Well, it was clear when I attempted a mural project with 2nd grade, it was going to be a challenge. I have a very, and I don’t mean this negatively, but I have a very bossy group of 2nd graders. They all love being in charge and they all love being the one to choose what gets done during projects like this. We had bosses, but not leaders.
Not being prepared for that was hard. Here I had this great big idea planned annnnnnnd booom. Bomb. Explosions. Terrible disaster. Yelling, fighting, arguing, crying. Okay so it wasn’t all of those things, especially not at once but man – I was disappointed in their skills. Then I accepted the fact that the skills of collaboration and cooperation had only been introduced to these students, not fostered quite yet. And that’s no fault to anyone, they are in 2nd grade and therefor, they’ve got a lot to learn.
So, reassess and adapt for the future is what I did at that moment. The next activity was broken down into the parts of good group work. We started with cooperation. Some might argue that you should start with collaboration because cooperation is just “going along” but I really needed my students to understand how difficult yet easy at the same time, “going along” is once you outline goals of the group. So we did the classic activity where students start a drawing, we rotate around the table and draw on someone else’s project. We don’t talk because we are cooperating. At the end we talk about how it was difficult not only to see someone else working on our project, but on all the projects we had put things into. But, in order to make things work effectively and get accomplished, we did need to go along with the rules. We were able to have a great conversation afterwards.
This set us up for a great collaborative project the next time around. Students entered and we had big line and shape drawings at each table (each group). Before we began, we reviewed cooperation, making almost a stem diagram about what qualities we find in someone who is cooperating. From there, we dove into collaboration. We learned that collaboration is only effective if once the goals are defined, we cooperate together. It was a great conversation that brought up the ultimate detail: that being cooperative in a collaborative group makes you a leader.
Students received a tray with the three primary colors. This allowed for a great conversation in which students would need to ask each other how they’d use those colors; would they be mixed or kept separate. The drawing, pre-done for them (simply to save time), allowed them to discuss who would paint what or if that was even an issue. It was important to practice asking what everyone wanted before we made any decisions. When there was conflict, we had three solutions we could practice: 1) Someone could simply step back and say “I don’t care, that’s fine.” 2) We could play a game of chance. [not Rock Paper Scissors] and 3) We could compromise our ideas together or take turns with different details of the project.
After the students were given time to discuss, they could start. Some groups started sooner than others and on a few occasions I had to come join the group and refocus their collaborating skills. That’s normal, especially at this young of an age. But the results were incredibly rewarding because in the end, the mural were completed, every one of them looked different, and you could tell how quickly students were thriving off of working together.
At the end of the exercise, we hadn’t put our names on the project. This was an activity to practice collaboration and cooperation; it would go on display but it wasn’t necessarily something that needed to be claimed. We cleaned up and discussed some of the feelings we had.
– “It was hard to let go of some of the control.”
– “I want to be a better leader.
These stood out from some of the comments and set us up for a great discussion about leadership. It was decided that while all people, and yes decided by 2nd graders, that all people possess a desire to be a boss, people can only be good bosses if they are leaders more. And a leader is someone who listens, who cares, who respects, who asks for ideas, who compromises ideas, and ultimately, is someone who steps back from the control rather than grabbing onto the control.
I asked the students if they’d rather learn to be leaders or bosses. All but one students rose their hands for leadership. I asked the student why he didn’t raise his hand. He responded by saying, “I do want to be a good leader. But I think sometimes we all want to be the boss. Sometimes there needs to be a boss. I just want to learn how to make both of those work for me. Like your boss, [my principal]. She’s a boss, but she’s also a really good leader.” He had a very good point. And I would agree about my boss.
We also made posters to be displayed with our murals, also with our 3rd grade murals (because they were having the same conversations). I apologize that the photo is poor quality. The first poster says “2nd and 3rd graders asked and decided what is collaboartion”, the second poster says “we also asked and decided what is cooperation” and the final poster says “finally we asked and decided what does a good leader do”. Students wanted the other classes to see what they had been working on – this was their request. And what we were working on wasn’t so much the mural, but our skills at leaders.