Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

Pulling Your Weight.

I have a confession, which long time readers will already know. I can’t stand icebreakers. It dates back to college when I joined a million clubs to bulk up my resume for graduate school* and every single group had the stupidest ice breakers (e.g. what is your favorite scab or scar?). Gross. But in education, we just love the ice breaker, so each year as I gear up for back to school meetings, I gear up for ice breakers.

I also do not care for the forced team-building activities, like untangling the human knot or doing a ropes course (or, for that matter, going to hippie education conferences with interpretive dance, labyrinths, and sacred objects**). Perhaps it says something deeper that I really don’t want to do a “trust fall” with people I just met? In any event, I think unstructured team building with the theme of “let’s eat this food and talk” is better.

A few years ago, I was asked to go on a team building 20-person kayak situation for one of my schools. The symbolism was so great, I couldn’t turn it down. I mean, 20 people working together for one goal? It could be a motivational poster. What would it look like if the school psychologist declined to be part of a synchronized, effective team of educators? Plus, it was better to be outside in nature than in a stuffy hot professional development room talking about writing rubrics.

It was a disaster for me, psychologically speaking.

We had our practice session in the morning, where we all got on indoor stationary kayaks. I can be competitive from time to time, so I was there, trying to go faster than everyone else, making the strongest whooshing sound and getting the most rotations per minute. The coach reminded me that the objective was to all row together. Fine. So I slowed down and we got in a rhythm, rowing together (symbolizing shared work load, common goals, and something else).

We finally made it out on the water. We were ready. Our multidisciplinary team of cohesiveness was ready to set sail on a new school year. (why isn’t there a sarcastic font? I’m going to invent that). Anyhoo, it started out pretty shaky, and the instructor started guiding us with her words (pull, bend, release, pull bend release) and 19 out of the 20 staff got it. The one who didn’t was right in front of me. No matter what the instructor said, she was totally off and she didn’t even realize it. I found myself getting super annoyed at her. I reminded myself about learning curves, and tried to focus on keeping time with the others. But she was distracting me with her inefficiency. I started to superimpose thoughts about her performance as an educator on to her performance as a rower. She doesn’t pull her weight! She’s holding back the whole team! I know! It’s not cool, but I couldn’t help myself. I was thinking in metaphors all morning and I couldn’t stop.

Fast forward a few years. She was still struggling as an educator (I can’t speak for her improvement in water sports). She seemed impervious to suggestions, coaching, modeling, peer support, anything. Her classroom was so chaotic, I had difficulties being in there for more than 5 minutes. Then, in her fourth year, things began to click for her. She turned a corner in her learning and seemed to get in her rhythm.

I have never been a teacher, so I can’t say what a normal learning curve is for getting in the rhythm. I just know that during this year’s ice breakin’ team buildin’ time, my New School Year’s Resolution is to be more patient and understanding of those who are still navigating those bumpy first few years waves. I know if someone had put me under a microscope in the first few years of my practice as a school psychologist, they would have likely been annoyed at my incompetence. Thankfully, I stayed the course and rode the waves of my learning curves-—now I’m sailing away, with my course charted and…oh forget it. I’ve filled up my metaphor quota for the year.

* If you can get your hands on a PsiChi Psychology Honor’s Society recruitment video, circa 1998, you will see me with ugly hair and bad acting trying to promote membership.

**I had forgotten to bring a “sacred object” to this educational conference, so 2 minutes before the “ceremony,” I rummaged through my car and found my coffee mug. I looked shallow and weird as I described how important coffee was in my life as an educator, and the next girl brought an amethyst necklace that was given to her by her grandmother, a teacher for 45 zillion years or something.

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Comments on Pulling Your Weight.

  1. Dr. Tonya says:

    OK, I love your concept of "New School Year's Resolutions" that I am going to use that as…you guessed it…the icebreaker at my next RtI in-service I have to give this week. It is perfect! Thank you!

    Full disclosure: I don't mind the ice breakers so much, however corny they are – but the 'team building' exercises are dreadful. I agree with you there.

    Finally, in reading what you wrote about your rower teammate, I could not help but to think that has to be how many teachers feel about that one kiddo that cannot keep up with the class, no matter how many interventions are put into place. The frustration that must arise when the rest of the class is ready to move on but that child just "does not get it." Something to think about.

    I love your blog and appreciate all of your posts! School started here August 1 so I'm already back into it all full-swing! Enjoy the rest of your summer.

  2. vndshowell says:

    Is it bad that the question that comes to me after reading this blog is….Why ISN'T there a sarcastic font? I could really use that. Seriously.

  3. I was there and you know you loved the interpretive dance part of the retreat. I did feel like you were holding up the labyrinth with your pauses for rumination, so it must be karma. 🙂

  4. Rebecca says:

    @Alliance/JF: I wasn't holding up the Labyrinth, I swear! If anything, I had labyrinth-rage at that woman who danced around every corner and then curled up in a ball in the middle at the end.

    I secretly did like the interpretive dance. Busted.

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