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Apprenticeship From Afar

Apprenticeship From Afar

Training and Business Development Manager Ayanna Behin, Associate Director of Training Chris Daly, and Apprentice Ashley Smyth share how the Apprenticeship program has changed due to the current health crisis.

Intro by: Ayanna Behin & Chris Daly

The two of us, now full-time staff members and the leaders of our Training team, have had many roles here at New York Peace institute.  We have been Apprentices, Mentors, Coaches, Trainers, and Mediators; this March, as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic, our roles have changed dramatically.

What we have trained and practiced to do for decades—help people resolve their conflicts—could not be more personal, but must now be practiced within the constraints of social distancing while adhering to a Stay-At-Home order from the Governor of New York.

 After consulting with our NYPI Mentors, Chris made the decision to offer virtual bi-monthly Apprenticeship Roundtables for our entire group of Winter Apprentices. As a Mentor, I can say that I have personally been inspired by the dexterity and the skill of my small Apprenticeship cohort already, and I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to get to know the entire group of Winter Apprentices, and to collaborate regularly with my fellow Mentors.

It is true that the Winter Apprentices will miss out on the opportunity to observe and mediate in-person this Spring, and their Final Evaluation will be postponed until they have the opportunity to train in-person again. However, what they will gain is an extended period of learning, practice, and reflection as mediators-in-training, as well as the opportunity to be part of a very special Apprenticeship Class.  This is an unprecedented time in our history and one that we will all remember.

 What follows is one Apprentice’s story of what the changes to the NYPI Apprenticeship program have meant for her.

By Ashley Smyth

When we were asked in March if we wanted to continue our apprenticeship training after NYPI announced that it was closing its offices due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, our group of five—four apprentices and one coach—decided to continue our work together remotely. We could not have foreseen how this decision would impact us in a number of key ways.
First, our timeline has changed. Like many things in the sheltering-in-place world, the calendar and future-driven goals are not determining how we are spending our time together. Rather, we have established goals around what we can do given the many variables we are managing in our homes. Spending three hours online together has not been possible, so we have shortened our sessions and pared back our weekly goals.
Second, we are learning to listen and communicate without many of the normal signals we rely upon as mediators. Not being able to be together in the same room limits our ability to read/feel non-verbal cues from one another. Technology-related delays in voice or image transmission can interrupt the natural flow of communication during a practice mediation. For example, it can seem that parties/mediators are interrupting one another when that is not the intention. And cultivating the back-and-forth with a co-mediator has become a skill that requires more attention and intention during our practice mediations.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have joined the NYPI mediator community under special circumstances that I believe will have a positive impact on our mediation practices over the long term. Our apprentice group has become closer in the past weeks; we are each sheltering in place under different circumstances and with different stressors. Our weekly online sessions have become a source of support. We remind each other that all of us are doing the very best we can, and that doing just that is all that any of us can do. Our group has also joined online meetings with the other Winter 2020 apprentices, thus extending our learning and support network to the entire cohort of current apprentices. Sharing this unique experience together has brought us into the New York Peace Institute community with a greater feeling of solidarity and gratitude. I am quite sure that this will positively impact how we consult and support one another as mediators well beyond this very specific moment in time.

Ashley Smyth is a not-for-profit manager and current New York Peace Institute apprentice.