Introduction When I started writing this book, it was supposed to be just about initiative tasks and leadership. It turned out that I had more time on my hands than I thought and the book became more of a manual on how I teach all sorts of things including leadership, teamwork, responsibility, sportsmanship, group work and communication. It also became a book on the different things that I like to do with groups that allow all of us, especially the less sports minded, to have as much fun as possible. This book is about my attitude towards teaching in general. No, I’m not going to talk about Math or Science but the attitudes that I discuss throughout this book and the philosophy of the activities pervade everything that I teach including Math and Science. Learning and school should be one of the funnest places in a person’s life. I know that funnest is not really a word. My word processor right now is telling me that I have a spelling error but you know, funnest just seems to fit with the way that I like to do things. I could say more enjoyable but that sounds too much like a nice outing on the lake and I’m talking about getting down and dirty and trying to make wherever I am, the funnest place to be. Too often school is not fun. It is work, which is how a lot of people, usually adults, feel that school should be. These same people would say that school should be about preparing children for the real world and the real world and work is not fun so why should school be fun? I would have to completely and without reservation disagree. The real world is fun or at least it can be. Work is fun, or at least it can be. I love being a teacher and I enjoy every day. I love it when a student learns something new. I love it when a student accomplishes something that s/he and everyone else thought was impossible. I love it when a student says something so funny that I laugh so hard that I tip backwards and break my chair. The students all thought that was pretty funny too. There are too many people in this world that don’t enjoy their jobs and don’t enjoy their work. To those people I have just one thing to say. FIND A NEW JOB. When students have fun at school, they want to come to school. When they want to come to school, they will want to learn and when students want to learn, nothing can stop them or get in their way. That’s what the activities in this book are all about. Learning and having fun doing it. For those of you who are reading this and are not teachers and are wondering if you picked up the wrong book, don’t worry. This book is designed to be used by anyone who is interested in improving the dynamics of any group from a bunch of grade 7 students to a group of kids at camp to a bunch of employees at a store to a bunch of executives of a large company. This book is about improving the way that a group works together and developing and encouraging trust and cooperation between the group members. At the beginning of each section, there is a short description of the activities that are contained within. The sections of this book include the following: · Ice-Breakers & Warm-ups: activities designed to help people get to know each other and to lower some of the barriers that people put up. · Games: activities that are designed to be fun and very different from the more traditional sports. · Group Work Activities: activities that are designed to point out and improve specific behaviors necessary for a group to work well together. · Trust Activities: activities that are designed to build trust between group members. · Initiative Tasks: activities that are designed to challenge the group to overcome obstacles and to succeed together. The rest of this section talks about a bunch of topics related to leading these activities. Some of them are specific to initiative tasks and trust activities while others relate to all of them. I would strongly encourage you to read through this entire section before you being using the activities in this book. If you don’t, you might miss some crucial step and end up damaging the dynamics of the group instead of enhancing and strengthening them. What & Why An initiative task is any task or challenge that you give the students that requires them to use imagination, creativity, leadership and teamwork in order to be successful at the task. The benefits of your group participating in regular initiative tasks are amazing. Initiative tasks bring groups together like nothing else. They are shared challenges that can be met only through teamwork and cooperation. They are fun activities where no one person can stand out as being the “best”. They develop and encourage creative thinking, problem solving and leadership. They force the group members to recognize the strengths of everyone in the group. One of the jokes that I use all the time with groups is that initiative tasks are all about teaching people how to cheat on their taxes. Now that I’ve upset both the IRS and Revenue Canada, allow me to explain. Problem solving in the real world is best done by people who can look around the problem and find the loop holes. Problems that seem impossible are only impossible if we follow the rules. Aside from the criminal, there are no rules in the real world. All of the great inventors and problem solvers of the world broke the rules. According to the rules, the world was supposed to be flat, light bulbs were not supposed to work, open heart surgery was impossible and landing on the moon was science fiction. Thankfully, there are a lot of rules breakers out there. Initiative tasks teach people how to break the rules. I talk about this idea a little more later on. One note about initiative tasks. Doing just one as an alternate gym lesson isn’t really effective. Initiative tasks are an attitude. They need to be done on a regular basis in order to accomplish the things that I’ve outline in this manual. Facilitator’s Role This is the hardest and easiest part of initiative tasks. It is the easiest because you aren’t faced with trying to solve the challenge with the group in questions. You don’t have to trust another person to help you and you don’t have to take any risks in front of other people. It is the hardest because once you’ve laid out the challenge and the rules, you have to sit down and shut up. In all other physical activities, the coaches play an integral role in trying to help the participants in being successful. This includes giving direction and hints in practice and in the actual competitions themselves. You can’t do that here. In fact, once you given the go ahead, you can’t do anything. If it helps, tape your mouth shut and sit on your hands; that’s what I have to do. You’ll be watching your group doing things that are totally unsuccessful and you’re going to want to help them. The problem is, if you help them, you just blew the whole purpose of the task in the first place. For them to be truly successful and feel successful, you need to leave them alone, no matter how dejected they get and no matter how ridiculous their solution seems to you. I’ve seen groups do things that I figured would never work and they proved me wrong. Even if you feel that there is really only one way to solve a challenge and your group is no where near that solution, keep quiet, watch and possibly learn. If the situation is getting dangerous or is becoming negatively frustrating, you will want to stop it and bring them back to it on another day. No hints. No clues. You just stop it and come back to it later when they’ve