Lessons Learned from 5th Graders

Lessons Learned from 5th Graders

I’ve been taking time to watch organizational dynamics in unconventional populations to learn more about group dynamics in the work place.

Yesterday, I led a bird identification field trip with Mr. Hannah’s 5th grade class at Alki Elementary school.  We saw over 10 species including an Osprey and a Bald Eagle.

Here are some things that happened and the consequent lessons learned:

I asked the group to sit on the grass so we could go over the use of binoculars and bird guide.  Several did not want to sit on the grass.  I responded that we could stand and went on with the instruction.

Lesson: It’s okay to change procedure if it does not have that much of an effect on what needs to be done.  Sometimes we can get hung up on procedure or methodologies, but it’s all smoke without substance.

Instead of telling the students what they’ll see and how exciting birdwatching is, I just proceeded into a description of what they needed to know: how to use the resources they had available.

Lesson: Cut to the chase, give people the tools and they’ll usually figure it out.  Most of the time, a leader’s role is to provide assistance, guidance and minor adjustments here and there.

One of the students would tend to wander off from the group.  Saying his name in a clear and direct voice brought him back to the group.

Lesson: The sound of a person’s name is a powerful attention getter.

Throughout our trip, numerous birds were spotted.  After watching and identifying the bird, I would ask who had found it and give them credit for getting us on the bird.  Surprisingly, the group was very generous in giving credit and no one ever squabbled about who saw the bird first.

Lesson: Take the time to give credit.  Trust the group to identify those who make significant contributions.

Sometimes the girl who was tallying our totals would hit a boy with the clipboard for no apparent reason … well, except for being a 5th grader.  The boy would protest, but seeing no gaping wound or blood, I told him to look for more birds and the girl to focus on keeping the tally.

Lesson: Don’t give petty disputes too much attention.  Keep the combatants focussed on the work at hand.

We saw another birding group under a tree who seemed to have spotted something interesting.  We went to their tree and discovered a crow on a nest.

Lesson: It’s OK to see what your competition is doing.

Several times, the children would report the observation of squirrels, small children, defecating dogs or creepy school visitors.  Instead of chastising them or telling them not to look, I explained that those were all uninteresting as they were mammals and not birds.  I asked them to instead find a creepy or defecating bird.

Lesson: Don’t let marginal issues sway your attention – keep it focused on what counts.

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