One of Alfie Kohn's* latest blog posts (Transformation by Degrees) inspired me to put together a few thoughts I've been having about "participant-centered" team building. Now, as experiential educators, most of us know how important it is to build a trusting community of learners by first getting to know our learners (as the teacher discovered in Mr. Kohn's first story). After we get started how do we, as team builders, shift more (or all?) "control" of our learners' experience to them?
*Alfie Kohn is an educational thought leader advocating for less homework, less testing, and more "student-centered" educational practice. He is one of my heroes.
At this time I have more questions than answers about how to make team building more "participant-centered". In this post my intention is to light the fire. Let's see what we can come up with together. To get the wheels turning, let me share a couple of recent stories and then share some thoughts from Kohn's Transformation by Degrees.
One of the things I tried this Spring was to let go of the "harness demo" and have my groups figure out how to get them on - they were in charge of getting it done (and done correctly, meeting safety standards). Now, I did give them some information for safety reasons: The waist belt must be above the waist and, There should not be any twists in the webbing of the harness. It became a nice addition to the group's "team" building experience. It also helped, I'm sure, that there was at least one person in every group that had climbed before (having worn a harness). My groups ranged from 5th graders to adults. Yes, there did need to be fixes from time-to-time (that I pointed out), but they were in charge of getting it right.
On another note, here is a recent story from a fellow facilitator that highlights a factor of "control" (or management) with a group - time. Working with a new group (for a half-day program) my friend wanted to go around the room for (what she requested) "quick" introductions. The first few people shared their name, their role at the company and a little bit about themselves (one minute tops for each) - all was going "as planned." Then, the trend changed. The stories from each participant got longer. The planned (on paper) 10-minute intro activity turned into over 20 minutes of sharing.
So, how do we adjust "control" and still get in everything we've planned? Do we impose a time limit on things so we can get to other things on the list? Are our programs about quantity or quality? Can there be both? How much planning with participants can take place before a program? Do we (and they) have time to do this? Again, more questions than answers right now, for me.
Here are thoughts from Mr. Kohn (from Transformation by Degrees) about moving/ sharing control:
"...those of us who are trying to serve as change agents in education had better not count on teachers’ [facilitators] waking up one morning prepared to adopt radically different practices. In fact, we would do well to have some examples ready for how they can get from here to there step by step."
"It is possible to edge slowly away from traditionalism with respect to just about any specific practice."
"To learn something about the students was to transcend (or at least create the conditions for transcending) traditional pedagogy [team builders are pretty good at this part]. To invite the students to talk with, and then introduce, one another was to transcend an ideology of individualism — learning as an activity for a roomful of separate selves. To ask (rather than dictate) what the interview questions should be was to transcend the default model of top-down teacher control. In each case, what was challenged had simply been taken for granted."
"At each stage, one can move ahead only after confronting the unsettling truth that what looked like a destination turned out to be just a rest stop. There’s farther to go on this journey."
“My job,” a teacher in Ohio once commented, “is to be as democratic as I can stand.” Had she invited me to append a friendly amendment to her declaration, it might have been, “… and my other job is to push myself to be able to stand more democracy next year than I could this year.”
"Perhaps our motto should be: Change by degrees — but don’t underdo it."
What are the changes you are making (or have made) out there to be more participant-centered in your programs? We could put a "best practices" document together and share it with the world. What do you say? Add your ideas in the Comments below.
Keep me posted!
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
Recently, I was a guest on the Growing People Podcast with John Losey. My good friend John and I talked about my journey as a team development professional, what my creative process looks like, my advice to new facilitators and more. HERE is the link to the full 55-minute interview if you have the time to absorb the whole thing.
For those of you pressed for time, the videos below are shorter clips taken from the interview covering a few of the main questions John had for me. I'd love to hear your feedback about my perspectives. Leave me a comment below.
Thanks for watching!!
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
Chris Cavert on What Makes a Great Facilitator (7:43)
Chris Cavert Advice to Young [and not-so-young] Facilitators (4:38)
Chris Cavert Apps and Resources [My Favorites at this time.] (5:16)
I really enjoy hearing from people "out in the field". I especially love it when I get asked about my opinion on something I can speak to. It keeps me on my toes. Here's one such conversation I had recently with my friend Floyd. (Floyd provided us with a BOOK REVIEW on Beyond Drama earlier this year.)
I believe you'll find this read worth the time, even though the post is a bit longer than my usual. Floyd and I share our practices of muting, some of the advantages and disadvantages of muting, and an alternative to muting that emphasizes learning and not embarrassment. So, grab a favorite beverage and settle in for the story.
Floyd: Hey, Chris, Happy summer…
I thought I would take this time to delve in deeper to some things I had been thinking about, and see if I can't get some thoughts from more experienced folks I trust and respect. In an attempt to really get in deep, I am approaching each topic individually. If you are up to it, I would love to get your input.
So, this first topic is something I may have presented to you before. That is this thought of muting people who speak the most or the loudest in a community. Often when I see this it is with hopes that the people who don't speak up as much will have their voices heard by folks that talk a lot, and the ones who talk a lot will develop skills in listening and communicating in new ways. Do you have thoughts on this topic, or ways you have used it as a tool? How does it fit into the ideas presented in the stages of group development? What other questions am I not considering about this?
Chris: Hi Floyd, I do hope all is well!!
Okay, I'm going to take some time to extend this conversation you started about "muting people who speak the most or the loudest in a community."
First, I want to agree with one of your assertions. I too believe, in most cases, people are muted by the facilitator (where would the group be if they muted the talk-to-muchers?), with the "hope that the people who don't speak up as much will have their voices heard by folks that don't talk a lot." (I will get back to the second assertion you made with this first one.)
