Young Team Builders
It's Never Too Early To Start Changing The World
Submitted by Jennifer
"I think people generally have a good heart and good intentions to help"* Unknown
Being a younger leader among my high-school peer community has presented its challenges, and ups and downs. I have had lessons go haywire and lessons go seamlessly. 'My Greatest Lesson' came from leading a group of individuals as part of our districts' Joliet Program. (For reference, the Joliet program is offered as an alternative support program for students with extreme emotional needs.) My course director made the objectives clear: set challenges and accomplish goals.
During this time, as a leader, I had been struggling to navigate the vagueness of what my evaluators considered to be well-rounded facilitation. I was caught up in the nuts and bolts of what specific steps I should be taking to reach the objectives.
Prior to the kids coming to our challenge course, our entire high school peer-leader team was given a refresher on how to navigate an emotional rescue with a participant and what mind set we should be coming in with in relation to this audience. I was 'out of my mind' nervous. Not only was this my first time working with a set of individuals who would need my extra support, it was also my first time facilitating outside my high school's peer leadership class, which I wasn't even half way completed with at the time.
Walking in that day, my personal objective was to make sure my group wouldn't completely fall apart in the span of five minutes. Little did I know there was a lot more ahead. I was placed with my group engrossed in nerves and fearing for the worst. I quietly asked their names and we went around quickly till there was silence. My group was just looking at me and I was just looking at them in complete silence. One boy spoke up asking whether or not we were going to climb all the way to the top (the top of our challenge course that is). I said back to him, "do you think you can" and I, for the first time in my leadership career, presented a challenge. He, and the rest of the group, looked at me with combined looks of anxiety and excitement.
Our peer-leader team's objective came clear to me after presenting that first challenge. I knew I wanted this silent, excited group of individuals to leave the course gaining something. This, as any exploring individual knows, can only be done through reaching your goals and a sense of achievement. I went around to each member of my group and first asked what they wanted to do that day. Most said that they wanted to climb to the very top. I would consider this the overall dream goal. It is fundamentally what a person wants to do. Later that day, after we had taught them some technical skills, I went around to each person in my group and asked them what they were 1000 percent confident that they could actually do. This is the confidence goal. Once they can reach this goal they will have built a good foundation centered in confidence by reaching this baseline.
It was then my challenge as a leader to help them find their "actual goal", the middle ground between the dream and the confidence. For example, in the context of education, I know I can get an A on this test, my dream is to get all "A"s, my actual goal is to bring up my grade in this particular class to an A.
This is my overall lesson as well. As a student leader, I want to discover how to gain a sense of achievement. Affirmation, in any form, is a mountain mover to an individual or a group. It can change a terrible situation into a great one, but the struggle is finding out how to do it. I still struggle with the vagueness of what it means to be a "good" peer leader and I probably always will, but following that day and following my first facilitation, I have now figured out how to be an effective peer leader. For me, the key is in the three layers of goal setting: dream, confidence, goal. This is not always explicit but with that lesson in mind I am able to create an unmatched group atmosphere.
Thanks for 'listening' - Jennifer
*I used the quote above as a foundation for a few of my lessons because ultimately, I believe that a student leader's job is to create people who have good hearts and think beyond themselves. We are the examples for others to follow and we set the agenda. We must be good at heart and have the best intentions in mind for our group.
Submitted by Annisa, a high school sophomore.
An example of how I have used this debrief anchor tool is in a group initiative we call Maui Kauai. The students are presented with 3 different sized boards and 3 different sized platforms. The implied challenge is for them to get their entire team onto the last platform with the help of only each other and the boards. In this group initiative, the hand and feet anchor tool are perfect for a debrief because the team needs to work together to physically and emotionally help each other across the different platforms.
When using the hands and feet to debrief, I ask the students to pick a person who gave them a helping hand (hands) or who helped ground them during the activity (feet) and exchange hands/feet with them. Then they would be able to keep their hand or foot that they received from another person in the class to help remember their achievement of completing the challenge and the teamwork that they used during the activity itself.
