Starting a new semester can, at times, feel more than a little chilly and uncomfortable. Just as the last semester was beginning to feel warm and comfortable, a blast of cold air literally and figuratively arrived between the fall and spring semesters. While not quite a “Polar Vortex,” as those in many parts of the United States experienced, this month, I could imagine that a new class setting in some universities might feel as uncomfortable. I knew about the “Shoebox” introductory activity for “Learning in Groups and Teams” as a result of eavesdropping on fellow Adult Learning classmates. Being ahead of the game is always more comfortable for me, which often results in me giving the impression of being either an overachiever or absolutely neurotic. I thought about this assignment for quite awhile, yet wondered how it would all unfold once I entered the classroom. As a former public educator, this sort of warm-up activity is perfectly normal and expected. Years ago, my sixth grade language arts students used items within a shoebox to give a “Prop Talk.” From prop talks, we moved to positive and negative graphs and ultimately to memoirs! Filling a shoebox for this icebreaker most certainly brought back many memories for me.
Team Beginnings, as any student of sociology will tell you, begins with forming. Icebreakers are used in nearly every group or class setting that I’ve encountered during the last twenty years. There are several that seem to circulate with great regularity in the settings where I am a participant. I am always looking for new ways in which to get to know the others around me. I am someone who keeps my cards close to me until I have established a level of comfort. While the concept of an adult “prop talk” or “drag ‘n’ brag” became more appealing to me as I began to consider what to place into the box, I also wondered how interested the individuals in my class might be in what I selected? As part of our introductions, being asked what made me “interesting” was rather uncomfortable because it asked me to think on my feet rather than to plan and contemplate. Teachers learn to balance the fine line between both parts of the continuum. It’s easy to do so when thinking on my feet involves concepts or ideas relevant to the curriculum. To do so about myself, makes me feel a bit vulnerable. I left class considering this idea of how experience makes one interesting and offers the setting to learn how groups, teams and collections of individuals function.
Highland Park Learning Center Magnet School , a Blue Ribbon School of National Excellence, was an environment where individuals worked in multiple team settings. Support was provided by the administration and recognition was awarded by central administration exemplified the ideas that Levi asserts are necessary components of great teams. I grew tremendously as an educator,as a wealth of in-service opportunities and conferences were afforded to me. The freedom to teach without the constraints of excessive testing allowed me to have the courage to teach with enthusiasm and devotion. The School Board and Administration created the Scholar Mentor Award for high achieving students to recognize teachers who inspired them. A student from one of my first classes remembered our writing lessons and the experience of entering and winning a writing contest. I was so involved in raising a baby that I could scarcely recall the incident. Students remember teachers and class lessons long after the school bell rings. Roanoke City Public Schools allowed me to pursue the craft of teaching with unbridled enthusiasm! The 1990’s were the glory days…
Groups and Teams Take-away: Be a mentor to someone else. Don’t wait for that individual to seek you out, look for opportunities to make a difference in the life of a student.
I now live in the Charlottesville area where I live and breathe Thomas Jefferson and Monticello. The Monticello Foundation hosted the bicentennial of the”Lewis and Clark Corp of Discovery,” Monticello January 18, 2003 with a special ceremony on the West Lawn. My co-worker and I were thrilled to be selected to accompany a small group of students for this historic event,which would launch a class exploration of Ken Burns “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.” On this particular day, temperatures on the mountain hovered around 3 degrees fahrenheit January 18, 2003-probably the coldest day of my teaching career and probably one of the funnier recollections of work with students.Recollection of all of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the day is overshadowed by a student who asked in earnest, what he should do about his frozen bologna sandwich.
Groups and Teams Take-away: Take time to laugh.
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve supplemented my income with a variety of odd jobs, some of which were quite interesting. In Wayne, Pennsylvania lies one of the most wonderful farmer’s markets, The Lancaster County Farmers Market. My roommate, Sally and I, lived in a glorious carriage house apartment at the back of a Mainline estate. While we may not have possessed more than two or three nickels to rub between our fingers, we most certainly enjoyed a wealth of hearty vegetables that I brought home after laboring for hours at a stand. Our fascination with all things Amish found us ambling through the Lancaster County countryside on many occasions. It doesn’t take one long to learn that the “fancy folks” and the “plain folks” intermingle when necessary to do so. On a later excursion to the area, my husband and I met an Amish man in a buggy in the drive-thru lane at the bank. Pennsylvanians understand that outsiders gawk, but learn not to do so themselves.
Groups and Teams Take-away: The power and influence of a larger group over the members can sustain a collective over lengthy periods of time.
The ability to stumble on opportunities is a skill I perfect with regularity. One such “stumble” occurred during our last visit to Ontario. We rarely take the normal family vacations that my son dreams about. Christopher Paul Curtis’ novels have entertained us during family readings with quirky characters. His ability to bring the chilling reality of Jim Crow to life provide the historical context that enriches our understanding. My choice of his new book, Elijah of Buxton, to read for a graduate course in juvenile literature was one such opportunity. The bibliophile that I am, I read the Afterwards and Author’s Note before I read the story. Curtis’ description of Buxton, Ontario, a planned community for runaway slaves, piqued my curiosity. What followed months later, was a family visit to the settlement. With the simple mention of this book, our tour went from short and mundane to fascinating. The same man who worked closely with the author shared the story of how those travelled the railroad sought a life of freedom in Canada. While my son might beg to differ, this was certainly NOT something that we could experience at Disney World!
Groups and Teams Take-Away: Everyone has a story to tell. We are a repository of all those who have come before us. Members have a “back story” to tell. Be interested and take time to ask and listen to the story.
Spirit Week in any middle or high school would not be complete with out “Grown Up Day.” The first year that my middle school chose this category for “spirit” I didn’t need to think too deeply about what I would wear. Volunteer work is an integral component of my life outside of the classroom. At times, it has taken a back seat to child rearing and intense academic demands. Wearing a red smock from the University of Virginia Volunteer program brought many quizzical looks from students and faculty alike. After all, once an individual goes to work, we assume that they are grown up. Several transitions between work and home have afforded me the opportunity to participate as an auxilian. In the late 1990’s, Christopher Reeve was invited as the guest speaker for medical center hour. I was both honored and deeply touched to volunteer for this event. Reeve was no stranger to the hospital. His visit was a highlight for the medical community and an opportunity for those who suffer from disability to be reaffirmed by his presence.
Groups and Teams take-away: His book, Still Me, is a reminder to look beyond the exterior of an individual and to embrace what is the essence of the individual. Sometimes groups may need to rely heavily upon courage to surmount difficult tasks.