So, we both agree that the hope is others will speak up. Now, as we ultimately find out, muting someone (or more than someone), does not guarantee others will speak up. (We could start with the whole extrovert/introvert dynamics here as just one reason why.) So, as an educative practice, it's not the best tool to use to get others to speak up more. However, when you are a new facilitator (educator), it is a tool. And, you never know. I'm sure there are success stories after implementing the basic mute. To this day, I still threaten to mute when it seems like a "heads up" might nudge the group (or particular person) into a way of behaving. I will say something like this: "You know Steve, I noticing the muting bees have started circling you. They are attracted to a lot of sentences strung together by one person. If you happened to get stung by one of these bees I'll let you know. If it happens your vocal cords will swell up for a certain amount of time. I would hate for this to happen - just wanted you to know." Most of the time this light-hearted information gets the point across in that moment.
This is where I position myself with the basic traditional mute tool.
Let's go to the second assertion you mentioned, "...and the ones who talk a lot will develop skills in listening and communicating in new ways." Here's my "reaction" to this. If someone is talking so much that you must mute them so that others in the group can get some space to talk, it is "inconceivable" (to quote my favorite movie) that this person will make the leap to changing his/her behavior to be a better listener or communicator. It is more likely, when muted (if they stay muted) that they are simply formulating and rehearsing what they will say when they are un-muted.
Now, my "response" to this assertion. If a facilitator uses the muting tool, on purpose, to encourage better listening and better communication behaviors it would be educationally prudent to frontload the expectation. Here's what I would say: "If I end up muting you during the activity, meaning you cannot talk, it does not mean you did anything wrong. It simply means I would like you to turn on your listening behaviors and soak up the information that fills the room while you're muted. Combine the information you hear with the information you have in your head about the situation. Blend this up and see what you get. When you are ready to jump in and verbally share with the group again, go right ahead."
I see this way of muting as specifically "inviting" someone to experience a particular behavior - listening - at a specific time. Also, when I use this tool I don't use it only with the over-talkers. I use it with different people over a progression of activities. Then, we have another talking point to bring up during the processing experience. "What was it like for you going into listening mode after I muted you? Was there any benefit to you or the group when you went into listening mode?
Why do I mute in this way? When I share my process and say you have done nothing wrong, it (tends) to reduce the defensiveness from the participant. They are not embarrassed after being muted (in most cases!) it is simply a part of the experience. The group knows someone in the group is practicing a particular behavior and are often very supportive. By inviting the muted participant to verbally reengage when ready, I relieve myself of being the referee. As an educator, I want to encourage a certain behavior and then let the "student" practice and return to "normal" (for them) when they are so compelled. It's a more open way of learning something at one's own pace. One little step at a time.
Floyd: Thanks for getting back to me Chris. I'm excited to dig deeper into this topic!
First, to answer some of your questions, I am a long-time user (abuser) of the mute tool. a few years ago, however, I was placed in a position in a group where I was the only one not muted. This was a facilitator training at a course in the Midwest I had no experience with, but training as a contractor. The lead facilitator knew I had a lot of facilitation experience. The rest of the community I was working with knew each other (worked together in a residential treatment facility), but were unaware of my experience. As the day progressed, I realized that the lead was using a lot of "one right answer" methods and activities but, instead of encouraging an answer collaboratively devised by the community, he kept looking for me to "speak up" and solve the challenge. Finally as the group was working to come up with an answer for an activity, he muted everyone except me and expected that I would then bring the group to a good answer. This on the spot feeling has since then challenged my philosophy on its use.
Currently I use muting in a general way. I offer it as the consequence for stepping in the muting river, or as the theme of one of the islands on a triangle tension traverse, or use a half blind half mute twist to a challenge adding some unique dynamics. I have, however, stopped using muting on the loud ones. My hope with discontinuing the practice is that I can come up with something that offers groups some tools when they leave. I have come close to something I like, but it certainly needs to be refined. That is, I use an activity as a sort of pathways or grid. We get to the initiative and I will introduce safety concerns that must be addressed during the challenge, but it is up to the group to figure out how to complete the challenge, and by the end know all or as many of the rules of the activity as they can figure out.
As they experiment with things I will let them know when they have done something outside of the rules of play. So far I have had some good success with this and have noticed that the loud people might start out speaking loudly, but when the rules are nothing like they expected, they have to rely on listening to other people for ideas to experiment with, and as the community starts running out of solutions they then find themselves asking the quiet ones to speak up. As an introvert myself, I’ve noticed this invitation from my peers is often what motivates us [me] to share ideas. These ideas might still not be the solution, but everyone sharing and being heard, and everyone experimenting with ideas always gets people further. Again, needs to be refined, but something I am using in place of the mute.
Much more to the point, I stopped using the mute because I feel communities are performing at a level they reached through the storming and norming in their community environment in one way or another. When I mute a person I feel like your description is exactly what happens. That person is not likely to spend time listening (if they stay muted at all), but instead, will be trying to figure out what to say when they get a chance, or how to communicate their idea above all else happening in the group anyway. When they go back to their community environment, the loud ones will continue to be loud and heard, the ones with perceived power will continue to have the perceived power, and the quiet ones will continue to keep their ideas to themselves.
This takes me back to my years working with kids. we would take kids out of the pool to teach them lessons about behaving in the pool. In my experience, I have not seen either strategy work. It is not my responsibility as an educator to remove the challenges or to remove members from the challenge while I'm working with communities. My responsibility is to help the community identify problem areas occurring in their community, and then work with them to come up with actionable solutions they can use back in their own environment.
I agree with you that this can be a tool for new educators to use. My hope for these types of tools for facilitators is just as everything with facilitation; That they will be considered often, and from other points of view. (Today I may not like using the mute, but in conversations with others I am shown that it is a very good tool, and know why and how to use it).
I used to work with a fellow that would challenge me daily to know why I did what I did, how it affected the group, if the group walked away with the outcomes they were looking for and then some, and to find new ways to interact with groups and initiatives. This has been paramount to my growth as a facilitator. While I know this is the environment with many experiential programs, I know, and have worked in those situations, where those early tools just become the rule, and no one really knows why.
