This past weekend, Cody Outdoor Classroom hosted 10 students from the Nantucket Lighthouse Charter School for a four-day residential program. The students learned about teamwork and leadership, the cause of the seasons, and winter adaptations of New England organisms. We caught up with Ben Rossetter, the Cody Outdoor Classroom field instructor who taught the program, and asked him some questions about facilitating team-building and leadership activities in the field.
OC: What initial steps do you take to introduce a group to team building / ropes course activities?
Ben: As with learning science, in order to succeed on the ropes course, it is important to stagger the difficulty of the activities. Start easy, then slowly build skills and add in more difficult challenges. I always start with a simple game of ball toss: students must pass a ball to one another while saying each other’s names. It is very simple to complete one whole circuit without dropping the ball. Then I add three more balls. Then I begin timing them. By building their skills slowly and one at a time, students are more likely to succeed when presented with difficult elements.
OC: Was it a challenge for the students to focus on the initiatives?
Ben: This group accomplished four different low ropes course elements and numerous other ground initiatives. Early on the in the course, almost every activity began with a boisterous and loud energy: students wouldn’t listen to each other, they laughed, and didn’t take what they were doing very seriously. However, after failing at the objective a few times, they would turn on their focus: students were quieter and willing to listen to each other, and a leader usually stepped up to direct the group. As the course went on, the group got better and better at starting initiatives with focus and attention, rather than starting loud and adjusting to improve.
OC: As the facilitator, how do you choose when (and if) to intervene and encourage the group to focus or show them a better way to solve a problem?
Ben: This is a very difficult question. Each group, student, and activity is different and can elicit different dynamics. Some groups need early intervention when they are headed down the wrong path; some groups need to be left to make mistakes in order to learn. This group of students from Nantucket was a high-performing group. Once they got into their groove, they communicated effectively and listened to each other. I rarely intervened, letting them learn on their own and test their strengths. The only times I stopped them was to reinforce spotting and safety techniques. By allowing them to make mistakes and find their own way, these students became empowered problem-solvers and will take those skills with them back to Nantucket.
OC: What strategies do you use to help the group set goals and assess if they have been successful?
Ben: At the beginning of the course, I asked the students to reflect on one thing they wanted to accomplish during the course. I encouraged the students to make SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific; Measurable; Achievable; Realistic; Timely. We discussed as a group each goal and whether or not it is “SMART.” Throughout the course, we referenced the goals two or three times, asking the students to reflect on their progress. At the end of the course, we had a group reflection that asked the students to evaluate whether or not they achieved their goals. Each student was able to measure their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what their next steps might be.