Monday, July 16, 2012

Group Work

Group Work.  Two simple words.  Yet they have the ability to send chills down my back.
In high school, I was the controlling over-achiever that dreaded putting any task, no matter the size, in someone else's hands.  I was the student teachers put in a group to whip other students into shape, inevitably resulting in me doing the entire assignment because I wanted an "A" and the others did not care.  "Group work" was synonymous with headache, struggle, control, frustration, dread, long nights- the list goes on and on.

Fast forward to present day.  I'm still struggling with the aftermath of high school group work.  When I saw we had a three-hour block of group work and discussion, I immediately started the mental preparation for making it through the day.  My four years in undergrad helped me let go of some of the control, but a ball of dread in my stomach was always waiting to awaken for the next group activity.


Oh man, 6 over-achievers in one room.  Working on one assignment.  This is not going to go smoothly.

I was right.  We all had different interpretations of the assignment.

Alright, you have three hours with these people, sit back and get a feel of the power dynamic. This might be a preview of your future faculty meetings.   Think of this as practice.

To start off the session, we went around the group, each person sharing their ideas.  Immediately it was clear everyone looked at the assignment through a different dimension of English.  One person wanted to focus on research skills, while another was looking for a way to physically engage students, another wanted to work on writing, and comments were made about every idea in between.  I never thought about the scope of the English department- all the teachers have different ideas about what is most important and what should be emphasized.

It was obvious we were a group of individuals that were used to being in control, and we had a hard time compromising on our opinions.  We tried to make a lesson plan that gave teachers choice, so we could let everyone have their ideas represented.  At times, the constant attempts to put multiple choices led to confusion about what we were discussing.

The back and forth was not all bad.  It allowed all the members to get feedback about their own ideas and hash out the limitations of various lesson plans.  We were able to combine approaches to create a (semi) finished product that drew on different skills needed in an English class.  Though it was hard at first, I am glad we had the three hours to work on the assignment.  The long time frame allowed us to get over our initial desire to control, and move in the direction of compromise.

I saw a glimpse of my future faculty meetings, and realized I need to keep an open mind and loosen the reigns.  Maybe some cookies to sweeten the mood :)


  1. Haha, this sounds very familiar...glad to know someone felt the same way. It certainly was tough, but I wanted to congratulate on you on how you presented your ideas during that meeting. You were professional, efficient, and related it to English in a wonderfully multi-dimensional manner. Kudos!

  2. Rachel - I agree re: your comments about group work. I tend not to do my best work in groups; I prefer a slower, more methodical approach to problem solving. But that would make me anti-social, I suppose, when in fact I tend more towards the "asocial" scale.

    It is a reality of life, an expectation in many areas. Business schools thrive on principle of teamwork, and I truly believe in it. But I liked it best when, as a manager, I built a team of subordinates who worked so well together that I could be left out of their day-to-day decision making. Now that was teamwork!

    1. I'm glad to see there are other people out there that aren't huge group work fans. I wish group work could be more like your experience as a manager! Too bad we don't get to choose our classmates ;).

  3. I agree that it is difficult, especially at our age and skill level, to work in groups. I think that for the most part I find group work to be beneficial ultimately, but while in the process I can't help but get frustrated when I can't control the way the conversation is being directed or have more creative license with what we are assigned to do. I think it is a difficult task, but truly a very useful one in order to glean knowledge from our peers. Often I'm pleasantly surprised at the amount I am able to learn from my fellow MACers, yourself included.