Monday, October 25, 2010

October’s Superstar: JP Mason Knows How to Build Strong Teams



AmeriCorps Minnesota


Minneapolis Public Schools Special School District 1

Most of the challenges that AmeriCorps members run into while tutoring and serving as school-based mentors don’t have to do with content issues, but with interpersonal ones.

In fact, if you study the 28,896 reflection & reporting logs that AmeriCorps tutors and school-based mentors completed on the America Learns Network between September 2004 and September 2010, you’ll find that the great majority of members identified their most pressing goals and challenges as ones relating to behavior (which, of course, can be triggered by academics-related issues, difficulties that members have in connecting with their students, or a plethora of other variables).  Some of the other top issues revolve around group cooperation, engagement & motivation, and conflict resolution. (Contact us if you’d like to learn more about this research.)

JP served with City of Lakes AmeriCorps last year as a service learning coordinator at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School and is currently a VISTA at the same school, working to build community partnerships while establishing an outdoor learning classroom. 

This past spring, JP found himself needing to create a more cohesive team and work atmosphere among his students.

To address his challenge, created a strategy called A Piece of Peace, a simple, brilliant, effective way to help students hold themselves and their group members accountable to working together effectively and with respect for one another.   We have a feeling that we’re witnessing the blossoming of an incredible leadership development coach.  Learn why by reading his strategy below.

When we interviewed JP via e-mail, he began with, “I absolutely loved my job last year, and this year is no different…. I am a strong proponent of mandatory national service.”

He continued, sharing, “People don't like the word mandatory, especially when it is in reference to something like national service, but I can't imagine any better means of addressing the grievous social inequalities and environmental problems we face.”

JP’s Advice for New AmeriCorps Members
“It's strange to say, but I did a lot of growing up last year by going back to middle school…. Last year, I learned more from listening to and observing students, staff and parents than I did from anything else, and if I ever had to give anyone advice from my year last year it would be just this: to go into your year of service with fewer expectations and to take your time at the beginning of the year to observe and ask questions of yourself before you start asking questions of others.”

JP’s Strategy

A Piece of Peace
(Helping Youth Build Stronger Teams)

Created by: JP Mason, City of Lakes AmeriCorps
(America Learns Network member since 2004)
Topics: Group Cooperation
Team Building
Grade Levels: Fifth - Eighth
Arrangements: Small Group; Large Group
Materials & Resources: - Foam Board
- Velcro
- Multi-colored Paper

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

Situation: I work with small groups of students to build teamwork, conflict resolution, cooperation and leadership skills in a program titled Lead Peace.

I needed a tool that would reward teamwork -- a tool that could be used to help my students really see how the group worked well when certain practices were adopted by the group’s members.  I developed "A Piece of Peace" as a tool to track and give visual feedback to students regarding their impact on the group’s process.

Step 1: Identify 4 - 6 components of a successful team/group.  This could be done with the youth, or chosen by you ahead of time.

Components may include:

  1. Mutual Aid
  2. Accountable Talk
  3. Effort
  4. Respect

Don't stop at just naming the components.  Ask students questions about what each component really looks like to them.  Share your own perspective as well.

For example, "Respect" in your group could mean that:

  • Students do not interrupt you or one another
  • When somebody has a question, students take time to listen and respond to that question
  • No name calling
  • Taking care of materials

It may help to do some role playing with your students.  Regardless do not move forward with this strategy until you know that each student has a firm grasp of what each component means and looks like in practice.

Step 2: Select the components that you want your students to focus on.

Cut out a corresponding number of pieces of paper, so that all pieces join together to make a complete wheel, and so that each piece is a different color of paper.

Step 3: Attach Velcro to the back of each piece of the wheel.

It may help to laminate the pieces of paper first. Attach the corresponding piece of Velcro to a piece of foam board.

JP's Piece of Peace Puzzle

Step 4: Explain to the students in the group that a successfully functioning group/team demonstrates all of the components, and that their goal is to make sure the wheel is completed each day.

A piece can be added to the foam board either by the teacher or by the students if the rest of the group agrees on the decision.  When it's added, the person who adds it needs to describe what she observed or experienced that led her to add that piece.  Like in Step 1, it's not sufficient to simply say, "I added ‘respect.’"  Instead, one might say, "I'm adding respect because Jose did a phenomenal job of really listening to me today when I had questions about the activity.  Even though the activity was easy for Jose, he answered each of my questions and helped me to succeed.  Thank you, Jose."

Important Time Management Notes:
This process shouldn’t interfere with your group’s progress on a project.  It may be best to designate “check in” times for the group to consider adding pieces, or you may just wait until the end of the day.

If this process is too much for a daily activity, consider doing this at the end of the week.  You and your students will reflect on the entire week. 

Step 5: Extension Activity:

At the end of each session or each week, give each student their own puzzle pieces and ask them to connect those pieces that represent how they participated in the team that week.  They can then discuss with a partner or journal about their participation during the current week, how they applied any teamwork lessons from the prior week, and how they hope to improve the next week.  Remind students who have a complete puzzle that there's always room for improvement.

One Last Note: Definitely be consistent in your use of the tool.

This is advice I probably need to listen to as well, as it is not always easy to call attention to the fact that someone is being respectful or helping another person out. Do your best, but don't obsess.


Anonymous said...

Not sure about JP's idea of national service being mandatory; but I LOVE his strategy! Definitely going to benefit from this. Thanks for celebrating his insights and lessons learned!

Anonymous said...

Awesome. Thanks for sharing this.