Teaching collaboration is a challenge, whether you are working with kids or adults!
Second graders have begun coming into the Media Lab to work in small groups and develop in Google Drawing a Virtual Neighborhood. They are learning basic mapping skills, compass points, and how to write clear directions. They are also learning how to work in a shared virtual space as their teammates add buildings and landmarks to the map they share.
Some of the groups have the opportunity to learn one of the most difficult collaboration skills there is, how to welcome someone new to the group. Two of the groups began their neighborhood without all their group members. When we meet again, they will need to take the time to explain to the newly arrived members what we did the week before, what they created, and where there is room for the new members to add their own creativity, buildings, and landmarks.
Why do I say this is a difficult skill? Because most groups we try to join as an adult have still not yet mastered it. Leslie Crawford’s post on parent cliques in the Great Schools newsletter describes her experiences trying to volunteer at school. I work with a scout troop whose very existence in dependent on new leadership emerging with new boys, and it is a struggle. Welcoming the newcomer and making them feel a valued and contributing member of a group is hard. Some exceptional leaders occasional emerge (way to go Amy and Renee on the Drill Team!)
Group members who have already devoted hours toward a common goal naturally get to know one another. They share experiences that can be called up and referred to with a simple gesture or phrase. The person who was not there for the original experience feels left out.
I worked with an exceptional group of teen leaders years ago at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish. We traveled together to the shores of Lake Erie and took part in an amazing leadership weekend, a weekend that included the concepts of ‘noise’ interfering with communication (we can have internal noise of unrelated thoughts as we try to listen, and we can have external noise that interrupts or drowns out the person speaking). On the way home from the leadership retreat we stopped at an Eat n Park. Gathered in a booth, a group of eight of us were transfixed on the story one girl was telling when another (Shannon) randomly interrupted with, “the waitress forgot my lemon wedge.” Distracted for only a second, the speaker continued and we again started to fall into the details of her story when once again Shannon interrupted, “Has anyone seen the waitress, I want to ask about my lemon wedge.” We looked around, saw no waitress, and once again the story resumed. A third time Shannon interrupted, “I really wanted a lemon wedge.” One of the boys grabbed her hand, looked her in the eye, and said, “Shannon, your internal noise is becoming our external noise.” at which point the group collapsed in laughter (one of the joys of working with teens!).
The story doesn’t end there. From that moment on, whenever we were working or teaching together and someone’s internal thoughts were an interruption to the group, someone from the retreat would point, shout “Lemon Wedge” and the group would once again collapse into laughter. I noticed the effect this had on newcomers who had not been on the retreat, standing there, kind of smiling or trying to laugh along with the group, but clearly clueless as to what was so funny.
This led to the naming of a new leadership role on our team, the role of storyteller. This person was charged with shadowing the newcomers and providing them stories to help them understand the language, inside jokes, and now missing pieces that brought clarity and helped them feel a part. The group was charged with being patient with the storyteller, as they heard again for the umpteenth time the story of the lemon wedge.
What are the lemon wedges in your group, the epic fails, the momentous triumphs, or the quiet moments of a shared storied that reduced the group to hilarious belly laughs? Have you appointed a group storyteller yet?