I was given the opportunity to plan lessons for a couple of classes again. I used a climbing rope, tied in a circle, to do some team-building discussions and activities with older high school students. I did the same activities with two classes with very different results.
The first class was a Wellness class; we discussed things that fall in our comfort, growth and panic zones and found the class introverts and extroverts. After the initial discussion I had them perform tasks using the rope circle. They completed the tasks with varying success. We then discussed how they felt and how the activities progressed. The students adapted how they worked with each other in order to improve the results of the next activity. Many frustrations and problems were identified and discussed; at one point two brothers were snapping at each other, but were able to change how they were acting to get better results.
The second class was a Leadership class. I lead them through the exact same discussions and activities with very different results. This second class had a lot of people wasting time, disrupting the activities and, despite discussions following every activity, kept repeating the same mistakes. Where the first class shared ideas and identified their problems, this second group just kept shouting and talking over each other. There was no improvement in the group dynamic over the course of the entire lesson.
In the first class our discussions focused on how to better communicate and deal with loud environments, large and diverse teams and taking advantage of your surroundings. The second group’s discussions focused on eliminating problems and group confrontations. The first class had an overall feel of calmness and friendliness despite some problems. The second class can best be described as intense, especially when I had a student call out another student for being a problem. To be fair to the second class one student who I called out as a problem and distraction to the group ended up changing his methods and became a valuable member of the team during the last activity. This lead to a good object lesson about how a little bit of tension and awkwardness can lead to a better result.
Both classes were successful in the identification of problems within a group. Both classes were successful in the implementation of the activities. I was also happy with how I was able to identify and seize the very different teachable moments in each class. I cannot wait to try all of the same activities in an outdoor setting.
The pastor of my church has just resigned and it has me thinking about changes in leadership. There are many reactions people have to changes in leadership. Some are overjoyed to be rid of a person or group of people they did not agree with. Other people are devastated because a close friend and mentor is leaving them behind. There is always a mix of emotions and ideas when things are in flux. What I see in this kind of situation is opportunity.
I read a blog a while back about why changes in leadership come about. The main premise stated that it was to bring a change of vision and purpose. Sometimes this is forced, through the dismissal of a person who is ineffective, or whose vision has passed the point of usefulness. Other times the person steps down of their own choice. Other times leadership is seized when no one else is stepping up.
In the many different circumstances the end result is the same. Something new is going to happen. There will be new ideas, new strategies, new people and new opportunities. We can’t get caught up in the emotions of the moment.
A community needs to start thinking about the new opportunities right away. Was the leader doing good things that need to be continued? Do you have ways to improve them? Was the leader useless and are changes needed? Do you have ideas about what needs to be done?
Your organization or group will need you to step up and be a leader. It will not help the group to gloat about how right you were about how wrong the leader was. Your group will be hurt if you leave because your mentor left. Worst of all are those who wait for someone else to do something. Ain’t nobody got time for dat!
This week I had the opportunity to plan a lesson for a Leadership class. I ended up doing an activity that focused on group dynamic and teamwork skills. I had groups work on different puzzles to identify what a team needs to be successful.
The aim of the activity was “to complete all of the puzzles as quickly as possible”. I let the groups think that this meant they were working against each other when, in reality, they were not. All of the puzzles were different but came from a set so they had a lot of similarities. I also took pieces from each puzzle and mixed them in with other puzzles. The students had to find this out on their own and then deal with the issue themselves.
The activity caused a lot of whining, complaining and frustration. It also showed which student were inclined to trade and barter for the right pieces, and which ones were inclined to steal and hide pieces. I also caused them to feel pressured by going around and making objective statements about the progress of each group and their puzzle. They were especially unhappy when the first group claimed to be “done” and I had to emphasize that the instructions stated to complete ALL of the puzzles.
The follow up discussions about teamwork and leadership were very interesting. The students were able to identify most of the things I wanted to talk about without too much input from me. We spoke about: using the right tools (people) for the right job, role of a leader, identification of strengths and weaknesses, not making assumptions, keeping your eye on the main goal and working across group lines to get the best results.
The next day I combined two classes that consisted of grades 10, 11 and 12 to do a follow up activity. The students were put into three competing teams and told they had to find a way to cross the room. The floor was “lava” and the only way to cross was by using the one pair of “lava boots” each team was given. The boots could not be thrown and each person could only use the boots for one crossing.
After the students completed this task I had another discussion with them. We talked about many of the same points as the day before but in the context of an actual competition, with multiple age groups and skill levels and with some students having the added experience of the previous days activity.
It ended up being a very valuable experience for me as a teacher as I was able to try new things and talk to students on a level beyond what substitute teaching normally allows me to. I got to know a few students better and they hopefully had an opportunity to see what I can bring to the table when helping them. I think my insights about the students were the most valuable thing I attained. The students both impressed me and showed me things that need to be addressed in their development as leaders and team players. Also the opportunity to see who they are, and how they operate was interesting and valuable. I hope they gained as much from the experience as I did.
This weekend I helped supervise a Grad Class pre-Super Bowl party. During the party I rocked out and did my best impression of Jon Bon Jovi when I sang “Wanted”. I made a fool of myself as I cannot sing but I had a blast with the students who were playing Rock Band with me.
Teachers often have some kind of persona attached to them. Some of us are curmudgeonly, some of us are grandmotherly, some of us are stark, some of us are lively, and some of us are larger than life. These personas can be very effective in the development of rapport with students. However, it is also important to be human.
During the wilderness first aid course I took in December the instructor told me he opens every class (he is also a teacher) with handshakes. He does this to create an atmosphere that is personable and human. Great leaders, teachers, workers, and students are effective, productive, and professional. They are also personable and know when to let their guard down and when to put it back up.
Students may or may not respect you for your professionalism and subject knowledge. People who follow you may or may not go where you lead based on your ability. However, students and other people will definitely begin to trust you when they see that you are human. A high five, handshake, foot race or friendly game of Rock Band will go a long way. If you can show people you are human they will open up to your guidance.
I often hear leaders and teachers us the term Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). They take this to mean that their explanations and lessons should be put in simplest form so everyone can understand. This idea of KISS comes from a theory called Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor has been defined a few different ways but basically boils down to: if there are two ways of doing something, choose the simpler one.
It may seem nitpicky to point out the difference between the two theories but I think it is important. If we simply stick to the rule of keeping things simple we run the risk of losing some value, getting inferior results for the sake of simplicity. However if we keep our eye on the results and only simplify when the same result can still be achieved we do not lose any value.
In education we call simplicity for simplicities sake “The Path of Least Resistance”. As teachers we spend a lot of time trying to eliminate this path as an option for students. However, by trying to save time and make things more easily understandable I think we are building our lesson plans AS the path of least resistance both for ourselves and our students.
Resistance and complexity are good things. Without something fighting back against us, without a little complexity and confusion our minds and bodies won’t grow. The end result we are looking for will never happen.
The next time you are trying to find an easier or simpler way to do something ask yourself “will the end result be the same? Am I sacrificing results for comfort and ease of use?”. I think this may be why my mom always got so mad about how I made my bed at home.