Communication Build Up

My effectiveness as an instructor for Wild Earth is largely determined by my ability to communicate effectively.

A jackrabbit with large ears.  Source:  skeeze@needpix.com

In the first couple of weeks of my internship (here’s a link to my first post about Wild Earth), I apprenticed as an assistant to different lead instructors, spending two or three days with each instructor and then moving on in order to see the differences and commonalities in their teaching style and skills.  I supplemented this experiential learning with constant questioning in order to fully comprehend what I was witnessing.  I asked questions like:

  • “Why did you choose to let the group choose to explore instead of gathering them for the game we planned?”
  • “How were you able to recognize that the group was on the verge of losing interest when it seemed like they were so excited and focused on making that fire?”
  • “Why did you allow the most disruptive individual to lead the group in shelter building?”

And as I continued to interact with different instructors in different programs, I adjusted the way tI asked my questions to benefit the recipient instead of just me:

  • “How can I support you when you are leading pinch pot making?”
  • “Would it be helpful if I hold the campers’ attention with a game of Flinch Master while you set up Bat and Moth?”
  • “When you announce activities today, is it more useful for me to interject with supplemental information or should I instead wait until the very end of your description?”

 

Wild Earth’s recess and after school programs are built around communication

The Wild Earth program I’m currently working with has me in one of the Kingston middle schools.  My day there generally looks like this: gratitude (we say what we are grateful for) → a discussion of activities for recess → four periods (grades 5-8) of lunch/recess (which might be indoors) → our lunch → afternoon discussion of activities for after school → after school session (which is two periods) → debrief → and finally a discussion of what activities we intend to lead the next day.

Between every school lunch period there is some down time that we often use to discuss how the period went, so at a minimum there are three meetings in a day, but it’s usually closer to seven.  On top of that, we always have a phone on us and sometimes carry two-way radios.  With all that communication going on, what could go wrong?

 

A blindfolded man feels a tree. Source: Harsha Vardhan

I made a disruptive mistake

One day, one of my coworkers and I decided to team up for the afternoon.  I was going to lead awareness skills and Meet a Tree for the first period and she would follow with leading Throw Stick (we set up targets for the students to safely knock down by throwing a stick) for the second.  The group that we had was one of the most respectful, calm, and focused we had had in the last few weeks, and thus the flow of our instruction was unimpeded.

Just as Meet a Tree was finishing up, a second wave of students came out to join the group, which is not uncommon as some students can only make one period and we don’t want to turn them away.  My partner and I had not adequately planned for this particular hiccup, though, and the new mixture quickly descended into chaos – all focus was lost.  We made a rushed decision to split off – she would take the original group and I would redo Meet a Tree with the new individuals.

After the separation, these young pupils of mine were easy enough to manage alone, so much so that we breezed through the activity before the end of the second period.  Without a terminal activity, I opted to ferry them to Throw Stick.

As we approached the designated area, the error of my decision became apparent.  The quiet and committed children who were already engaged in the activity were disrupted as my group charged into the area.  The look on my partner’s face was one of horror and disappointment, and rightfully so.

In an attempt to salvage the situation, I recalled the students I brought and we walked back to the school for an unrelated closing activity.  After we sent the students home, we debriefed and discussed what had happened.

Although my partner and I had talked about taking the groups separately, I did not register that that meant until the period was over.  And regardless whether I’d understood that, the initial chaos when the second set of students joined the original group should have clued me in.

 

Wild Earth communicates encouragement

I could have expected my partner to spell out for me that it was important we not reconvene, but there was also a tool I neglected to use: the two-way radio.  That day I learned a valuable lesson: call your neighbors before you come over.

I also learned that group composition can determine group dynamics – it took only a small addition to shake up the whole crowd, and in fact it was actually one student in particular who rallied the others (you can read more about group dynamics with this downloadable pdf).

Kingston middle school students enjoy a shelter they built from natural materials. Source: Craig Diaz

Most importantly, however, I learned how much the instructors of Wild Earth care about each other.  My partner said that she thought it was clear that we were going to stay separated and calmly asked why I chose to disregard that.  I let her know that my brain did not register that as clear, and she didn’t react with anger or frustration, just support for how we can avoid these situations in the future.

 

Wild Earth is committed to team relationships

This and other experiences with Wild Earth prove to me that the organization values its employees and invests in conflict mitigation.  The leaders consistently remind us that we’re all human beings and that it’s okay to miss the mark sometimes.  Every team member is built up through relationship and empathy, not punishment and shame.

Because of Wild Earth’s attention to mental and emotional well-being, I find that I am not only more motivated to do well, I am able to pass that compassion on to the children that I work with.  Being supported in this way means that as an environmental educator my lessons will have a lasting positive impression on the children I teach.

 

 

 

 

 

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