Last week, one of my table groups was having a big problem working together on a project.
Their arguing prevented them from completing work and caused a lot of hurt feelings. Their disagreements were caused by a number of things, from excessive chatting to miscommunication. When their attempts at problem-solving failed, I decided to spend some extra time with them during our afternoon table meetings to help them make sense of their issues and come up with some creative solutions.
As a group, we decided that arguing and using a disrespectful tone of voice were the biggest problems they were facing. We talked about the importance of communicating effectively, compromising during team tasks, and picking our battles. We brainstormed respectful phrases they could say in disagreement, and even decided on a "code word" to use when things were starting to spiral downward. They settled on "bacon." The rest of the class congratulated the table for persevering through a tough time and being creative problem-solvers.
Cut to the following Monday morning: I'm teaching a minilesson and a situation breaks out in the back of the room between a small group of girls peer-editing. Their voices are beginning to rise and tempers are starting to flare. I do my best to remain calm and remind myself to let them try to work it out before intervening. After a few deep breaths I decide to step in. Just then a small voice in the back of the room squeaks, "Bacon!" and the entire room erupts into laughter. It was perfect comedic timing and exactly what the situation needed. The girls take a deep breath, smile at each other, and continue in their task.
Our classroom is truly a community, and we routinely work hard to make it the best place for us to learn. That morning, laughter helped to build our classroom community in a way that no game or team-building activity ever could. It helped ease tension and put perspective on a relatively minor problem, and reminded us that we're a much better group of people when we communicate and work together to support one another in our learning.