I like your ideas about offering muting and listening as tools to the group. I want to write "LISTEN" on a polyspot, and frontload it at the beginning of the day: "If anyone is feeling like they are talking too much, or have been unable to hear the rest of the community, you are welcome to stand on this listening spot for as long as it takes to reach the goal you are looking for. If as a member of this community you need to support someone else by encouraging them to use the listening spot for some reason, please feel free to offer this resource."
Likewise, if someone is feeling like they aren't being heard, or feel like someone's idea isn't being heard, this spot can be used here as well. The person can use this spot as a way of getting the attention of the group to share their ideas. While in the experience you can then process through why a community would need such a resource, and what this resource could look like back in the community environment. Man, I really like this! I can see so many opportunities for communities to take advantage of this.
I fear I have grown long winded here, and running all these sentences together may be causing the muting bees to get to buzzing.
Thanks again for your time!
Thank you Floyd for the inquiry! Let's keep it going.
What are your thoughts around muting participants? Leave us a comment below - carry on the conversation.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
With the goal to "help you understand the drama that may be playing out in your own work or home life and how to transform it into conscious, compassionate, collaboration," the authors, Nate Reiger and Jeff King introduce us to the "Drama Triangle." These two Next-Element co-founders point out that because of drama, relationships are strained, trust is absent, creativity is stifled, and costly turn over rates [in business settings] are present and rising.
"The Drama Triangle," they say, "is a model for how people relate to one another in distress, dysfunction, and conflict." It is comprised of the roles of the persecutor, the victim, and the rescuer, all of whom carry out roles and myths that derail progress and community wherever they operate.
In the persecutor role, an individual falls into blaming, manipulating, controlling, and judgmental behaviors. Their myths are "I'm okay, you're not okay," and "I can make you feel bad emotionally."
The behaviors in the Victim role are withdrawing, being needy, and complaining without doing anything. They believe, "you can make me feel good emotionally," and "you can make me feel bad emotionally."
On the Rescuer side of the triangle we find unsolicited advice, meddling, and people who do the jobs of others. Their myth is, "I can make you feel good emotionally."
It is very easy to get caught up in this triangle, especially when circumstances or other people invite you in. The trouble is, "when you act outside the realm of your best character, you lose power over yourself." The good news is there is an alternative triangle called the "Compassion Triangle" where your concerns, and the concerns of others can be vocalized and heard in an open and meaningful way. "compassion means 'to struggle with,'" the authors state, and it is in this struggle with your community that moves you into open dialogue, problem solving, and conflict resolution. [Concepts we work on with some of our team building programs.]
In the compassion Triangle, the three roles of the Drama Triangle are invited to take on new roles that drive the community towards growth. Here the alternative of the victim is "Openness," and is characterized by "transparency, honesty, assertiveness, and the willingness to risk trusting another person." The Open person knows "my OK-ness is not dependent on another's response."
Persistence becomes the alternative for the persecutor. They work to "preserve the dignity and respect of all parties," and are characterized by "the willingness to stick with someone or something rather than attack, abandon, or blame."
Resourcefulness takes the place of the rescuer and is characterized by the use of problem solving and empowering others.
In the drama triangle communities and individuals often find themselves in tunnel vision rather than seeing other perspectives, looking for justification rather than finding ways of being effective, and being delusional rather than being in touch with reality.
In the chapter titled "Expectations: The Double Edged Sword," the authors point out that the expectations can be used in the content and the process, and that knowing the difference can keep you from derailing the motivation of yourself and others. It is by understanding the motivational needs of self and others that allows someone to create expectations that motivate people.
As a basic example, Nate tells the story of his son who decides he wants to play basketball. Nate, being motivated by conviction felt that the way to motivate his son was to practice every day and shoot certain amounts of shots from different places on the floor, and to run drills. His son, on the other hand was driven by contact. He wanted to play a sport to have fun and to interact with his peers in a sporting environment. When Nate began trying to motivate his son, the son started losing interest because it was no longer meeting his needs, but rather Nate's expectations. When Nate begins just playing basketball with his son, his sons motivation returns. In the Drama Triangle, the relationship between the two became strained, but when Nate was able to step into the compassion triangle, he was able to see the situation from a different perspective and work with his son to develop interactions that worked for them both.
Note From Chris:
I hope Floyd's brief synopsis of Beyond Drama inspires some of you to pick up the book and dive in. For me it's information I can use and share with groups whose members might be showing the behaviors involved in the Drama Triangle. Of course, it will depend on the type of program you are leading, so use your new-found information with care.
Please let us know if you dive in and how you use what you've learned. Leave us a comment below. Also, if you have knowledge of a good book that we should know about, send in a review - I love sharing!!
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
Over the last two weeks we've been working through the first What? & Why? activity thinking process. Part 1 detailed the specific steps I take when using the activity Name Card Return as a way to introduce a basic team building program. In Part 2 I shared the reasoning behind each of the first 14 steps of the activity. This week I'll finish up the Why? for the final 14 steps.
Be sure to let me know about this activity thinking process. This first one has been an interesting journey for me - it's been a long one. As I've noted in the other posts, my hope is that this process could be used as a training tool - a way to possibly learn/understand how to be more purposeful in what we do as team building facilitators. Any and all comments are welcome! (Be sure to check out the "Comments" at the end of Part 1 for some thoughts and learnings from other FUN Followers.)
(We just finished up the first official attempt at Name Card Return - everyone has stopped moving so I've stopped the time.)
15. I purposefully hold back sharing the time with the group until after I find out how they believe they did, and if they thought they were successful. This sense is more related to a "process" evaluation of how a task is done rather than the "product" evaluation of time. When I hear different answers about how they thought they did I like to point out that, "We will have differences of opinion during the program - this is part of being a diverse group of people." More often that not we talk about this for a while and why diversity can be a good thing and even why diversity could be a bad thing. Before sharing the time I also like to share other responsibilities that I have, '...provide activities that will challenge you and ask questions..." Again, letting my group know what they can expect of me is another way to build my relationship with them. Throughout the program I will often refer back to what I've told them about my responsibilities in order to curb any false expectations that might be showing up. Note: This step only takes a few minutes - I want to keep them in "action" mode but engage the mind a bit.
