(This is a migration and updated post - it was first shared at the FUNdoing.com Blog. We are moving theoretical posts to OnTeamBuidling in an effort to organize content.)
An Alfie Kohn* blog post, Transformation by Degrees inspired me, a while back, to put together a few thoughts I'd been having about 'participant-centered' team building. Now, as team builders and 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 post, Transformation by Degrees.
A recent change to my facilitation process has been to let go of the traditional "harness & helmet demo" and have my groups figure out how to get their PPE on appropriately. As a whole, the group is in charge of getting this task done correctly, meeting safety standards for proper harness and helmet fit. Now, I do give them some safety standards information: The waist belt must be above the waist. There should not be any twists in the webbing of the harness. And, the helmet must not expose the forehead or fall down over the eyes when climbing. (I am also wearing my PPE appropriately - meeting safety standards - as an example.)
This participant-centered approach has become a nice addition to a group's "team" building experience. In most cases so far, it also helps when there is at least one person in the group that has climbed before (having worn a harness). My groups have ranged from 5th graders to adults. Yes, there does need to be fixes from time-to-time (that I point out), but the group is in charge. (NOTE: No one climbs without my approval/visual check - so, if I would say, "You're not ready yet," the participants helped each other reach passing criteria.)
On another note, here is a recent story from a fellow facilitator that highlights a factor of "control" (or management) of time with a group. Working with a new group of 12 participants (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 introduction activity turned into over 25 minutes of sharing.
So, how do we adjust "control" and still get in everything we've planned? (The thinking: "If we let them be in charge, how will we get things done?") Do we impose a time limit on things so we can get to other tasks 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 some 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’ [team builders] 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." [Training team builders to be more participant-centered will take some time and role modeling.]
"It is possible to edge slowly away from traditionalism with respect to just about any specific practice." [Try one participant-centered strategy at a time and maybe for just part of the program.]
"To learn something about the students [participants] 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." [Find out from the group what else is important to do once you believe you have reached a destination with your group - you might think they are done, but do they think so?]
“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." Kohn
What are some of the changes you are making (or have made) to be more participant-centered in your programs? What are you doing as a team builder, that could be done by the group? We could put a participant-centered 'in-practice' document together and share it with the world. What do you say? Add your ideas in the Comments below.
Keep us posted!
Chris Cavert, Ed.D.
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Dr. Chris Cavert is an educator, author and trainer. His passion is helping team builders learn and grow.