Exploring the Power of Group Thinking

Teamwork is powerful.  Working with others to achieve a common goal is such an invigorating experience.  In education, it’s what we do for kids.  Collaborative inquiry into how best to help students learn brings meaning to our profession.Fry Kyle Toronto Crit win

Back when my son was building his cycling career and he got his first really big win, one of his sponsors (Kieran Andrews) took all of us aside and wisely told us how very rare and special it is to win a cycling race.  He said that even though it is always the goal to win, so many things and people must line up perfectly for a win to happen, that we must remember to cherish it, to thank those who made it happen, and to keep working hard.

Kyle’s coach at the time, Scott Murison, always approached his work with our son as a member of a team, reminding us as parents that our support was important, but that it was Kyle’s overall development as a person, not just as a winner, that we all needed to work together on. It was a valuable time for all of us as we worked with sponsors, doctors, cycling federations, doping control, media, teammates, cycling shops, mentors, and cycling clubs, always keeping in mind Kyle’s long-term best interests.  I know that Kyle’s recognition of the importance of the support of a long list of players has helped his successful transition in his new career as a geologist with Goldcorp, and his understanding of the power of positive teamwork still informs his approach in his new role.

Provincial championships in Elliot
Provincial championships in Elliot Lake

I am thinking about this today, not just because it is the last day of the Tour de France, and we are still glued to the television as a family, but because early this morning I read a post by Justin Tarte, reminding us that everything we accomplish is because of the support of others.

new boat

Last night, my husband and I arrived home to a beautiful meal cooked by our neighbours, after 3 days and 2000 km of driving to pick up a boat we had recently purchased online from a Wisconsin dealer.  We remarked to each other that the fact that absolutely nothing went wrong was something to celebrate!  We planned meticulously, paid for the boat in advance, researched what we needed for customs, prepped our vehicle, insured the new rig, and tried to account for every possible mishap but at this point in our lives we know that so much can still go awry.

But so many people played a part, from our son who took care of the livestock in our absence to the excellent service we received at Cedar Lake Sales, the advice from friends who have been through this process, the leap of faith our insurance company took in us, the customs employees, old friends along the route, and even our neighbours who fed us last night! So many people pulled together to make this project come together.

fry kyle to crit year 1

But in some teams, not everyone is pulling in the same direction.  How do we decide if it is worth continuing with the team or if it is time to move on and find a new group to work with?

While Kyle often said he could not imagine his life without racing, he eventually found his line in the sand; that point when he realized this was not worth the effort anymore.  In his last national championships, he would discover that his own teammates, who he was working for in the race, were doping.

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Photo Credit: gaspi *yg via Compfight cc

In elementary school, most of my negative report card comments were about my “inability” to do group work. I pleaded to my parents that it was unfair.  The teacher made up  the groups and assigned the topics, ensuring a “good student” was in each group and tacking on a “straggler” in each group so that one person did most of the work, a few other students contributed a pretty title page and a picture or two.  Then of course there were the kids who did nothing but interrupt the work but still got the “A” in the end.  I was always the worker bee, fighting with others to do something, anything, to help.  School taught me to hate working in groups.

Lego Project

I often ask the teachers I work with how they use collaboration in the classroom, and how they ensure that students are benefitting from the work they do together.

Last weekend I was fortunate to spend two full days with a group of passionate people all working toward the goal of convincing the Ontario Government to put the Ontario (Junior) Ranger Program back in the 2014 Provincial budget.  The individuals came from all walks of life, and for different reasons, but they shared one experience, a summer working as an Ontario (Junior) Ranger. It was a life-changing work experience and they want to see the 70-year-old program made available for all 17-year-olds in Ontario.  Working with them, brainstorming, pitching in – showed me what passionate people can do with limited resources to achieve a goal that is meaningful and important to them.

Brick Walls
Photo Credit: lonely radio via Compfight cc

 I have experienced the power of working in collaboration with others who share the same goal, but I do encounter situations that remind of my days as a child doing ‘group work’ in elementary school.  I know that it can take patience to get a team pulling together toward the same goal, but at what point is it time to move on to a different group? At what point do we say that this isn’t worth it any more?  When are the brick walls just to big to climb, and it’s time to jump down and find another pathway around them?

When do we say it’s time to change direction and choose to surround ourselves with people who work passionately while challenging and supporting one another along the way?

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