Monday, November 3, 2008

November 2008: Eldon Peters, Our “Think Fast” Superstar


Background

November 2008 America Learns Strategy of the Month

Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate

Leaders constantly make quick decisions with imperfect or scarce amounts of information. Doctors, politicians, police, entrepreneurs and parents confront these challenges daily. How can tutors and mentors provide the children they're serving with a safe place to practice and develop these essential skills?
Just ask Eldon Peters.

Eldon has mentored for two years through Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate, a mentoring program of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. He created a phenomenal strategy to help his mentee practice the art of making quick decisions when one doesn't have all of the information one would like to have.

Get inspired and see why Eldon is our "Think Fast" Superstar by reading his strategy below.

(PS: Please note that we’ll be taking a hiatus in December to set up our new America Learns Network Superstars site, http://networksuperstars.net.)

More About Eldon

nov08_mentor_eldon2

Graig Meyer, BRMA's coordinator, had this to say about Eldon:

"Eldon Peters is one of our most creative mentors. When I read his logs on America Learns each week, I'm always impressed with his creative strategies for making learning enjoyable. In this strategy, he shows us how to help students take risks without fear of failure. That is an important skill for all young people!"

The Strategy

BIKING TO STRONGER LEADERSHIP SKILLS
(Developing Quick Decision Making Skills)

Created by: Eldon Peters, mentor, Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocate (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
Topics: - Building Leadership Skills
- Deciding What to do Together
Grade Levels: Fourth - Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One
Materials: - Bicycle
- Helmet
- Reflective clothing
- Safe area for biking that your mentee is unfamiliar with
- Optional: map of the area

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Situation: I want my mentee to develop strong leadership qualities, one of which is being able to make quick decisions when one doesn't have all of the information one would like to have. So, I tried to think of a creative and safe way for him to build that skill.

I ended up planning a biking activity where he would need to take the lead. We planned to bike around our local university campus and end up at an ice cream shop.

If you can't take a bike ride, please see alternatives in Step 4.
Step 1: Go on a simple bike ride in a safe area that's new to your mentee.

Ask your mentee to take the lead for at least part of the time.
Step 2: After you ride through the area a bit, stop in a safe place and explain the following:

"Leaders often have to make fast decisions when they don't have a lot of time and don't have all of the information they'd like. Today, we're going to focus on making smart, quick decisions. When quick decisions don't work out, good leaders analyze the situation and make corrections quickly. Sometimes, those decisions that seem bad at first end up opening new opportunities that nobody would have seen otherwise. Your challenge is to make those decisions and then decide what to do with the consequences of your decisions."

Set a target of ending up somewhere, such as an ice cream store. Offer your mentee some initial guidance, such as telling him that the store is in the area you already rode through. Another idea is to give your mentee a basic map of the area and explain that, "We are right here on the map. Somewhere in this area (circle the area), there's a Baskin Robbins. You're going to have to find it. I'm not going to give you any additional directions or rules besides making sure that we're together at all times and that you wear your helmet."

The mentee is not allowed to ask you which way to turn, but rather to lead while you follow. If he goes in the wrong direction, he must correct the problem while still demonstrating confidence and competence.

If your mentee has a tough time finding the place, you can give him additional guidance such as, “Strong leaders don’t operate in complete isolation. You can ask people we pass or somebody in a local store if they know where the Baskin Robbins is.”
Step 3: Once you reach your target, use that time to review with your mentee the lessons learned and how these apply to other real world scenarios.

Questions you may ask include:

a) How are you feeling about this experience?

b) How do you feel about the quality of the decisions that you made?

c) How could you have made better decisions?

d) Do you feel that you made any decisions that didn't have the outcome you desired? Were all of the decisions that didn't lead to favorable outcomes "bad" decisions? What new information came about as a result of those decisions?

e) How does the experience or anything we've discussed over the past several minutes apply to your life right now? How does it apply to the goals you have for yourself?
Step 4: Alternatives to bike riding

What if bike riding doesn't work for you and your mentee? Here are a few other options to reinforce the same skills.

- Trails, Parks, Malls, and City Streets -- You can really accomplish this task by walking in lots of public areas. If you've got a starting place and an end goal in mind, hand the mentee a map (and possible a compass), and let the mentee lead.

- Eating Out -- Take your mentee to a new restaurant and explain that he can only read the menu one time before deciding what he’ll eat. He has to make a quick decision about what to eat, then live with the consequences.

- Create a Game -- Create an imaginary situation where your mentee has to make a series of quick decisions. Perhaps it's a situation where someone is injured and the mentee has to decide how to care for the person and get the care that they need. Or it could be a scenario from the news where the mentee is a leader who has to make a decision that some politicians are grappling with (such as the current issue over whether the federal government should bail out the Big 3 U.S. automakers). In either case, you should set limits on how much time the mentee has to make a decision, and then have a range of positive and negative consequences for him to grapple with.

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How did we get a hold of this strategy?

Since 2005, Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate has used the America Learns Performance Measurement & Learning Network to track the progress of and provide ongoing guidance and support to its mentors. The Network helps organizations like BRMA to increase their impact while reducing substantial costs and workloads around volunteer tracking, evaluation and support. A key aspect of the Network allows organizations to constantly capture the amazing strategies their volunteers create (like Eldon’s strategy) and to share those strategies among their volunteers when the volunteers feel that it’s timely and meaningful to do so.

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