Written by Kelly Bethke
There are case studies sprinkled across many publications that have explored the dynamics of teamwork and individual leadership styles. How might this apply to our young learners who have their own independent thoughts and are beginning to play and work in team settings?
ALL ABOUT THE BLEND
Team function has a general, common structure.
The first thing that happens is formation. As adults we’re catching on that diversity is key when it comes to success, but for kids, we often want to work with our buddies or those who seem most similar to us. Heck, we still fall to this as grownups in the workplace at times.
There’s a safety and comfort in what we can identify as familiar.
What has been confirmed is that diversity is the key to a high performing team. So let’s do our best to situate or expose our children to a broad range of race, culture, gender, socio-economic, learning style and age populations. This will, hopefully, allow us to embrace diverse and productive teams from an early age.
As groups are formed in play or school settings, we often find natural role ownership within the team. Unless titles are assigned, a leader or two tends to step up and begin to organize; someone is willing to take notes, someone wants to help prototype, etc. Here is where innate relative tendencies show up. By relative, I mean that while Joanna might not typically step in to organize, there may be instances where no-one else seems to initiate leadership and Joanna will step into that role. There is also often a final role to fill and that may land with the person who hasn’t chimed in for a specific task early on. This process occurs fairly naturally for kids. I think that a nice opportunity at this stage is to encourage kids to take turns or try out different roles so that they can explore and appreciate the different types of participation needed for a functioning team.
INDIVIDUAL V. TEAM
The process and function of teams can be broken down and picked apart ad-nauseum. So with all that we know about teams and teamwork in the modern workplace, how do we best encourage the young up-and-comers how to contribute and perform well on a team while developing or maintaining their own individual thinking style? We can begin to praise unique thought and make teamwork a more dynamic physical space that invites all cognitive learning styles. We can support getting each member of the team’s voice heard. With a diverse set of inputs, there will be some disagreement or tension. Bring this up! Prepare kids to talk about it rather than sweep it under the carpet. This will help to keep individual thought alive while practicing conflict resolution skills.
Part of why there are so many articles and books out for adults on this topic is because we come from an education system that, for the most part, hasn’t changed much over the years. We’re taught to sit quietly, raise our hands with ideas, not speak out of turn and think within specific parameters. It makes sense that even with some improvement over time (eg. Socratic circles, stem carts, creativity workshops) that our youth would begin to shake off some of the education systems restraints, but it will require really disrupting things to align them with a personal and contributive path toward success.
WHO’S THE BOSS?
How about the radical idea that we let the kids lead on this one? At young ages, children haven’t been told “no” or had to wait their turn to speak (only to forget that spark of an idea) as many times as we adults have. The world hasn’t yet imposed upon them as many social constructs: the rules, the “impossibles” or suggestions that perhaps someone isn’t good at art/math or whatever subject a peer or adult along the way inadvertently squashed for a student.
Let’s ask some open-ended questions that allow kids the freedom to share their wild or cautious ideas in a group setting. I’m quite sure we adults will learn a great deal. Here are a few ideas:
Start with the adult ground rules:
Keep curious as you facilitate
Skip leading or “yes/no” prompts
No interrupting on your part
Then pepper in some open-ended questions for the team to discuss:
- What role(s) are you interested in taking on?
- What questions do you have about the role(s)?
- What is the goal? Or, What challenge are we using teamwork to explore?
- What barriers to our solution might we encounter?
- What will we do when we don’t agree?*
- Is there a due date for this team’s efforts?
- How can we gather information or data?
- What supplies or resources might be needed?
- Who can we ask for help?
- What is/are the most important goal(s)? Why?
- How might we measure that?
- What are some of the “to-do” items for the group?
- What questions do we have?
*assuming conflict will arise makes it acceptable and allows the kids to plan for it a more approachable way
START IT UP
How to encourage independent thinking while also guiding a young learner to excel in a team setting is a fantastic challenge for us as adults within our own communities. I suggest reaching out to Start-Up Kids Club to see about giving a small bit of your time toward mentoring a class for just an hour. It’ll be a great start and will absolutely make a difference in the lives of some amazing kids. You can support Start-Up Kids Club by clicking here.
About the Author
Kelly Bethke has an MBA in Sustainable Systems with a focus on organizational leadership and social impact finance. A passion for healthy people, planet, and profit is the driving force behind the work she does. As a mother and nature enthusiast, Kelly works to create healthy, balanced enterprises that will support a prosperous future. Collaborating with StartUp Kids engages her love of the local community and the unique energy that comes from entrepreneurship.