had a chance to think about it. Remember, as the facilitator, your job is to present the challenge in a motivating manner, ensure that the rules are followed and that everyone is safe and then assist the group in debriefing at the end. It is not your job, in fact it is the very antithesis of your role, to step in at any time to give guidance or direction. To do so, takes away from the group’s success. SO DON’T DO IT. The only real downside to doing initiative tasks is that you don’t get to participate except as the occasional bog monster. As fun as that is, it’s not very challenging or positive. Your job is to stop the group from being successful. I have never gotten to participate in an initiative task ever. I’m the “expert” which means that I’m always the one leading the groups. That’s the nice thing about the games. You don’t need no non participating leader there. You can play to your heart’s content. Trying to get up the hill without getting flashlight shined upon me or dodging a well thrown dodgeball while ducking behind our blockades throwing the Frisbee farther than anyone else on the entire team (I do like teaching grade 7. I’m always bigger than them) is a whole lot more fun than standing on the sidelines while the rest of the group throws themselves whole heartedly into the game. Again, it’s an attitude. People that play hard together are far more likely to work hard together. One thing about participating in initiative tasks, I have on occasion made it an extra challenge that not only did the entire group have to accomplish the task but I, as the facilitator, did too. I wouldn’t give any suggestions or help unless told to do so but I had to be included in the solution. In a task like All Aboard, this meant that I, along with the entire group, had to be aboard the small platform. If the group was smart, they would figure out a way to use my bigger size and strength to their advantage. Doing this makes you part of the group and helps to lower some of the barriers the group might have up between you and them. As facilitators, leaders, supervisors or teachers, we sometimes go too far in trying to maintain a professional separation between ourselves and the groups we lead. While some distance should be there to maintain order, it should never be so far as to be unbridgeable nor unapproachable. Having the group include you in their solution can help to bridge this gap. Goal Setting Before a group has started to work on a challenge, you might want to set some goal for the group to meet as part of the challenge. If they have accomplished a certain task, you might want to have them do the same thing only within a certain time period. You might expect them to cross a certain distance for the challenge to be considered met or get the entire group onto a smaller space at the same time. It is this goal setting and defining of what the objective is by the facilitator that makes the challenge what it is. It is also this “setting of the bar” that is one of the difficult jobs of the leader. You want to set it above what you and the group think is possible. Knowing where to set the bar is a matter of judgement and that judgement comes from experience which means making mistakes. If you set the bar too low, the group will easily accomplish the task and miss out on the exhilarating experience of managing the impossible. If you set the bar too high, the group will be unable to accomplish the challenge and feel lousy. In the beginning, it is better to make it easier at the start and then increase the difficulty each time the group is successful. This early success will make the participants feel good about what they are doing and will pump them up for more. They can then use what they’ve learned about each other and themselves at the next level. All good lessons follow a progression. Don’t be afraid to stop an activity and lower the bar a little. Tell the group that once they have been successful at that challenge, you will increase the difficulty again. After a while, don’t be afraid to pull out the stops and put the bar out of reach when you introduce an activity. By throwing themselves at an impossible mountain, human beings grow by leaps and bounds. Make sure that the group is ready for this type of challenge. Don’t rush things or the group could regress into unsuccessful group behaviors. As mentioned earlier, if the group is not ready for this and starts to demonstrate inappropriate group behaviors, stop it and back up. On the other hand, don’t be too quick to pull the plug on some challenge that you have created and that you think might be too difficult and is in fact, impossible. Time and time again, I have watched groups of children and groups of adults accomplish the impossible. There is absolutely no way to describe the feelings that both the group and myself feel when that happens. Cool grade 8 students jumping off of a bench screaming at the top of their lungs and pumped up beyond belief simply because they finally managed to switch places without having a single person fall off is a sight to see. I had thought that I had made it too difficult for them and it did take weeks but when it was done, it was worth it. Limitations (Equipment, group size, room size, etc) Rule number one about limitations….THERE ARE NONE. In other words, if you modify things enough, you can make anything work, anywhere and for any group of people. It may be difficult. It may seem impossible but it can be done. Just because certain things are listed in the activity descriptions like equipment or group size, those are there as general guidelines, not rules. If you are going to use this book effectively, then the first thing that you have to do is to not use this book. Wait a minute that doesn’t make sense. What I mean to say is that there is no one way of doing things. Rules are meant to be broken. Use the ideas in this book as a foundation and then go and do whatever you want. I apologize to the athletic coaches out there who are having chest pains right now at the idea that rules were meant to be broken but that’s the type of attitude that you will need to adopt in order to make the things in this book happen. One of the objectives of many of these initiative tasks is to encourage people to look around the problem and not just through it. Maybe the task is impossible the way you presented it but there is nothing saying that they have to do it that way. Successful problem solvers and inventors clearly identify that one of the most successful strategies in solving any problem is to come at the problem in a new and different way. The obvious approach is not always the best approach nor will it actually solve the problem. Many popular inventions were as a result of the inventor working towards a goal and accidentally inventing something along the way. The popular sticky note is a common example. This means that you might not want to present all of the rules listed under a specific task right away. Many of the rules in this book come from a long history of doing the task and having participants discover a loophole that allows them to solve the problem immediately. Basically, they were cheating. After I congratulated them on being successful, I instituted a new rule to block that route and had them try again. In other words, I encouraged them to try and cheat within the boundaries of the rules. Success at problem solving in the real world relies on people who can look for short cuts and loop holes. Just because you have one method of