Evelyn Shoop-Mathew, ringing at NYC since 2007
• Jeremy Bates, ringing at NYC since July 2007
• Jenny Hinsman, ringing at Brewster since summer of 2004
• Bill Roll, ringing at Brewster for since autumn of 2004
• Rob Bannister, ringing at Miami and DC since autumn of 2004
We were also joined later, mainly as observers, by five members of the Guild who have been ringing for longer than five years: Porter Brownlee and Philip Buck of Little Rock, Ken Whiting of Miami, and Greg and Cathy Russell of NYC.
The discussion began with each of the newer ringers telling us how they first became aware of change ringing. A few knew about it from their childhoods living in other parts of the ringing world where the sound of the bells was part of their routine experience or from travel to places where the bells could be heard ringing changes. One couple have children in a school (Melrose, in this case) with bells and so heard of them that way. Another person had seen people ringing in a nearby tower. Two others were introduced to the idea through a church - in one case by a friend taking him along to a service and in the other through the 20s/30s group. There was less diversity in how they made their first foray into change ringing. Some got themselves to the tower, while others were motivated to go the first time by a friend or a partner. So, for each of these participants the first knowledge and first experience were directly personal - they heard the bells or saw the ringing for themselves and they first went to the tower under their own steam or at the behest of someone close to them.
Several themes emerging in the discussion of what got them back to the tower the second time. Some had signed up for a course and so felt an obligation to return. Some felt a warm welcome from specific individuals in the tower. Others had experienced an immediate attraction to ringing itself - its intellectual challenge, its historical interest, its "uniqueness," the physical exercise, the feel and sound of ringing. Others began to experience "wins" for themselves in their learning and to see other beginners make progress. At the same time, laughter in the tower and the lack of intimidation from more skilled ringers helped them to enjoy the experience.
These <5s have continued ringing for two kinds of reasons:
• They wanted to continue to be part of the community of ringers - Its smallness in a big city and the warm welcome of the wider ringing world, as well as its provision of support in their learning and their sense of obligation to "the team" in return; and
• Some found satisfaction in the calm of the exercise and all found it in the sense of endless possibilities for making progress beyond their first successes (some of which was enabled by the use of Abel).
Their thoughts about why others didn't continue learning to ring, based on their knowledge of those who started learning with them, included many factors:
• Too much time was required to learn in terms of individuals' other commitments;
• Ringing just didn't "grab" some people;
• Some feared the ropes too much to carry on;
• Advancing too quickly lead to too many handling problems which caused later frustrations;
• Some people were not able to make progress fast enough to satisfy themselves;
• Teachers and coaches with "poor communication skills" made some learners feel bad;
• Emphasis on peal ringing discouraged some who didn't find that idea appealing or credible for themselves; and
• Advancing to ringing on larger numbers was too difficult for some.
The lessons these <5s would like ringing leaders and trainers to take from their experiences are these:
• Candidate ringers shouldn't be told that if they can ride a bicycle they can learn to ring -- that creates false expectations -- they should be told, "This is the hardest thing you will ever learn to do;"
• Don't train people too fast or stop training them too soon;
• Don't train too many new ringers at one time;
• Different learning styles require different teaching styles;
• Most learners at some stage need "blow-by-blow" feedback;
• Instructors need to understand what individual learners need and that what they all need is "wins;"
• "Standers-Behind" need to be trained to a higher standard;
• The benefits of good handling and style need to be made more explicit;
• Goals should be made more explicit/tangible and attractive;
• Learners should be strongly encouraged to visit other towers;
• Attendance should never be mandatory, some flexibility around individual's constraints is essential but the message that you "get out what you put in" is important; and
• Learners would like to know how they themselves could learn to become trainers.
This report of recent experience and fresh thoughts may spark some ideas among others of you. If so, please write a "Comment" in response.