16. At this point, after our quick discussions, I share the time achieved and ask if this is the best they can do? Be mindful here of your voice intonation. I keep my voice neutral, I don't use my voice to imply that they can do better. The way we ask questions can be just as powerful as the question itself. In research interviewing terms, we don't want to "lead" the interviewee (group) into an answer we want to hear - we want to be as neutral as possible. Since it was only the first attempt at the activity most of the groups I've worked with believe they can do better. They want to try again. Now, be ready for one or more participants ready to voice their desire to move on. They, for any number of reasons, what to do something else. If this happens you have a wonderful opportunity to talk about, "How do we move forward when we don't have a consensus within the group?" Now, again, I don't spend too much time here at the beginning of a program to teach about consensus building or compromising. I like to put this on the group - what ideas do they have for moving forward? At this point I've done one of two things so far. I've asked those who do not want to try again if it would be okay with them if we could try again to see how it goes. This usually is okay with them. I've also proposed that it is perfectly okay to choose not to try again - those who do not want to try can step out to the side and observe the process and offer feedback during the discussion. This is an example of offering choice. However, I have yet to have any takers on this option. Think about it, what kind of choice is it? Most people will not choose to step away from the "safety" of the group even if they don't want to do what everyone else is doing. They will choose to stay with the group. (Now, if anyone decides to step out before the next round, ask everyone to look at their name card. The player(s) stepping out switch cards with the player(s) who have their card. Then, cards are turned back face down before the shuffle. Also, the perfect circle will include empty spaces left open by those who have stepped out - it works just fine.)
17. Before we begin the process of Name Card Return (and any activity in the future), I ask the group if they are "ready" to start the process again? The Ready Check is meant to "suggest" they can take time to talk about the activity - do some problem solving and planning. I don't tell them at this point what I'm suggesting. I want to see if anyone steps up and says, "No, we're not ready yet." Sometimes players will ask, "Can we talk a little before we start?" The answer is always, "Of course!" (Note: Be prepared for ready check responses from participants that might sound a bit rude - some "reactions" from the group/individuals come across in different ways. All good things to talk about.) In most cases, my group will tell me they are ready to try again without any discussion.
18. Here we start the process again with the Blind Shuffle. I simply repeat the directions again - "Exchange cards with five different people, then stop moving." Sometimes, I also need to remind the group that this shuffle part is not timed - some players tend to jump to this assumption, creating an environment that's not necessary. Another nice discussion topic if the behaviors show up.
19. After movement stops and before time starts I invite them to change cards with someone near them if they happened to peek at the card they are holding. I assure them that, "there is no penalty - it's just part of the challenge not to know what card you are holding." I what my group to know, again, that mistakes will be made from time-to-time. It's our responsibility to learn from them and do something about them if needed. (This is working on the "safe" environment aspect of the program.)
20. Here I start the second attempt of Name Card Return. (Don't forget to start the time once you say, "GO!") I personally follow the same steps from the first attempt - I want to stay consistent with my process. I hold up my card, showing the name on it to the crowd as I call out the name of the person on the card I'm holding. Once I get this card back to the person it belongs to I find a new place to stand on the outskirts of the crowd. Once I'm at my new spot I look for the player with my card - the player looking for me. Once I take back my card I quietly watch the group finish up their card returning and movement into the perfect circle. When movement stops, I stop the timer. Here I (still) quietly wait just a bit to see if anyone recognizes anyone out of order. If movement resumes I start the time again. When everyone believes we are all in the correct place, time is stopped.
21. Again, I ask the, "How did you do?" questions, keeping the process consistent for the group - they begin to know what to expect from me at this point, in this process. Hopefully, we begin to feel a bit more comfortable with each other and more participants share in the discussion. At this point my group realizes I will not "call" on people or expect any particular answers to the questions proposed - there is a degree of safety and freedom to participate. This tends to make people more comfortable and willing to share. After some brief sharing I tell them the second time they achieved.
22. When the group finds out their second time we will discuss their reaction to a better time or their reaction to a slower time. During either of these discussions, I let my group know that we will be experiencing these possible outcomes during the program. Then we might talk a bit more about how we might use these experiences throughout the program - "What can they teach us?" Then again, I ask the group if this is the best they can do? If they agree it's their best, we can recap the process and how it relates to the program ahead. Then move forward into the program.
23. If they choose to go for another attempt, I let them know we have time for one more try. Since we are still just getting started, I don't provide endless attempts - I want them to get into the program. This "last attempt" information tends to motive more problem-solving behaviors. At this stage of the process I change the way I suggest the Ready Check. I say, "Let me know when you are ready to start your final attempt." Putting it this way often leads them into the idea that they have space to talk about the activity. If someone in the group speaks up right away and says, "We ready!" I will actually ask everyone, "So, is everyone ready to begin?" This provides another opening for someone to step up and ask for time to talk.
24. I call out the Blind Shuffle here - reminding the group of the procedure. Again, being consistent, telling them the same information about the shuffle as before. I don't want to introduce the "concept" of change at this point in the program. Change behaviors might be part of the program later on, but this beginning is about an introduction to the program not behavior awareness or working on any of their other objectives. Once the group knows more about the structure of the process it will be easier for them to focus on the specific reasons for their participation in the program. (This is related to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - basic needs met before any complex learning can take place.)
25. After everyone has stopped moving and any final exchanges are made, I do add one more ready check. This opens up one more chance for the group to do any last moment problem solving. Be sure to let them know, they cannot move until "GO!" is called (part of the rules) - some players might consider solving a problem by moving before "GO!" is called. On another note, there have been times, for me, when groups have determined my movement is a "problem" to solve. Some have asked me to tell them where I'm going. Others have asked me to stay right where I'm standing so they know where I am. In either case I honor their request. This brings up a little discussion about another role I can take within the group. There are times when I can be a resource. As noted earlier - there are certain questions I might not answer, but in many cases I can be a resource. Interestingly enough, educators are often overlooked as resources in the learning process (don't get me started). So, when the group is determined and ready, I say, "GO!" and follow my same card return, move and look for my card procedure - unless I was asked to do something different. Once all the movement stops I stop the timer.
