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.
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,
Pedagogy, in it's simplest form, is an educators collection of activities used for educating or instructing that impart knowledge or skill - it is what educators DO to transmit information to students. And, as far as I know, no one has found the "best" pedagogy for educating. One could argue that there are as many pedagogies as there are educators.
As I have written about in the past (Educators on the Challenge Course - look for the Essays), adventure practitioners are educators, and they too have pedagogies - ways of working with their groups that impart knowledge or skill.
Now, with the summer season looming in the near future it might be a good idea to call your pedagogy to order. What "activities" will you use to impart knowledge and skills to your staff so that they are able to find success as an educator? With the limited amount of time you have to train staff, what will be the most effective and efficient way to use your pedagogy?
A few months ago I ran across a useful blog post from FacultyFocus.com entitled "Using Guerrilla Tactics to Improve Teaching." The ideas from the authors of the post are relevant to any educator who is tasked with training other educators (please read the article for the finer details of the process). I've taken some editorial liberties to make the "ground rules for guerrilla teaching" fit into an adventure education model I will call "Guerrilla Training:"
As the Guerrilla Tactics blog authors note, "In the spirit of guerrilla marketing [a creative low-cost strategy to meet conventional goals] there are several educational "buzz" benefits created with minimal direct cost" - role modeling, collaboration, flexible training times, sharing expertise, "bits" of information instead of overload, and showing support for the trainee. This "drop-in" training allows for some relevant observation time for the trainee. Something that is difficult to building into training sessions but very important to include.
Making Guerrilla Training part of your training pedagogy might prove to be useful, effective, and efficient. Let me know how it goes. And, if you have other pedagogical training ideas for us please share in the comments below.
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.