Struggling Through Team Building

The year started the same way many theatre programs across the country start their year. Team building. However, I think most high school students see that as just something they have to suffer through before getting to the really important part of the year – acting. Honestly, I get their point. However, I made them push through even longer this year. We spent more time on that because if I don’t have a group that trusts and respects each other, how can we possibly accomplish anything meaningful. And these team building activities revealed a lot. One activity was too difficult to do in the large group that I had, so I split them up Theatre 2 vs Theatre 3 – who could accomplish the goal the fastest. The result was fascinating. Theatre 2 managed to work through the problem in about 20 minutes. Theatre 3 ended up fighting or goofing off and it led to me threatening to kick 4 senior boys out of my class forever.
Was I surprised by these results? No. Frustrated? Of course.
So, that left me with a challenge. How do I get this group of advanced students to give up fighting and start supporting one another? How do I change a culture of snarky put-downs into one that will encourage growth and risk taking? Is it even possible? The students of this generation seem to delight in their sarcasm and revel in their subtle cruelty.
One way I have attempted to tackle this is Compliment Friday. Every Friday I randomly select a student to sit in the middle of the circle and every member of the class offers them a compliment. This immediately revealed something about the class – they are incredibly divided into smaller groups. Every week, even 10 weeks into the year, several students start with, “I don’t really know you, but you seem . . .” The other thing that became abundantly clear is that as a culture, we do not know how to give or receive compliments. The students often struggle to come up with a compliment that doesn’t simply refer to looks (although I do allow them to compliment style, as it is an expression of identitiy). The student recieving the compliment often has trouble saying a simple and sincere “thank you.” Sincerety is a problem on both sides.
So, as I struggle to get my kids to reach deeper, to be honest, sincere, kind and fearless, I am wondering what I can give them, what I can offer them to help them find those connections. Stay tuned for more adventures. . .

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