solving the problem doesn’t mean there isn’t another hundred out there that are just as good if not better. Many of the activities in this book require equipment in order to make the task work. Again, don’t be limited by what is listed in this book. I’ve tried as much as possible to give you all sorts of ideas as to different things that you can use for each activity but if you don’t have that specific equipment available, use something else. For most of these tasks, you can use almost anything. If you don’t have gym mats for Raft Crossing, use big pieces of paper or little pieces taped together. If nothing else, this will add a whole new dimension, as the group members have to make sure that they don’t rip the paper and thus come into contact with the toxic swamp. The key to success with all of the activities in this book is be flexible and be prepared to modify things to work for you. If worse comes to worse, modify the activity so you don’t need any equipment. One of the most listed pieces of equipment is the blindfold. A perfect blindfold would be something like a triangular bandage from a first aid kit or a piece of material that is large enough to be folded a couple of times and then tied around the person’s head. When it comes right down to it, anything can be used as a blindfold. To keep things moving along, I very seldom use formal blindfolds. Tying a sweater around their head, flipping a baseball cap over their face, turning a jacket or sweater with a hood around backwards and flipping the hood up all work. Even just closing their eyes works. Blindfolds are all about trust. You have to trust them that they can’t see out of it and they have to trust you and those around them that they aren’t going to get hurt using it. If you feel that you can’t trust them to not set up the blindfold so that they can see out the bottom, you shouldn’t be moving onto trust activities yet that require a blindfold. Group size is another thing that just needs modification to work. If your group is too small as to present any sort of challenge to the group, you’re going to have to increase the challenge using equipment or other rules. If your group is too big, you’re going to have to either split the entire group into some smaller ones or modify the task for the group as a whole. I discuss groups later but a couple words of caution about trying to do activities with large groups. First of all, make sure that whatever your task is, as many people as possible, if not all, are involved at all times. If they’re not, you are going to have problems. Secondly, make sure that they activity is safe. As numbers increase, the risk of injury does too. It is much harder to keep a large group under control and safe than it is a small group or a number of small groups. You can make any of these tasks work with large groups but you might have to modify the objective in order to make it accomplishable in this century. Large groups simply take more time. Doing an activity like Switching Places and expecting 60 people to completely switch places might be unrealistic although it would be quite the accomplishment. You might want to change the objective so that the people on either half of the bench (quite the bench too) simply need to be standing on the other half and not necessarily in their original order. One last potential area for modification is the room size. If you are trying to do an activity that is best done in a small area and you are in the gym, it is pretty simple to modify. Just restrict the boundaries. I’ve done Mine Field in the whole gym, half of the gym and ¼ of the gym using the lines already drawn on the floor. I’ve also done Mine Field in my classroom and outside on the playing field and in the ice rink. Most of these tasks can be done anywhere. So much so that I almost didn’t mention anything in the Type category for each activity but I decided that I would give you some guidance in this area. The trick comes when you are trying to do an activity that is best done in a large area, in your classroom or a small room. Again, just change the rules or objectives. In an activity like Reach For The Sky, where the challenge comes from the overall height of the gym wall, make it a rule that the participants must stay on their knees at all times and can’t stand up. In an activity like Moonball where you need the freedom to hit the beach ball up into the air, make the small room part of the challenge. With everyone on his or her knees, allowing the ball to hit the floor, walls or ceiling will cause the attempt at the highest number of hits to be over. As you can see, there is nothing that can stand in your way to use these tasks, anywhere, anytime, with anything and with anyone. Failure In today’s society, we have made failure a bad thing. Failure means that you weren’t good enough and you should just quit and try something else. Telling someone that they failed is considered to be damaging to their self-esteem. We’re supposed to spend all of our time setting kids up for success. Unfortunately, when people have experienced nothing but “success”, regardless of how artificial it is, they have no idea what to do when they finally fail at something and trust me, in the real world, they will fail or fall short of what was expected several times. Personally, I believe that it’s because of their lack of preparation for failure that so many people quit whatever it was that they failed at instead of picking themselves back up, figuring out what they did wrong and trying again. This includes jobs, relationships and life in general. It is our job to teach people about failure and how best to handle it and how best to learn from it. It is not our job to shy away from it. Failure is a big part of initiative tasks. If the group succeeds the first time, you need to make the challenge harder until they fail. Yes, that’s right, your goal as the facilitator is to set your group up for failure. It is only through failure that growth can occur. I’ve learned more through any one of my mistakes in life than I have through all of my successes. You will need to spend time teaching your group how to handle failure. You will need to teach them that it is unproductive and useless to blame someone for the group’s failure to accomplish a task. In many of the tasks, it will be as a result of one person that the group failed, just like many group failures in the real world. You have to teach them that the entire group shares responsibility for the group’s successes and failures. If one person fell off the beam and touched the ground, why hadn’t the group done something to insure that wouldn’t happen? You need to teach them how to accept failure without accusations and move on. You need to teach your group how to look at failure as a learning experience. After they are unsuccessful at a task, lead them through a debriefing session and help them examine what went wrong and what can they do as a group to fix the problem. Make sure that you allow no blame to be cast. It’s all right for a group to state that the problem lies with one person’s inability to accomplish the plan and that they need to do something to help that person but it’s not all right for a group to be negative about it. Your group will have strengths and weaknesses just like any group in the real world. As a group, they need to figure out how to best use those strengths and weaknesses. Again, don’t give them any clues. I know that it will be hard but if you even give them one little clue, you will literally