26. As before I ask how they did before I share their time. Since it was the final attempt I might spend a little more focused time here on the discussion points. I might also bring up some of the specific goals the group is here to work through and how they will fit into the activities ahead.
27. Before closing I'll do a little review of the program points - reiterating what the group can expect in the time ahead. Before answering any questions they have (the final point), I bring up the concept of challenge by choice, so, moving forward they have this at the forefront of their mind.
28. Finally, I remind the group that, "Questions are free." I make sure to spend some time answer any questions they have - if I can. I have been know to ask participants to, "Hold that thought - I'll be asking you to bring this up again soon."
For me, Name Card Return, as a program introduction, will take a total of 20 minutes! I know, we just went through a lot of reading for 20 minutes of programming. Consider how much activity thinking would be written out for an entire program!
Purposeful programming. This type of thinking is what purposeful programming is all about. Let me know your reactions to this process! Leave comments below.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
Last week I posted Part 1 (click or scroll down) of my first What? & Why? format of, what I've decided to call, for now, "activity thinking". In Part 1 I shared What? I do when presenting Name Card Return as a way to introduce a typical team building program to a group. This week in Part 2 I'm sharing the first half of the Why? behind the What? - next week I'll finish the process with the second half of the Why? [Note: I initially intended for this to be a two-part process, but the Why? part turned out to be so long I decided to share it in two pieces - for me it just seems too long for one sitting!]
To (quickly) recap. I'm trying out this format of sharing as a possible training application - providing more on the "purpose" behind my actions. Maybe this structure will catch on? Maybe this structure will help trainers and trainees? Maybe this structure is more work than needed? Maybe...? Help me out. Let me know how it works for you!
In Part 1 I numbered the steps of What? I do with Name Card Return. (Please know, this is one way I present the activity - there are other ways.) As I noted above, I use the steps shared in Part 1 for a particular purpose (in bold text above). Each numbered step below is the Why? (or purpose) of the same number in Part 1 - my reasoning/thinking behind the What? (Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.)
Suggestion: You might want to open the Part 1 post in a separate tab so you can tab back-and-forth between Part 1 and 2 - a faster way to go from number to number.
1. As participants are starting to gather I can introduce myself quickly and ask them to do something for me - creating an opportunity for them to help me out. This is one way to start building a relationship with my group. Most people are use to making name tags so the task is not new to them - they have prior knowledge. It's a bit different since we are making name "cards" but it's not to much of a stretch. I also provide and example and a simple expectation - "your first name nice and BIG, like the example on the table." As the leader (or educator) of the program I can take a role of "expectation setter" for the group - often associated with leadership (as a group may see me initially). Participants still have a choice, and some exercise the choice, of not making their name nice and BIG. This might come up later when in the problem-solving mode of the activity. If the name was written with smaller letters it's a bit more challenging to see the name on the card when others are looking at/for it. If this happens I can point out that I did share an expectation early on that, as an educator, I thought might help them in the future. Part of my role, I tell them, (as a "teacher" educator) could be to offer up some information that might help during the program. (If you are reacting to me "helping" my group, keep in mind, as I always say, "there's more than one way to peel an orange!")
2. I like circles. As we know, this formation allows for everyone in the group to see everyone else. It's also the best configuration to share your voice - sound waves move around within a circle much better than any other shape. I also remind everyone to have their name card in hand. There will be people in the group who will want to know what to do with the name card when they get done making it.
3. My participants (no matter what age) will want to know what's going on. I use this time to share a VERY brief introduction and logistical information (e.g., where are the restrooms - ease some anxiety of the environment when possible) - no more than 90 seconds. If you dive into educational theory, "short boughts of instruction" are preferred over long boughts. It's all about keeping attention. Before I move on (to Step 4) I note that we will be doing our first activity in a moment, something that will help them understand, even more, what will be happening.
4. When I change the topic to "challenge by choice" (or whatever you use to inform your group about choice), I get another 90 seconds of my group's attention. I use the example of making the name cards as a reference to some choices - I ask my participants to hold up their cards and look around (this engages some physical activity). Even with the expectation of making their first name nice and BIG, they made choices - I look around at the cards they are holding and point out the different choices made (e.g., color of marker, style of lettering, the position of the name on the card, etc.). In my "choice" presentation, I do ask everyone in the group to "stay" with his/her group in some way. "One of my responsibilities," I tell them, "is for me to know where everyone is. If you stay with your group it's easier for me me to focus on the other parts of my job so you can have the best experience as possible. So, thanks for helping me with this." (Again, I asked for their "help" - continuing to build my relationship with most of the group - some might not be engaged by my invitation to help me out. Before moving on I do ask if anyone has any questions up to this point - and, of course, provide the answers I can.
5. Again, I change the topic, letting them know we are going to do our first challenge together. Back to educational theory, I'm providing a brief "anticipatory set" (information) about what's to come. In adventure education we often call this "front loading". I want my group to know that what we're doing next is like what we'll be doing together for the program. Now, I don't say much here, I want to get my group moving by this time. [Note: We're only about five minutes into the program.]
6. In this step I emphasize that there will be times when we have to do some "skill development" before moving into an activity - "we'll need some particular skills to increase our chances of success." "For some of you, the skills might be easy to pick up, for others the skills might not be easy - they might be a challenge to work through. That's part of why we're here - to work through the challenges we'll be facing together." I want my group to know that there will be some unknown ahead and we're here to support each other. Before I move into Step 7, I remind my group of the perfect circle expectation, that they cannot move until I say "perfect circle". This is often forgotten when additional information is provided after directions are given - it's just how the brain works.
