Archive for September, 2013

Thoughts: 5 Things I Learned from this Summer’s YCISL Workshops

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

I like to keep lists, especially short lists. I hosted three YCISL workshops this summer and they went great – because I learned a lot. New this year was the addition of students from Japan which opened a new cultural dimension which ultimately will shape future YCISL content.

1. ACTIVE LISTENING is a key youth skill to call out in detail at the start of the workshop. Just before the July workshop, I read “Active Listening 101: How to Turn Down Your Volume to Turn Up Your Communication Skills” by Emilia Hardman. This is a splendid complement to “Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior” by Beverly D. Flaxington. Where the topics in “Active Listening 101” provides destination nodes for better informatization, “Understanding Other People” details the nature of the internodal connections. Together, they describe a dynamic that helps us appreciate the challenges in teamwork, teambuilding and leadership – and perhaps do a better job at all these things. In this summer’s workshops, I found that active listening is something that needs to be coached – especially so it rises as the default mode of listening among the 8 types of listening described by the author.

2. ENCOURAGING A POSITIVE MINDSET EARLY & OFTEN is key to building momentum for creative and innovative thinking. In my workshop introduction, I include a slide containing a collage of kids smiling and talk about Guy Kawasaki’s point about smiling from his book “Enchantment.” I then use Tim Brown’s sketch-your-neighbor activity to generate those genuine smiles (and also discuss how most adults have built an embarrassment shield). However, I have found that in order to sustain the positive mindset, additional exercises with similar emotional goals need to be placed within short intervals (say one on the morning and one in the afternoon). For example, the Teamwork & Teambuilding exercises used to be scheduled towards day 4 or 5 of the workshop – in conjunction with the leadership theme – but these exercises are far more effective earlier on (eg, day 2) because they are also icebreakers. I guess I just have to find more “games” to meet the needs.

3. TEAMBUILDING GETS CONFUSED WITH TEAMWORK. Teamwork (TW) is a concept that most high school students are familiar with, most likely through sports, PE or school teams or club teams or community leagues. Just as useful are experiences with competitive academic teams (eg, debate), schoolwork done in pairs or groups, musical ensembles, school publications, and community service projects. For those fortunate to be team captains, leadership lessons can be learned. More rare are the leadership lessons in team building (TB) which spans from assembling people for the team to getting team members to work together as a team and continuously improving team efficiency. Therefore, the YCISL approach encourages thought and discussion about both teamwork and team building. TW and TB are standards that team members can strive for. We use emotional intelligence, active listening and (persuasive) elevator pitch to build up team skills.

4. BUILD UP TO THE ELEVATOR PITCH. The Elevator Pitch is a particularly good approach to students making the most of an opportunity to present their idea in a time-constrained yet optimally persuasive manner. Adults tend not to “listen” to youth – that is, they have a filter that serves a small set of fixed channels (eg, is this going to boost their SAT scores?) A lot goes to waste. Normally, an elevator pitch exercise precedes the project presentation in the YCISL workshop. This summer, we built a few additional exercises to take a longer run-up to the presentation. In one exercise, we had students pair up and just look each other in the eye for 2 minutes (it was difficult making eye contact with this particular group of students). Then they took turns saying something brief about themselves while maintaining the eye contact. Finally, they planned a party and took turns saying something about the party (where, when, who, food, drinks, music, etc), again while maintaining eye contact – the party planning part is something I took from a visit to the d.school but combining it with maintained eye contact was our own. In this exercise, we think about active listening and using the eye contact and progressive feedback to encourage commitment in the conversation, an essential feature of being persuasive. In two workshops, we also had the “Advertising” Challenge where students had to come up with a 30-second presentation of a personal item (eg, pencil, camera, etc…) that they had on their possession – they were allowed to create imaginary features as well. We also had another optional exercise where students took this personal item and added a sustainability feature then made another presentation. In the elevator pitch exercise, we examine the Sham Woohoo video on YouTube using the framework of “The Art of the Executive Summary” (credited to┬áBill Reichert by Guy Kawasaki))┬áthen have students storyboard using PostIts an elevator pitch where they are asking for something at their school or at home. The storyboard contains the various elements in “The Art of the Executive Summary.” This sequence provides opportunities to practice but also develop a technique in making persuasive presentations.

5. ADDRESS THE “BEEN THERE, DONE THAT” MENTALITY. This is mainly an issue about getting into the growth mindset but also touches on one’s understanding about divergent thinking relative to convergent thinking. For any piece of knowledge, we know there are perspectives built on beliefs, facts, truths and falsehoods (misunderstandings, misinterpretations and lies). We also know there are numerous other perspectives that could yet be formed. A “Been There, Done That” mindset prevents a complete analysis by being convergent prematurely and disguises a fixed mindset as a growth mindset. We have been watching the Shawn Achor “The happy secret to better work” TED Talk and I am always finding something new. I view it as a worthwhile challenge to help students build an emotional intelligence supported by a true growth mindset.