be stealing away their glory. No matter how unsuccessful a group is, keep your mouth shut. The more challenging a task and the more failure experienced, the more glorious everyone will feel when they finally do overcome the problem with their own solution. One thing that you might notice is that often times, groups will decide that after each failure that the fault lies with their solution to the problem and develop a new approach or plan. I’ve had groups switch plans ten to fifteen times in an effort to find one that would work. This is where you will need to teach your group that often times it is not the plan that is failing, it’s the group. The group may need to persist and practice a specific plan several times and through several failures before success will occur. Jumping from one plan to another means that the group gets proficient at none of them. I always tell any group that I’m working with right, after they fail for the first time, that you can tell a lot about people by the way that they handle failure. Do they cast blame or do they look for solutions? Do they give up or do they persist regardless of how many times they fail? Leaders don’t blame. Leaders don’t give up. Leaders help others and they persist. Leaders understand that failure is a fact of life and that the sooner they get over it and move on with a new and improved plan based on what the failure taught them, the sooner they are successful at anything that they are attempting to do. It is possible that after a long period of time, your group has been consistently unsuccessful at overcoming the challenge that your presented to them. If this happens, you need examine why. If it’s because the group isn’t working together very well or some other problems, you may want to step away from this challenge for a while, work on some simpler tasks that allow the group to grow together and work better and then come back to the original problem some time later. If it’s because the group is getting bored with the challenge and their constant failure, take a break. Do some other fun things for a while and some other challenges that they can accomplish and then come back to the original one. If it’s because you went too far and created a challenge that your group was not up to meeting, you failed. With experience and practice, you’ll learn how far you can go. To avoid this problem, always start slow and with fairly easy problems in the beginning and increase their difficulty after every success. Your group needs to learn how to work together before they can tackle the really challenging problems. It also never hurts to let them get good at a specific problem and understand the basics and then increase the difficulty by putting things further away then before or giving them fewer aids. Remember that it is your overall goal to get your group to a point where you do present to them a seemly impossible task and let them go at it. Also remember that just because it seems impossible to you and them does not mean that it is. I’ve had several groups accomplish the impossible. I really didn’t think they or anyone else for that matter could do it, but they did. One of the things that I do if I feel that I’ve finally created a challenge that is extremely difficult is to place a bet. I bet my group a large chocolate cake with enough for everyone in the group that they can’t do the task. That’s right, that they CAN’T. Sounds pretty negative and mean eh? Actually, what always ends up happening is that this really riles the group up. How dare I think that they CAN’T do something? This bet or dare motivates the group like nothing else and away they go. I had one group of grade 7’s persist for 3 weeks, an hour every day at trying to accomplish one of the tasks. When a couple of them started to get a little bored, the rest of the class told them to smarten up and get with the program and sure enough, after 3 weeks, the entire class accomplished the task with no problems. Now, the fact that there was a chocolate cake on the line probably didn’t hurt the motivation. I wouldn’t recommend that you give prizes for success every time and I never do this at the beginning of a program. I usually do this in the middle of the program as an extra motivator and a bit of fun. Oh yeah, I also enjoy eating the chocolate cake when they finally succeed. Once again, I will repeat what I said earlier, failure is not the bad thing that we have made it out to be. It is this negative belief towards failure that has created so much of it around us. Failure is a fact of life. The real issue is how to deal with it and succeed in spite or even because of it. That’s what your objective should be. Groups & Competition Simply put, some activities work with large groups of people and some don’t. If you have too many people trying to work together to accomplish a task you will probably run into a number of things. You will have a number of people who are not actively involved in solving the problem at hand, either mentally or physically. This can result in a number of problems including boredom, fooling around, etc. To combat this problem, you can break the larger group into two or more smaller groups and each group is responsible for solving the problem as a group. Some of the games in this book actually require you to break the larger group into two or more groups that are playing each other. This leads me to the next problem that might arise, competition. Competition in and of itself is not a bad thing. It can actually be quite a good thing. Human nature is competitive and many of our greatest achievements have been as a direct result of competition. The problem with competition is that it usually results in there being a winning team and a losing team which does not do a whole lot for fostering the overall teamwork approach that these tasks and games are trying to create. So how do you do it? Good question. Methods that have worked for me in the past include: 1. Making sure that I have a bundle of variations of each activity so if a specific group is successful at a task, I have something else ready for them so they can continue being challenged without pause. 2. When one group has completed the task, their job is now to help the other group(s) accomplish the task by cheering them on, offering advice or physically assisting them. 3. If it is a game that actually involves one team playing another, don’t keep score. GASP!? How dare I say this?! You’ll be surprised by how easy it is and how quickly people accept it. I haven’t kept score in a game for years and I don’t intend to start. People will just play for the joy of playing as long as you set up properly. Sometimes for fun I’ll state that next goal wins just to rev both teams up at the very end but no one walks away from this feeling too much like the winner or loser. 4. I also make sure that I continually change the group members around so that I don’t end up with a specific group of people identifying with only each other within the overall group. If you allow “cliques” like this to develop, you will have difficulty maintaining the overall group cohesion. 5. You can also try to have the different groups in different areas or rooms so that they are basically unaware of what the other group is doing. You will need to make sure that you have sufficient safety supervision of the groups. 