7. I've moved to a location in the activity space that allows for the same size circle to be formed (I don't need to add a challenge here of adapting to a smaller space - not the purpose for the activity), THEN I say "perfect circle". Again, I don't say anything else. I stay quiet (maybe look at them a bit with "questioning" body language), so the group has the opportunity to figure out what's next. I want to start transferring the "power" of decision making over to the group. At first, most (if not all) groups will look to the main facilitator (the person who often talks first) to lead the way. In our team building programs, we want the group to lead the way - right? So, again, I want them to start problem solving together. Every time I do this, no matter what age, at least one person will take an initiative to try something.
8. Once the circle is formed (so far, for me, it always gets there), I ask if anyone has questions about forming the Perfect Circle. I ask at this point, and not during Step 6, because I want the questions to come from experience and not speculation, and I want them to get moving. Then I add the new rule to the Perfect Circle. As often as I can, I like to provide directions in increments. When I can first anchor, with some action, one (or two) direction(s) it's easier for the brain to take in new information. Note: I added the, "I can only call perfect circle" after one of my groups decided to "overuse" the term - you know what I'm talking about.
9. Then, another call to action. This second attempt is always better (time and process) than the first. At this point I ask them how they're doing. I let my group know I will be asking this question throughout the program. I want to know how things are going for them. I tell them, "this helps me to know where to take you next - I want to give you good challenges, not overdo it." (You noticed, I asked for their help again - building my relationship with them.) With a little "group" experience under their belt, questions are easier to "see". This is the time where I often tell my group, "Questions are free today. So, ask away. Now, it's not my role to solve 'problems' that come up, that's your job. But, don't be afraid to ask, clarification might lead to solving a problem." With this information I let my group know a little bit more about my role and "officially" let them know it's their job to problem solve - a point I then get to reiterate during the program.
10. One more call to action - usually pretty fast this time. This physical action anchors some of the information we just talked about and opens the brain back up for the new information in Step 11. Some of you might not agree with my choice to congratulate my group. However, I believe "validation" is a good thing - validation is another way to build relationship. I am specific. I say something like, "excellent perfect circle - everyone is where they need to be." Or, I might say, "WOW, that was fast! Good job. As we move forward, this might be important." Again, EdTheory will say specific feedback can be internalized better. Then, I let my group know we have one more thing to learn before we play the game. This adds to the anticipation about what's to come.
11. Here I teach the Blind Shuffle - the first part of Name Card Return. I call it "skill development" because I'm pretty sure everyone is about to do something they've never done before (unless they have been in a team building program with me before). So, "when learning something new we want to be nice to each other and ourselves - this might be very important to remember as we work together today." When I teach the Blind Shuffle I let my group know that "part of the challenge" is not to look at their cards before I say "GO!" I set the expectation and tell them how it fits into the activity. I also let them know that if they "accidentally" look at their card after they stop moving, simply exchange it with someone. This lets my group know (or starts to anyway), that sometimes we'll do something we're asked NOT to do. "It's important to do our best, if we can, but know that mistakes are part of learning. Most mistakes are not done on purpose. The idea here is to recognize our mistakes and do something about it" - in this case, I've given my group the opportunity to fix the mistake - exchange cards with someone near them. Then we can move on - enough said. I also provide some time to clarify the expectation of "stopping" after exchanging with five different people. This is confusing for some people - somethings I give an example. I walk around the group, exchange with five different people (while everyone is watching me) and then stop. (I know this might sound silly, but it happens every time. Some get it. Some don't.) And, I make sure they understand they can continue to exchange cards with others even if they have stopped moving. I tell them they are "helping" others finish up their exchanges. (This information is also difficult for some people to understand - they believe they have to stop everything they are doing).
12. When I see everyone has stopped moving I give them one more opportunity to exchange name cards with someone if they accidentally peeked at the name on their card. Again, my purpose is to start/continue building a safe learning environment. Now, of course some people will not "admit" they peeked because of prior "shamed" experiences. If anyone does make an exchange I'm sure to thank them for doing so. I don't make a big deal out of it (like, "thanks for having integrity" - this qualification takes you down another relationship path), I simply say, "Thank you."
13. In this Step I've shared the directions to Name Card Exchange. This activity is what I consider to be an introductory challenge. It has only two parts (or, you might say, rules) - return the card to the person it belongs to and form a perfect circle in relation to where I'm standing. I also tell my group that the process will be evaluated by time. I then share that during the program there may be this or other types of evaluation processes. Here I open the floor to questions about the expectations. At this time I don't bring up anything more about "evaluation" unless they do. And if they do, I'll ask them, "at this time, please hold that thought. I would love to bring this up again in a little bit." In most cases we can forego this conversation. If needed, open up talks. So, once the group understands they will be timed, as you can imagine, the energy begins to change. There's something on the line. For some it's exciting, for others, not so much. (All good things that can come up during the program.) Here again I'll say, "Questions are free. does anyone need help understanding what's about to happen?" It's also good to note here that I don't ask the group if they want some time to talk amongst themselves before this first attempt. I want to give them an experience, get them moving, give them something to talk about. When it seems like the time...
14. Once I say "GO!", I first start the time - DON"T FORGET THIS PART! (You know why!) I usually don't know many of the names of my group members yet so I use, what I consider to be, a helpful behavior. I start calling out the name of the person on my card. By doing this, maybe I'm role modeling a positive behavior and maybe I'm continuing to build my relationship with the group - now, that is if anyone notices. (Here's the counter point. What do they notice if I'm standing off to the side? I like to "play" at first and then slowly step back.) As soon as I can hand off the name card I have I move to a place outside the clump of players who have, more often than not, mobbed together in the center area of the original circle. At some point between handing off the card I had and stopping the time, someone has found me and returned my name card. Since I am part of the solution I choose to move to my Perfect Circle spot instead of looking for my name card. I don't say anything during the "return" and "circle up" action. I just wait for movement to stop - then I stop the time. (Sometimes movement might start up again when players realize something is not right. I simply restart my stopwatch and stop it again when movement stops.
