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.
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.
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.