6. For really large groups, I have set up a number of initiative task stations with different tasks at each station and each group goes around and spends anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half at each station and as a group attempts the task. Each station has its own facilitator who makes sure that they debrief with the group. The hardest part of doing things this way is that you don’t get to observe every group at every station and see the lessons learned. I have done this one regularly with my grade 7 & 8 students as part of a leadership camp at the start of each school year and it works great. Making Groups and Partners When making groups, it is very important that you approach it carefully. Most of us have experienced the typical way of “choosing” teams and the humiliation of being picked last or close to last. If you are a star athlete and have never been picked last, I suggest that you find an activity that you are absolutely no good at and try to get picked for a team. It is only by having this traumatic experience that anyone who works with children can know exactly what they all fear in gym class. Trust me when I say that it is truly traumatic. Your job as a facilitator is to create a situation where everyone involved can feel good about participating. For this to occur, you need to make the groups, especially in the beginning. As much as possible, try to balance skills and abilities. I’m not a big fan of some of the more creative group making approaches like everyone with birth dates that fall on odd days go on this team and those with even birth dates go on this team. These types of systems do not take into account individual skills which means that you could easily end up with one team totally dominating the other one. When one team is able to “beat” another team without expending any effort at all, no one has any fun. Competition is only enjoyable when it is hard. It is your job as the facilitator to create that difficult competition for each team to overcome. One way of doing this is by having everyone partner up with another person that they feel is approximately the same size and skill level. One partner is a one and the other partner is a two. The ones are all in one group and the twos are all in another group. Another way of doing this is to have everyone just stand in a line and you go down the line and place people on one team or another trying to keep the balance of skills between both groups As the group as a whole gets more comfortable with working with each other and understanding the value of sportsmanship, I will often allow them to make their own teams. I inform them that for me to accept the teams that they have created, they must make them as even as possible and make them in such a way that NO ONE feels left out or that they are not as skilled as others. I then observe the process of making the groups and if I notice that anyone is being made to feel poorly about themselves because of the group making process, I take over. It sounds like I’m wasting a lot of time on a minor topic but I feel, through personal experience and observation, that making groups at any age level has a huge effect on people’s self confidence. We constantly are questioning ourselves as to whether or not we are valuable to those around us and too often we feel less than we should simply because of the way that groups are made. It is a skill that everyone needs to learn which is one of the reasons why I keep allowing the people I work with try to make groups in a positive way but also why I take over if I feel that someone is feeling negatively towards the process. One of the hardest moments for anyone, whether they are a child at school or an adult in a university course or training session with people that they are not that familiar with, is when the facilitator says to them, “Everyone get with a partner.” What if the person that I want to be with partners up with someone else? What if I don’t really know anybody? What if I get stuck with someone that no one wants to be with? It is because of these questions and the issues that raised these concerns that I try as much as possible to make the partners for everyone, especially in the beginning. Again, as with my group making, I will allow experienced groups to get together with their own partners. I do inform them that I expect everyone to be taken care of and no one to feel left out or I will make the partners. I also tell them that they should avoid going with the same people over and over again and if I notice this that I will again make the partners. The biggest thing to teach and demand from the people in your group is empathy. You need to let them know how it feels to be the last person picked or the person that no one wants to partner with. After spending time and teaching on this idea of empathy and holding firm to my expectations, the result with my group was that the students who were typically picked last were consistently being picked first as everyone tried to make the group one cohesive unit. I always try to teach my students and get them to live by the motto of “One for all and all for one.” As hooky as it sounds, it works. Debriefing One of the things that you do need to do as the leader is to debrief the group after the initiative task. This means sitting them down in a circle or some formation that allows everyone to face everyone else and discuss what just happened. The task provided the challenge and the opportunity for the group to learn about themselves and about how they work together and the debriefing session afterwards is where they actually get to reflect and learn about what they did, what happened and what they should do next time. If you don’t debrief with the group afterwards, the things that they learned usually get lost. If you don’t debrief afterwards then all you really did was play a game. A fun game but still just a game. As groups work together more often, you can guide them to debrief during the actual task so that they can solve some of their problems before it is too late. One description of debriefing that I’ve always liked is for you to view it as a fishing trip. You can’t just reach down in the water and grab the fish, you have to tease them with your lure. When you get a little nibble, you play with your line some more until you finaly get a bite and you can reel it in. Use the questions below to provoke answers, concerns and more questions. Be ready to follow up people’s statements with more questions that help the group realize what they’ve accomplished and what helped them and what didn’t. You should try as much as possible to use open-ended questions. How did you feel during the activity? What allowed the group to be successful? What just took place in this activity? Avoid asking closed questions: Did you succeed at this task? Was there good commu-nication? Did anyone see examples of leader-ship? All these questions basically result in yes or no answers and that won’t provoke much of a discussion. The key to good debriefing is being able to read the group and their responses and see what you can do to bring out what happened from the group. Be careful about guiding the group to a specific response that you are looking for. If need be, you bring up your own observations after the group has finished. Make sure that everyone in the group has a chance to have their say during the debriefing session. Don’t let one person dominate the debrief process as they might have already done during the activity itself. Especially when you first begin doing these activities with a group, you and they might find it difficult to start sharing things in a debriefing