Photo by Miha Rekar
This post is submitted by Frances, a high school senior and team builder.
The one thing that absolutely marked the curve in my growth as a facilitator so far was realizing how important it is to be able to adapt to your group and allow the facilitation to take the path that will be most beneficial for them, even if that is not your intended outcome.
I think that a good facilitator merely guides the group and allows the participants to come to their own conclusions. While the facilitator is obviously structuring the way the activity flows,
I’ve found that my ability to promote growth while not forcing a fixed outcome upon the group is vital to the strength of the outcome of the activity. Of course, having an outcome in mind and being properly planned when facilitating an activity is crucial. However, you never know where your group will take an activity, and if it’s in the complete opposite direction from your original intent, I think that it’s more beneficial to allow them to groove with the outcome they naturally pull from the activity.
As a facilitator, I need to be prepared to foster that conversation and not be stuck in the mindset that my intended outcome is the only correct debrief to have. For me, finding the confidence to pull questions from what happened during the activity or what’s been said in the debrief instead of reading prepared questions off a sheet in my hand was one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn as a facilitator. I really think it just came with experience and failing forward in the past, but now it’s the lesson that I feel has advanced me the most as a facilitator, and one of the learning opportunities I’ve been most thankful for.
Photo by Michael Weidner
This post is submitted by Annisa, a high school sophomore and peer team builder.
My greatest lesson as a young team builder, that I have learned so far, has been learning to go with the flow and being confident even when my facilitation and/or plans do not go exactly how I want them to.
In the beginning of my time facilitating, I only felt confident in briefing and debriefing activities when I had a very well-organized plan and my entire peer leader team knew exactly what was going to happen during a class period.
An experience that really tested this, and shook my confidence, happened early on in our semester. We had planned to pull another leader’s car and debrief and talk about the importance of effort in our Adventure class. Unfortunately, the leader whose car we were planning on pulling was late to class, which meant that we had to re-plan the entire class period within the 7 minutes of passing period we had before the class started. For someone who needs to be planned, this was extremely stressful for me because I felt very unprepared being a new leader who was not very used to facilitating to begin with.
During the class, my co-leaders and I 'pulled' together very well as a team and we were able to have a very successful experience even though most of it was unplanned. This unexpected situation challenged not only my need to be organized, but also my confidence.
The lesson that I learned from this very stressful situation was that even when things don’t go according to plan, you can still be confident and facilitate through it. I think that I have used this new-found confidence daily in my Adventure class because each and every day things go wrong and things don’t go entirely according to plan. Now, I am ready and confident when I need to improvise during a facilitation.
Photo by Alberto Gasco
This post is submitted by the team builder Kaia, a high school junior.
We would love to explore some thoughts (answers) for these questions - jump into the Comments and let us know what you think. (Leave answers by number - Thanks.)
My Lessons So Far About Building Community
Every person is unique. These differences set us apart from one another. But through my experience as a young team builder, even with the most diverse group of people, we can create a community.
On the first day of class, not many know each other. Their walls are built up to protect them from the unknown. Whether subconscious or not, everyone wears a mask over their personality and places assumptions/judgements on others. Though this is done to protect ourselves, it creates divides amongst the community.
But in team-oriented programs, these divides are addressed and overcome. Over time, through trust and problem solving activities, their walls start to come down. In this safe community, they can be vulnerable with one another.
It's a beautiful moment when someone expresses their authentic self. It happens at different times for every student. Some are more comfortable than others showing their inner colors. When they do, even though we express ourselves differently, we get to see how strikingly similar we all are to one another.
However, there is something uniquely special about this: the community embraces them for who they are. The people who we categorized as 'too uptight,' 'too opinionated,' 'too annoying,' 'too talkative,' 'too quiet' start to become someone who we can relate to. We can start to empathize with them, and then the most unlikely friendships and connections form.
Being a team leader has taught me many things. But the most profound was that a tight community can form no matter how different the individuals seem to be.
Love to hear from you - leave us a Comment.
