Monday, June 16, 2014

Working Together Well: Attributes and Student Exercises

Next year we'll continue to do a lot of teamwork. TEAM Research gave us a chance to specifically develop this skill, and now I'm wondering how can I help students to continue to develop their strength in this area next year.

Similarly as schools move from isolation to greater collaboration, I am interested in teamwork on a professional level too. How can we work together in multiple teams to do our best work for and with students, families, colleagues, and the community.

In a world that is increasingly interdependent and densely populated, our ability to work side-by-side for greatest effect is critical. This Forbes article provides a nice framework for developing important attributes for collaboration and teamwork success. Below I've listed the main attributes, and some possible activities for developing these skills in the year ahead.

Active Listening
We'll specifically discuss the criteria related to active listening, and employ that when we do the year's first interviews, and in learning and friendship activities after that. We'll use our get-to-know-each-other first science project to practice active listening and introduce each other's projects online or off.

Relating to One Another
To build students ability to relate to one another, I will have students interview each other with regard to specific math mindset questions. Students will report on each other's answers.

Genuine Interest in Others
Students will interview their buddies and write summaries. They'll also look for ways that their buddy work can meet the interests and needs of their kindergarten buddies. We will also practice behaviors that support "genuine interest in others" as a mainstay of our classroom culture.

With an initial math problem, we'll focus on optimal communication skills. What helped your team communicate about this problem? What kinds of communication were challenging? Let's create protocols for optimal communication related to problem solving and other classroom efforts.

How can we be patient with our kindergarten buddies? When is our patience challenged when working with younger children?  What strategies can we use to build patience?

This will be an early year focus of a class meeting. We'll discuss what trust is and how trust connects to friendships and good working relationships. We'll list criteria that connects to trust and friendship. We'll refer to that list throughout the year and revise and enrich as necessary.

We will develop this through our classroom conversations and our biography studies. We'll discuss how an individual felt in specific situations, and what helped and what did not.

Students in our school have been focused on flexibility with "flex brain" characters. We'll discuss what it means to be a flexible thinker. I'll look for some good literature to support this teaching.

Good Judgement
This is always a topic with young children as they are always learning about judgement. This is where teacher as coach is critical. Also as we discuss the biographies of many STEAM stars we'll look at the judgements they made in their life and consider the strength or weakness of those judgements at different points.

Since a lot of our curriculum will revolve around creating viable arguments, we'll look at those arguments from the perspective of persuasion.

Children are born negotiators. Teachers can boost negotiation skills giving students the chance to express their view point and try to convince you with regard to the many matters they care about. Teachers as coaches can point out strategies that work, and strategies that are less successful in this regard.

Interjecting humor on a regular basis will help to teach humor.

Discussing the role of honesty in the biography presentations, honest discourse and action in class (even when you agree to disagree), and noting that it's best to be honest even if you are wrong with students will build this habit.

Body Language
Pointing out body language that shows respect, engenders empathy and support, and invites others to participate will help to make all students aware of body language affect.

Proactive Problem Solving
Meeting problems with an "Let's Find a Solution" attitude and action will model that positive behavior for students.

Leadership Skills
Explicitly discussing the skills and abilities that make a good leader and listing those skills for all to see will lead this effort. Also a conscientious decision to give every child a chance to lead their group throughout the year will give students a chance to try out and develop this ability.

Good Manners
What are good manners?  What manners make a difference in school life and beyond? Explicit attention to manners at the start of the year will give all students a chance to know and understand the expectations, and then profit from developing strength in this area.

Supporting and Motivating Others
As we work in groups we'll look for ways to support and motivate each other. We'll make discussions about this explicit, and we'll also look for evidence of this as we read the stories of great scientists, technologists, engineers, artists, and mathematicians throughout the year.

As we grow our classrooms and student work to best reflect the culture outside of school and the future with regard to the skills and abilities students will need to succeed, it's important that we grow students teamwork and collaborative skill and effort. I look forward to embedding this language and actions into next year's curriculum work.