session, especially if you ask some big heavy question right off the bat and then ask for someone to volunteer an answer. Be prepared for a very long period of silence. What follows are some methods that can be used to get a group warmed up and into the debriefing process without a lot of individual risk on their part. All things are easier if you know that you aren’t going to be alone in responding or acting. · Go around the group and each person has to contribute one word, phrase or sentence that describes the whole experience for them as an individual. · Have each person end a phrase in his/her own way. For example: I’m glad that….I wish we had….I didn’t like…...I liked…..I didn’t like….. etc. · Each person holds out their hand with their thumb up, down or somewhere in between measuring whatever it is you asked them to measure. Was the group successful? Did the group work well together? Was everyone involved in a positive way? Once everyone has shown their feelings on the question through the location of their thumb, you can use this information to begin a discussion on why they feel the way that they do. · Ask one volunteer to describe what happened from beginning to end. If someone else feels that the volunteer is missing something, s/he can say “Hold It” and then take up the description from that point and so on. · Use a Polaroid camera or video camera to take pictures or film of the group solving the challenge and then show them to the group. Discussion is sure to follow. The group will be surprised by the things that they see on the tape and did not realize were happening. Once you have the group warmed up, you can then start in with more specific questions. Don’t overdo it. This list is just some suggestions of things that you could ask to lead a group into a discussion and to create a learning experience out of the debriefing session. You don’t have to and shouldn’t ask all of them. · What things interfered with getting the activity done and what could have been done about those things? (no names please) · What things made the activity work better and why? · If you could have had one wish during the activity to help you and your group, what would it have been and why? · If you were going to do the activity again, what would you do the same, different and why? · How did you feel about the procedure your group used? · How does what happened in this activity apply to your real life? · I tried to make the initiative good for myself by... · My highlight during the initiative was... · One thing I have learned about myself from the initiatives was... · A personal challenge I had during the initiatives was... · One strength I have come away appreciating about myself is... · I tried to make the initiatives good for others by... · One thing I have learned about people that I can apply elsewhere in my life is... · How did our team function? · What were some team strengths? · What is one word that would describe why your team was successful? · Did you notice any changes in the team from the start of the initiatives to the end of the initiatives? · Have you gained any insights about teamwork that you can use elsewhere in your life? · What has this team meant to you? As groups become more experienced working on initiative tasks, you can guide them into debriefing on their own during the initiative task instead of just at the end. Since the entire purpose of debriefing is to allow the participants to learn from their mistakes, it is often a good idea to do a “debrief” when the group is not being successful. It gives everyone an opportunity to share some ideas on how to make the group more effective. A couple of potential problems with debriefing in the middle of a task is that the group will spend more time talking and not enough time doing. The one thing that you might need to do as the facilitator is to actually stop the group from debriefing and get them back to attempting the task. Try to avoid stepping in and directing them to the task as this does take away from them succeeding on their own. This might be something that you will want to bring up at the end of the session debriefing by provoking a discussion as to how time was spent talking and how much time was spent doing. This is probably better than you actually stepping in and telling them to get back on task. If they spend their entire time talking, so be it. It’s their challenge, not yours. Another thing that you will probably see them doing is changing their approach to the task after every debriefing or idea brainstorming session. Of course, you and I both know that this is probably not the most effective way of solving a task. They have not really given any one idea an opportunity to succeed nor have they become proficient enough at any of their strategies for it to work but again, that is their problem, not yours. Keep your big mouth and nose out of it. Bring it up during the end debriefing session and for now, chew your fingernails or something. As I said earlier, no debrief means a missed opportunity to really drive the lessons learned during the challenge home. Don’t over do it though. If the group knows that at the end of the task they will be faced with a thirty-minute discussion over every last detail of what happened during the task, it is likely they will not be too enthusiastic about ever reaching the end. Personally, I would rather fail at a challenge than succeed and spend the next thirty minutes to an hour discussing our success. A quality five to ten minute discussion or even no debriefing session sometimes is more valuable than making a group dread doing initiative tasks because of the long discussion at the end. Do it but do it well and quick. Imagination The larger the imagination of the facilitator and participants, the more enjoyable the task will be. Where possible, try to create a fanciful situation that the people find themselves in. Instead of crossing a gym floor, they could be crossing a toxic swamp. Instead of their teacher interfering and causing new problems, it is an evil bog monster that they must avoid. Instead of carrying a glass of water with them, they are transporting lifesaving medicine to someone who needs it. Obviously, these sorts of things really appeal to younger people. I still remember the one group of grade six students who had to help each other cross a rope course. In one group, there were four boys, three of whom were very athletic and one who was not. They had to have at least three people reach the finish in order to actually be able to start the spaceship that would take them to safety. At one point in the course, the non-athletic boy was having major difficulty crossing a balance rope and was about to fall off and into the toxic swamp which would result in him being out of the game. The other three boys had a hold of different limbs and refused to let go even as he told them to and go on without him. It was like a scene out of a bad war movie. He was screaming at them to go on and they were insisting that he was going to make it too through clenched teeth. He did make it through with their help and all of them got to escape. The actual height of the potential fall into the sand below, two feet. But to those grade six students it was 100 feet into a deadly swamp where the evil bog monster awaited. They totally bought into the scenario and had a whole lot of fun because of it. They also felt greater satisfaction at accomplishing the task because of it. This is what imagination can do. It also works with older