Also, when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly it develops new abilities which can be used to symbolize a new skill or lesson a class learns after an activity. This prop can be used to debrief any activity that has to do with growth. For example, using this prop with Charlotte's Web [Spider Web] works well, because after students finish this activity they often feel extremely accomplished - they've grown as a class.
How do you balance your strengths? How would you (do you) use the Caterpillar prop? Leave us a Comment - we'd love to hear from you!
Photo by Hannah Busing
This post is submitted by Charlotte, a high school sophomore team builder.
The most memorable moment I've had as a Young Team Builder was getting to facilitate, 'Cross the Line'.* This activity digs deep into the personal lives of those participating in the activity and takes a lot of trust to open up. When I facilitated it in my class, it was amazing. Everyone was willing to open up.
This was memorable to me because it was a turning point in the semester of the class I teach.
I facilitated this activity with the outcome, 'we are all in this together' and I think that is what brought us closer. It was amazing to see who had shared experiences with you, without you even knowing it. This lesson and teaching a class in general taught me to be kind regardless, because you never know what someone has going on.
*A brief summary of Cross the Line (a future detailed is in the works). All students are standing behind a line - on the gym floor or behind a long rope outside. The facilitator has a prepared list of questions, from less to more risky or revealing. (These questions are checked for appropriateness by the teacher.) Less risky questions would be something like, "Cross the Line if you like math?" Or, "Cross the Line if you have siblings." If the student wants to reveal, he or she crosses the line and stands on the 'other side' of the line until the facilitator asks everyone to step back. Riskier, or more revealing questions, might include, "Cross the line if you are a vegetarian." "Cross the line if you've ever failed a test." This activity is not presented in this class until there is a strong foundation of trust. And, no one is ever forced to reveal anything they are uncomfortable with. (This summary was written by Chris Cavert, co-editor or YoungTeamBulders.com)
Photo by Aziz Acharki
This first post is submitted by Philip, a high school sophomore who team builds through his school's adventure program.
As a young team builder in my high school adventure program, I have learned many valuable lessons. One of them comes from the constantly repeated phrase, "balance out your strengths." This phrase is generally used to direct students to put the physically stronger students in places that they'll be needed in order to complete some kind of activity.
However, the deeper you look into the phrase the more it resonates.
Balance out your strengths, also supports teamwork because in a small community like our class everyone has different strengths and skills. Although, the phase doesn't have to only refer to a group of people. Balance out your strengths, could also refer to personal strengths and how sometimes you have to re-center yourself in order to use your own strengths to the best of your ability. This diverse phrase is the greatest lesson I've learned so far as a young leader.
Back in the last century (1995), I purchased a book from Project Adventure: Youth Leadership In Action: A Guide to Cooperative Games and Group Activities Written by and for Youth Leaders. It was the beginning of something I thought would grow and thrive into other publications - there is so much out there to share.
I love this book. It came from the minds, hearts and spirits of amazing young people ready to take on leading (and facilitating) activities that had the potential to change the world.
The Preface of the book includes this, "exciting thing currently happening across the United States and in other places around the world: Teachers, parents and other community leaders are recognizing that young people are more than tomorrows leaders - they are leaders today, capable of being valuable resources in schools and communities."
This is still very true today - proven over the last 20 years through the exponential growth of incredible high school leadership and adventure education programs providing first-hand experiences for those with the inclination to jump into the unknown and make a difference.
I was hoping for more, "Youth Leadership In Action" - but only the one publication made it. Well, that was then, this is now. Young leaders of today and tomorrow, lets go for another beginning, again! This is your space to "teach what you know" to the world. We can learn from you and pass it on. Let's get started.....
The Young Team Builders blog is open for contributions from high school and college age team builders all over the world! Share activities you love and why they work. Share stories and lessons from your team building experiences. Contribute a quote you have used in your programs that inspires. Ask questions of your peers, leaders like you exploring the challenges of working with groups. This is your space, fill it up.
Please go to, Submit Content for more information.
Chris Cavert, Ed.D., co-editing staff member.
Young team Builders are high school and college age students working in team building settings around the world, contributing to this space, sharing what they're creating, programming, teaching and learning.
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