Let's stop here. What did you take notice of? What jumped out at you? What did you agree with and what didn't you agree with? Do you have the Why? for your agreement and disagreement? What would you keep and what would you change about the process? Why?
Next week we'll finish up. See you then.
Keep me posted.
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
Recently I posted about the activity Name Card Scramble. I mentioned that this Card Scramble is a variation of Name Cards - a simple introductory activity written up in my latest book Portable Teambuilding Activities. Recently, I've been using Name Cards in a more (different) purposeful way and I wanted to share the new details with you.
I also want to try something new. (Let me know what you think - maybe this What? & Why? format will be another category at my blog if it's useful to you.) In this "Part 1" post I want to tell you "What" I do with Name Card Return (or, in the future, a particular activity) and then, in "Parts 2 & 3" tell you "Why" I do what I did.
On one hand it's another way for me to document my thoughts. On the other hand, I'm thinking, maybe those of you who train team building facilitators could use this format as a training exercise. First share the What? (Not revealing the Why? right away.) Have a discussion on the What? with the trainees about "Why?" they think the activity is set up the way it is, and "What?" purposeful reasons they might have for leading this activity in this way. Then reveal the Why? from my (one professionals) particular perspective (as we know there's more than one way to peel an orange - I'm a vegetarian). Let's give it a try. (Buckle up, this one's a bit long - but, I hope, worth the ride.)
Okay, we made it through our first "What?" process. Over the next two weeks I'm going to share the "Why?" behind what I did/do with Name Card Return.
Please share any thoughts you have in the comments below - I'd love to hear from you.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
John, one of our fellow FUN Followers, wrote into me asking about my experience with groups (clients) interested in exploring "generational issues/awareness." I thought this would be and interesting conversation to share and see if others might have something to contribute. Here's John's initial inquiry:
John: I was wondering if you have come across/created any activities for groups that were interested in exploring generational issues/awareness?
After some consideration, here's what I shared with John:
Chris: You pose an interesting question. I don't know any activities specific to "generational issues/awareness" and have yet to create/develop anything specific myself.
John continues the thread:
John: Thanks for your reply. I am surprised that there are not many/any generational activities out there!
Instead of replying to John's last email, I wanted to save my thoughts for this blog post.
It just so happens that (based on a recent recommendation from Michael Cardus) I started reading the book, Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (2009) by Edgar Schein. So far it's been an engaging read since I can correlate a lot of the teambuilding I do directly to helping behaviors. Here are a few points from the first two sections of the book that, I believe, can relate to our generational issues/awareness discussion:
The details of social economics continues, but stopping here coincides with our discussion. This concept (or social theory) struck a cord with me in relation to John's generational issues/awareness thinking. Let's consider a group of multi-generational participants (e.g., co-workers). If one generation thinks ethnocentrically and the other thinks ethnorelatively the communication between the generations may not mesh with the social economics expectations of each generation thus causing friction.
I'm sure it's also possible for two different generations within a group to be the same types of thinkers. What if they both had an ethnocentric point of view - each thought their way was the best way. How do you work with that situation? What if both generations were ethnorelative thinkers? Maybe there's no problems? The question arises then, how do we know what thinkers we're working with? (Also, don't discount the fact that there could be more than two different "generations" within one working group, as John noted, in relation to the "messy part" about dating generations.)
You can see we could really keep going down the rabbit hole here. But let's take a team breadth. There are other great conversations just like this one that circle around the adventure education field. They give some of us cause for reflection (and program development possibilities). However, my mindset tends to settle back into the "every day" team building facilitators out there. How can this conversation help them?
In my (humble) opinion, it doesn't help them at all until they are ready to add to the conversation.. Which means they have some experience with the issue(s) in the conversation and believe they can use the information to help them in the future. In John's case, he was ready. He brought up the questions. He wants to know what's out there.
If you want to keep going down the rabbit hole with John and me, leave a comment for us below. Do you run into situations involving generational issues/awareness? How do you approach these issues? What activities do you lead in order to flush out these issues? We're ready to keep it going.
What can you take from this if you're more interested in climbing out of the hole for now? When working with groups that you know include multiple generations, continue planning educative experiences (programs) that allow the groups to recognize and explore behaviors (things they can see and hear) that help them move towards their goals, and recognize and explore those behaviors that keep them from their goals. Then, find out which behaviors they want to keep using and which behaviors they want to change or stop using? Personally, I do not make it about generational issues (even though some may identify them as such), it's about what help's them achieve their desired outcomes.
All the best,
Chris Cavert, Ed.D. (and John)
What are your foundational principles of practice (POP)? In other words, what do you believe to be true when it comes to developing and leading/facilitating adventure-based programs? And, the other question worth exploring (at another time perhaps) is where these beliefs come from? For me, my POPs seem to be revealed, more often than not, when they meet up with other's POPs (I like to call these interactions, POP Parties!!). Where there is diversity there is the opportunity for wonderful dialogue as we know to be true in this field of Adventure Education (and we know, unfortunately, the opposite is also true).
Here's an example of a one of the good POP partys from my past. Organizing my vault of hard-copy treasures from workshops past, I found a handout from a Ph.D. (higher ed faculty member) in the field of recreation who lead a workshop at a state-level Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference i while back. The Ph.D. provided a handout of thoughts for us to remember and reflect upon from the presentation - I would say, this person's POPs. (I remember the workshop to be full of passionate dialogue - good stuff.)
For this first Agree or Disagree post I would like to present some of the information provided in the handout and whether I (or my POP) agree with the Ph.D. or if I disagree and my POP in juxtaposition.
Handout: Initiative exercises and activities offer a series of clearly defined problems or tasks to a group that must be solved before an acceptable solution to the challenge may be reached. [Note: This is the first line on the handout.]
I Disagree: For me this statement is too limiting - using words like, "clearly defined problems," "must be solved," and "acceptable solution" limit my programming opportunities for the opposite.
