As in most physical education programs, it has been a tradition for my team and me to kick off the school year with two weeks of team building and cooperative activities. Not only is it the perfect way to get to know students, but it also encourages them to communicate (talk to each other – a dying art!) and problem-solve in small, medium, and large-sized groups. Through these cooperative activities, we are able to determine which students work well in group settings, and those who may have difficulties within this dynamic.
As a reference for me, my team, and of course, our students, we developed THE RECIPE FOR TEAM BUILDING. This recipe consists of six key ingredients we feel are essential to being a positive, contributing team member.
1. Respect Your Teammates
An important role for teachers is to create diverse groups. We consistently encourage our students to be willing to work with each and every classmate. This is why we deliberately group students who do not generally work or play together throughout the day. With this approach, repeated reminders regarding respect, patience, and flexibility are paramount.
2. Evaluate and Understand the Goal
In order for a group to be cohesive and for each member to perform at their maximum capacity, the task at hand must be comprehended by all. We encourage our students to have a conversation immediately after a challenge is presented. Along with sharing ideas on how to tackle the challenge, this is the time when each member assures one another that they understand the goal. This alleviates any doubt or confusion, helping the group to run effectively on all cylinders.
3. Communicate Clearly
So much is involved in communicating clearly. This includes sharing ideas, taking turns speaking, encouraging each other, and making compromises. Especially with younger and larger groups, this can be the most challenging ingredient. For many students, their idea is the only idea, therefore neglecting to consider the thoughts of others. Consistent practice and modeling can help strengthen this essential ingredient.
4. Include Everyone
I always tell my students that collaboration is just a fancy word for working together nicely and respectfully. It’s also important for them to realize that collaboration means that EVERYONE in the group has an important role to play. If anyone feels left out, then the success of the team is limited, even if the goal is accomplished. My colleagues and I always celebrate teams that didn’t necessarily complete the goal but cohesively worked together, including everyone throughout the challenge. In our opinion, that is a successful group. More on this coming up.
As mentioned above, each group member needs to feel supported, be heard, and participate in the challenge in order for the group to accomplish complete success. There are times when a student chooses to be silly rather than problem-solve with the group. Often it’s because the student feels left out or maybe still doesn’t understand the plan of attack. When this happens, and the group is unable to encourage this student to return and participate, it’s a good idea for the teacher to step in to provide the tools to do so. In some instances, a private conversation with the student may be necessary. Processing at the end of a challenge is a great time to discuss situations like this.
On other occasions part of a group or even the whole group can become careless or sloppy when taking on a challenge. This can occur when they begin to rush or turn the challenge into a race. I often preface a challenge by reminding students that success is not defined by who finishes first. Success is defined by the process. Also, as mentioned above, individual students can stray away from the group when they feel left out or ignored. When all members are locked into the challenge success is almost always guaranteed.
6. Errors are welcome, make mistakes!
This ingredient can seem unnecessary, similar to that pinch of salt you add to a banana bread recipe. Most students will tell you that making mistakes is essential for learning. If at first, you don’t succeed, do you give up and continue the same process, or do you regroup, go back to the drawing board, and try again? Some of my most successful groups are the ones who fail over and over and over again. What makes them special is their fortitude and resilience, their ability the pick themselves up and try again.
Friday, September 1st
On this beautiful fall day, I am one of three teachers on recess duty. A sense of calm fills the playground – ready for the children who love their time outside. Minutes later, 80-3rd-grade students explode onto the playground for 30 minutes of learning.
As I stand on one end of our track, I’m in a centralized location where I witness the outdoor education in full swing:
In the middle of the field, I observe the early stages of a football game developing. The students thoughtfully divided the teams, ensuring the balance of power was relatively equal. I can tell the players are satisfied based on how quickly the game begins. Throughout the game, I witnessed several small confrontations, all of which were resolved through redo’s, rock, paper scissors, or simple problem-solving.
Just off the track, there was a game of 4-square taking place. Students were lined up, patiently waiting their turn to enter the game. Again, like the football game, there were several close calls challenging the students to resolve conflict. Despite the disputes, the game would consistently resume with no hard feelings and continued excitement.
I quickly noticed the football game abruptly stop. There was a small group of boys and girls who wanted a space to play soccer. I wanted to intervene and share my solution, however, I resisted the temptation to help. Instead, I observed, and within no time the football game quickly moved to the far end of the field, creating ample space for the soccer game.
I then look beyond the track into Discovery Playground. Six students were gathering wood and branches, dragging them to a triangular structure constructed out of long sticks, resembling a tepee. To the left I witnessed two more students pretending to hunt. I soon realized they were preparing for the “long winter ahead.” Their game was based on, The Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was impressed by their connection to literature.
As I turn to my right, toward the playground equipment, I see a flurry of activity, which at first glance, seems to be chaos. There were boys and girls running in all directions. Some were fleeing while others were chasing. The game appeared to be a variation of Capture the Flag. To an outsider, the rules seemed complicated and without boundaries. To its creators, the game made perfect sense.
Finally, the whistle blows and recess has come to an end. 3rd Grade students immediately race to their lines. Within seconds, there are 4 lines standing at the door, ready to go inside. Three students are packing up the recess equipment into their bag when they realize a basketball is missing. Another student sees the ball near the courts, hustles over to get it, and places it in the bag.
NOW, recess is complete. Another day in the students’ outdoor classroom is a success.
From a teacher’s perspective, recess duty is an opportunity to watch students grow physically, emotionally, and socially, in an unstructured environment. It’s a time when we put the plan book away and allow PLAY to provide the lesson.
Interested in more of my work?
The Scrabble Relay is the perfect way to combine PE, language arts, and math. The Scrabble Relay set includes instructions, 100+ Scrabble tiles each with a point value, and scorecards.
Using the tiles collected during the Scrabble Relay, spell, and list as many words as possible on your Scrabble scorecard.