participants including adults. I had a bunch of teachers that I was doing a session for and it was the raft rescue using gym mats in a high school wrestling room. The wrestling mat was the toxic swamp and the gym mats were their transport pads and of course, I was the bog monster. It didn’t take too long before every adult was right into it, jumping from mat to mat and helping each other through as if their very lives depended on it. They were also very wary of the bog monster. Imagination and fanciful situations don’t work for every initiative task and/or for every group of people. You need to use some judgement before creating some elaborate story as part of the task. You don’t want to turn off a group from trying these challenges. If you aren’t sure if the group will be willing to use their imagination, try some warm-up activities with the group first. As they participate in the activities, you can slowly move onto some of the tried and true scenario initiative tasks. Some of the tasks and games in this book don’t need some creative scenario as part of their presentation. Activities like Moon Ball or Round the Clock just are. A good idea with these activities that don’t really lend themselves well to scenarios is to present them as dares. I tend to start out my presentation of these activities in such a way as to throw down the gauntlet to the participants and dare them to prove me wrong and that they can accomplish the challenge and more. Again, you have to be careful when doing this. If you do this with a group that you are just starting with, it is quite possible that they will simply agree with you that the task is impossible and that they can’t do it. This kind of screws up the whole idea of self concept and team building. Use easier versions of the tasks in the beginning and when they have been successful at those, then you can begin to make them harder and challenge them to accomplish the impossible. Whenever possible, create an actual situation where the initiative task fits in. It requires that both the leader and the group members have to “buy” into the situation. People who can’t buy in, should not participate as they will ruin it for the rest. The more you can “ham” it up and stick to the hamming, the better it will work. After all, there is no real challenge is going across a creative playground simply to get to the other end but crossing a toxic swamp while avoiding killer reptiles and evil bog monsters, that’s just plain fun. Teamwork & Trust One of the goals of an initiative task is to have the group work together as a team. One of the ways that you can accomplish this is by defining success as the entire group being successful. Any one person can probably accomplish the goal, depending on the goal. The real challenge is getting everyone across to the safe area. This means that if one person dies or is unsuccessful, the entire group must start over. This will force the group to work as a single unit. You will have do some work on accepting mistakes and failure otherwise the group will act negatively towards this person. This also ties into the idea of trust. For these tasks to be successful in bringing your group closer and working together more, they need to be able to develop their trust in each other. Any person who would deliberately ruin that trust cannot be allowed to participate. Especially in the younger teenage ages, you will often find one or more individuals who have a hard time in focusing on the objectives and rules of the task or challenge. If their actions are interfering with the rest of the group and wrecking any trust between group members, you need to remove that person immediately and sit them on the sidelines. This is not the best solution as anyone sitting on the side is not learning a whole lot. In fact, I really don’t believe in sitting on the side or outside of the classroom as a suitable punishment at any time but when it comes right down to it, if your choice is between destroyed group dynamics or a person sitting on the side for a bit, have the person sit on the side. You may choose to allow the person(s) to continue with their behavior as another real life lesson. There will be people out in the real world that will not be the most contributing or supportive member of the group. There will be people who do nothing or worse, do something negative that brings the group down. By leaving this person in there, you give everyone a chance to deal with him/her and figure out an effective way of bringing that person into the group as a contributing member. Quite often, the reason this person is acting this way is because s/he feels left out. This is something to draw out in your debriefing sessions. Another solution that I have done include having everyone sit down and making this person the leader. Everyone in the group had to listen to him/her and only follow his/her suggestions and ideas to solve the problem. It’s amazing what happens to a troublemaker when all of a sudden, s/he is put in charge. I’ll never forget the comment from one of my more challenging students who was in charge of the class trying to solve one of the mysteries located in the Group Work Activities section of this book. Everyone was interrupting each other and talking loudly and he was trying to get them quiet and listen to him. He turned to me and said, “I never knew how hard your job really was. I hate it and I’ll never want to be a teacher.” You would have liked to think that this newly discovered information would have led him to be better behaved in the future but no such luck. Oh well, it was funny. Forcing the group to follow a specific person is also a good way to allow some of your more quiet and less aggressive group members to take a leadership role and share their ideas and opinions. You, along with the rest of the group, might just be surprise by what is kept hidden by some of your shy group members. The best way to accomplish this is to make it a rule that only certain people are allowed to talk throughout the activity. Following The Rules The members have to buy into the rules as well as the scenario. You need to set out clear rules and real consequences at the beginning and be able to expect that all of the group will follow them. For an initiative task to work there cannot really be a person playing ref. If you can’t trust your group to follow the rules, you can’t really play the game. Emphasize that these are “real-life” situations. In the real world, if someone touches something that would harm them, there is no ref that tells them, the reality of it catches up with them and they are injured or killed. The challenge that you need to present is for the group to succeed at the task within the rules, not outside of them. It’s like playing an arcade game with codes. While it might be easier, anyone can do it. This means that you have to be able to trust everyone in the group and everyone in the group has to buy into the task as a whole. It Won’t Work If you are reading this and thinking that everything in this book is just great but there is no way that it will work with the group of people that you have, I have to disagree. I’ve done these activities with rich, middle class and inner city youth. I’ve done these activities with 6, 10, 13, 16, 25 and even a bunch of 40 year old people. I’ve done these activities with teachers, students, coaches, players and troubled teens. I have never found a group of people who were not willing, after some work and some warming up, to let everything go, rise to the challenge and just have fun. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not questioning your difficulty and problems with your specific group but I am saying that if you persist and take the time to do the simpler and warm-up tasks first, you will eventually have your group willing to work together, play together and meet even the toughest challenges in this book. I didn’t say it was going to be easy. It might take a very very long time but if you persist, it will happen. Think of it as your very own personal initiative task. Modify things as much as you need to. Simplify things as much as you need to. Some people aren’t into silly imaginative scenarios, at least not in the beginning. I’ll never forget one young lady who was very prim and proper and felt that participation in these activities was very much beneath her. It took a while but I can still see her in my mind screaming her defiance at the evil bog monster that was threatening to pull her into the swamp and her doom as she crossed the rope course and helped her entire group do the same. If it doesn’t work, feel free to contact me. My email address and phone number are listed in this book so that I can receive any new ideas and suggestions from readers. I would be more than willing to help you succeed with your group. How Okay, it’s now time for me to get off of my soapbox and give you a little practical advice on how to actually use this book and do the activities in it in the most beneficial way for your group. First of all, you need to make sure that everyone knows each other. If everyone does, fine move on. Personally, I’ve never been a real big fan of the get to know each other’s names activities but that’s probably because I’ve always been in groups where I did know everyone. If you are working with a group that has come from a bunch of different places and don’t know each other, it’s probably a good idea to spend a little time on the get to know each other’s names activities listed in the Ice Breakers & Warm-Ups section of this book. Pay attention to your group. Some groups will get into these activities and play them until you have to pull them away while others will do what they need to and then want to move on. Once everyone knows each other’s names, you should move on to doing some of the warm-up activities listed in that section. You need to have a group that is relaxed with each other and willing to play, have fun and work together at least somewhat before you dare move onto the Group Work Activities or other sections of this book. Don’t be afraid to tell the group that either. Some groups may come together quickly and be laughing, sharing, helping each other and be ready to move on to more challenging and trusting activities. Some groups may be mired with all sorts of baggage that you will need to help them remove first before moving on. With these groups you may need to provide some variety by moving on the Group Work Activities, the Games or even a few of the simply Initiative Tasks but do not do any Trust Activities or more challenging Initiative Tasks with a group that is bogged down by an inability to lower their barriers to each other and to work together. That is a recipe for disaster. Once a group is ready and you are going to do one of the initiative tasks, gather the equipment necessary, lay it in front of the group, present the scenario, read the rules and then step back. If they ask you questions like, “Can we do this?” refuse to answer. Answering them is basically giving them clues on how to solve the problem. You’ve told them the rules and if they go against one of the those rules you will remind them of it but other than that, they are on their own. Keep an eye on the group throughout their attempts. If any serious negative attitudes start to develop, you should step in and stop the activity. At this point you can either lead a quick debrief on the negativity and on how to prevent it or you can simply pack things up and tell them that they’ll get a chance again tomorrow. This is what I quite often do. No talking, no discussion, just pack everything up and back to class. They learn pretty quick that negative behavior will not be accepted and if they want the chance to accomplish the task, they better keep an eye on it. When the group has been successful, when the group has failed or when the time allotted is running out, lead the group through a debriefing session. As indicated in the debriefing notes previously, don’t spend too much time on the debrief. You want to talk about things with the group to re-enforce any lessons learned but you don’t want to drag things out or bore people. It is very important that if a group was unsuccessful at a task, that they get another opportunity to come back to that task and be successful at it. Nothing leaves a bad taste in the mouth than not having accomplished something as a group and not getting a chance at it again. If this means that you keep coming back to the same task over and over again throughout the year until the group succeeds, then do so. Don’t leave it hanging out there as a big failure banner around their necks. While I mentioned earlier that failure is a good opportunity for learning, it can also be a draining experience on a group if that’s all they’ve experienced. I did have a group leave a leadership camp once on a failing note. All 70 of them were doing the Switching Places task on benches and it had taken them 90 minutes to get to the point that they were at. They were almost done and successful when one student slipped off and touched the ground causing the attempt to be a failure. There was no time for us to try again as this was the last activity before we left for home and I was a little miffed inside by own head that the great feeling everyone was supposed to have being successful at a very difficult task was now ruined. Then I witnessed the most unbelievable thing. Everyone of those grade 8 students approached the poor kid who had fallen off and let him know in no uncertain terms that everything was okay and that it wasn’t his fault. A couple of the more athletic and cool students told him that really it was their fault for not supporting him better. They all knew in their own hearts that they had been pretty much done and when it came right down to it, they were successful and they all knew that. It turned out to be an awesome way to end a leadership camp. They were leaders. That leadership showed up throughout the rest of the year at our school. Another thing to watch for when you are doing any of the activities in this book is boredom. A little bit of boredom can be allowed if for no other reason than as a learning experience. Again, there will be times in the real world, too many unfortunately, where things get boring. It is a necessary skill to be able to work past the boredom and accomplish the task. If you are playing a game and things are getting boring, you’ve played the game too much. One of my rules is to avoid playing any game more than twice in a row. You need to play a game more than once to get everyone into the swing of things and you can always come back to it but playing King’s Court Dodgeball every single gym period is ridiculous. PT Barnum said it best when he said, “Always leave them wanting more.” Move on before they want something else. So good luck and have fun. That's what this book and the activities inside it are all about. Learning and having fun doing so.
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