For parents of younger or older kids, have you ever heard your child say, "I hate working in groups. I wish the teacher would just let us work on our own!"? In working on earning a doctorate in education in a cohort of 25 people, those words may have been said once or eighteen times. Why? Mostly, I think the soundbyte comes when someone feels like it is too much trouble to work in a group and the member believes the task could be more easily accomplished on their own. Sometimes, I believe that the frustration arises, however, from the belief that my way is the best way and other cooks are going to spoil the proverbial broth. In my first year of teaching, one of my favorite lessons I did with my students who had specific emotional disorders was a puzzle they had to put together (each student got two pieces and their two pieces did not fit together) by working with two or three other people in their group. Without cooperating, the task could not be accomplished. Even my elementary students could see the value in taking turns or putting their piece out in the center instead of grabbing another person's piece. The entire act of giving and being vulnerable versus taking and demanding made sense in this simple exercise. I like to believe that some of them still remember that "lesson", but perhaps that is wishful thinking.
This weekend, I had the bi-annual honor of working with colleagues on incredibly important education topics. While there was some time for hearing someone talk about a particular issue, the bulk of our time was spent in work groups, aimed at solving difficult tasks and real-world educational concerns. The experiences made me think about the expectations we often have in our schools of our students who work in groups. In fact, we feel those expectations are so important, we adults work with collaborative norms (in my terms, expectations of how we are going to play in the sandbox with others) :)
What are those for you and your own work with groups? What is important to remember when working with other people, even if it is working with a family group on painting a room in the house or writing a lesson plan with your 3rd grade team?
I feel pretty strongly about a few but I would sure love to hear your favorites, as well:
*Pause before commenting
*Press the hold button on your own agenda
*Be willing to honestly hear other people's views
One of the things that I love most when working with others is when I (or one of my fellow thinkers like Lynn Sawyer) can honestly say, "I came in thinking X, but after hearing what you have to say (Y), I can feel soapbox beginning to shift and shake." Isn't that what learning is all about, after all? I have often thought, "If I am so busy standing firm on being 'right' and getting you to hear my 'rightness', I may miss something you have to say that might be just as right, or even 'righter'." (best not to grammatically censor that last sentence). But, honestly, if all I want to do is hold my opinion up as the correct one, or have everyone see me as being right, then I may miss out on a unique opportunity to be a learner, and learning happens to be one of my favorite things to do!
I found a really great article on Collaborative Learning from Cornell University that gives some really great thoughts and ideas about collaboration that we can likely use with young learners, adult learners, and work groups.
Just for today, perhaps we can consider how we play in the sandbox with others, and consider tackling a behavior change that might impact our own learning and the learning of others.
One little change...
Have I mentioned before that I travel for work a bunch? A great deal? Too much, at times? (Oh wait, that was Dave saying that.) It is usually not boring to travel across the US or to Canada, Mexico, and South America. Remarkably, my travel the last two weeks had been without incident. All planes were on time, if not early; all passengers seemed to be well-behaved; all flight crews seemed to be in good spirits.
Not so, today. I am traveling up to the Yukon Territory to work with the Yukon Department of Education, and have a couple of hops to get there. My first flight left on time and touched down about 30 minutes early. Yep, you heard it here folks, 30 minutes early. But sit back and listen to the rest of the tale.
We came to rest on the tarmac a little way from the gate. The captain said, "Since we are early, there is still a plane at our gate. They should be gone in about 20 minutes." Okay, well, being early can't pay off all the time, now, can it? So, we patiently waited and the passengers began talking quietly among ourselves. "Where are you headed?" "Hawaii" "Hong Kong" "Tokyo"
About 25 minutes later, we headed to the gate. People who had been tense before began to relax. A gentleman (at this point, he still was) behind me said, "Okay, I can still make my flight." We arrived at the gate and the unmistakable thunk you hear and feel of the plane stopping completely signaled all of us to bolt from our seats (as if getting up sooner will get me off the plane sooner). But alas, as we waited...and waited...we began to have the sinking feeling that this would not be Captain's last announcement. "Uh....folks...just to give you an update...the ground crew is having a tough time getting the jetbridge to get to the plane. They've called in supervisors to help." Everyone on the left side of the plane looked out the tiny little porthole windows to see three faces up against the windows in the door of the jetbridge, looking at the plane as if it were a foreign object. It reminded me of a thought I used to have about fish tanks----who is looking at whom?
Twenty minutes later came a new update: "Uh...folks....just to give you another update...the ground crew parked us on the wrong line by the jetbridge and we are going to need to be tugged over....(muffled chuckle heard from the flightdeck)...about one inch."
"One inch!! You gotta be kidding me!" (Sometimes I take narrative liberties and alter the language to make it family friendly. I may or may not have done just that with the last quote. Several passengers were outraged. Although we had landed 30 minutes before we were scheduled to land, many were now in danger of missing their tight connections, some to international destinations. As the minutes ticked by, it became apparent that getting a tug over to our gate was going to take a bit of time. People began ringing their call buttons to make suggestions: Let us just jump off the plane! Get that rubber slide out! I'll sign a waiver if you just let me jump to go catch my flight! and the hits just kept coming. After the tug came and pulled us over, people got up again and began jockeying for position again, although maybe not quite as much in "ready position" as before. Here came the jetbridge towards us, when it stopped...again...a foot from our vessel.
"No way!" people began calling out (that is the tame, G-rated version)
The captain came on again: "Uh...folks...I am really sorry to tell you this, but the jetbridge still can't attach to us. The tug is coming again to move us over to the next line."
The man (no longer so gentle) next to me called out, "There is a perfectly empty gate right next door. Why can't we go to that one?!!"
Suffice it to say, after arriving 30 minutes early, we got off the plane almost two hours later. A guy going to Idaho in preparation to help with forest fires missed his flight. A couple headed to Kona to help take care of the man's ailing mother missed their flight. So many more I didn't hear about... What would be the result? The airlines had to re-book over half the passengers on the plane. Luggage had to be re-routed. In some cases, hotel reservations and car rental reservations had to be altered or cancelled.
One inch! How can one inch have such an impact on so many lives?
All I can think is: that is one little blip in the universe.
How often does one little thing impact so many other things in our lives or the lives of others?
I came across this amazing and beautiful video about the wolves that were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. The story is so incredible because of the layers of impact the wolves had on the entire ecosystem in the park. Check out the "How Wolves Change Rivers" video to be amazed, as well.
After watching it, I challenge you to take a few minutes to think about how each thing we do and say in our lives impacts other beings. If this is true, perhaps we should consider our actions and communication a bit more before making choices.