Handout: The problem-oriented approach to learning can be useful in developing each individual's awareness of decision-making, leadership, and obligations and strengths of each member within the group.
I Agree: And, useful for developing a lot more pro-social behaviors. I especially like the use of the phrase, "obligation and strengths of each member within the group." I believe, through practice and theory, that the use of adventure education is for social development - I teach my student that we work within the "social curriculum" realm of education.
Handout: [When programing and facilitating initiatives] select a problem that is suited to the age and physical ability of the group. An older group is easily stunned off by a childish situation, and [an]other group may be quickly frustrated by problems that require physical or mental development beyond their capacities.
I Agree: In educational terms this is considered proper scaffolding. We work up from where the students are, adding new knowledge and experiences to what they already understand and have done in the past. I like the point included about "physical ability of the group." I've noticed over time (I include myself in this observation) that programming for age is easier to do up front based on our experiences, but there is little consideration of the physical abilities of the participants - often because we do not have (i.e., did not collect) information about this area until we start working with a group.
Handout: Situations may arise when a participant will break a ground rule of the challenge. The penalty for such an infraction can be either a time penalty or starting over. Be strict in administering the rules of the problem. If the group suspects that you don't care about following the rules, the problem will resolve into horseplay and become functionally meaningless.
I Disagree: If I stick to this practice (safety concerns withstanding) as a hard-and-fast rule in my programming I eliminate the opportunity to learn from "functional meaninglessness." When an outside force is constantly holding a group accountable for their actions, how does the group learn about taking responsibility for themselves - we miss the opportunity to talk about such things.
Handout: As an instructor [facilitator], you [are] obligated, during the problem-solving process, to be silent.
I Disagree: [I get the most pushback on this part of my POP.] I believe that there are important learnings to recognize "during" a group process that might be better reflected upon in the moment than after the moment has past. Of course, overdoing this (stepping in) can be counter-productive, so we choose these moments carefully. On a related note, after reading more into John Dewey's work with experiential education, I have come to agree that the facilitator is part of the group (arguably a small part) with experiences that can help the group at points (again, not overdoing this) during their experiences. My reasoning for this part of my POP is about the doors/tools of opportunity. Pointing out that there are, or giving permission to explore, other doors/tools of possibly will help a group to learn about choices when they are "stuck" believing there are none, or very few. In time we hope the group understands they might not be limited to the doors/tools that they have and feel free to explore (look for) more options.
How about you? Are you agreeing or disagreeing here? What is your POP? I hope my point is evident. (But just in case.) It can be good to explore, from time-to-time, your principles and practices. This makes us reflective practitioners - important to good education. Attend or start a POP party. Share your thoughts (you can do it here in the comments area below). Agree, disagree, share your thoughts. This dialogue helps us all focus in on what's important to us as educators and how we approach our programming and our groups. And, spend a little time considering where your beliefs come from - like our groups, are we stuck using a tool that might not be the best for the job? Or, are tools other people are using better suited?
All the best,
Over the last six months I presented at two national conferences on the topic of Pedagogy in Adventure Education. (You can find the slides for my ACCT presentation at the FUNdoing Resources page - look for "ACCT 2014 - The Pedagogy of Challenge Course Practitioner Training".) It has been a recent goal of mine to add pedagogy-related topics to my blog (first one here) in order to continue the thinking and practice of how we use "activities for educating and instructing" (pedagogy) adventure education practitioners (my interest being mainly challenge course practitioners - but a good pedagogy can cross many areas of education).
The other day I received an email from my friend and challenge course trainer DeAnna Pickett (DeAnna was a participant and thought generater at my ACCT 2014 presentation). She was generous enough to share with us some of her pedagogical practices used at a recent refresher training.
Hi Chris- You asked for some of my Pedagogy ideas: So here is a successful one that just happened:
I was just at a site that I was doing a one day 'refresher' training and the next day was a certification test for a zip line tour. The staff had all been trained in-house on their technical skills but I knew they wouldn't be able to pass the written knowledge portion of test. The staff had a mix of skill level as well as a mix of time actually working. Some staff had been there for a very long time while others had only been there a few months and hadn't worked with guests yet. I was essential charged to get all 16 staff on the same page and ready to pass their practical and written test the next day. So I decided that afternoon training was going to be "Buddy Teaching". I had the group line up in order of how much 'time on the course' they had (from least to most) and then I folded the line in half. So the most experienced person was partnered with the least experienced person. I then had them work as partners. The first partner team practiced sending everyone on the first line. Once everyone went through they became the last partner team in the group). The second partner team received everyone. (It was a ground-to-ground tour). I then had the third partner team walk up the trail a little bit and teach everyone a bit of information that I wrote out on a card that would be necessary for them to know for the test. (A little bit of information that only took two minutes to share). It wasn't the answer to the test but information that they needed to have. So we essentially leap frogged through the course and at each station they were teaching, being taught something or practicing a technical skill set. By the end of the tour everyone had practiced sending, receiving and giving and getting information. I got a lot of positive feedback from the trainee's that it was one of the best trainings they experience and they really enjoyed the method. (Funny thing is I didn't really do any of the training...I just facilitated them doing the training.)
I have also been incorporate Bloom's taxonomy [ideas from the ACCT 2014 presentation - see the slides] in my trainings and worked to move up to the higher levels of understanding in the later parts of the training (specifically the last two days). I find that the first two days of training I am just working in the knowledge and remembering realm.
THANKS DeAnna!! I love it!
Other pedagogical ideas out there?? Please share them with us in the comments below. Or send me an email and I'll give you your own "posting!"
All the best,
On Sale Now!
This blog is a space for hands-on programable fun - energetic activities and ideas that can be used as a means to bring people together; activities and ideas we as educators can add to our social development curriculums.
Dr. Chris Cavert is an internationally known author, speaker, and trainer in the area of adventure-based activity programming and its relation to community and pro-social behavior development.