My husband and some of his colleagues thought it would be fun to attempt a breakout room one Friday night. I have to tell you, I have looked at many people posting on social media and talking about the great fun they all had, so I figured, “Why not?” I must tell you, that the events that unfolded that night were ones that have skewed my perspective for future breakout events.
I hate to admit it, but I am super competitive. I love to play games, but ask my family and friends how a friendly game could quickly take a turn for the worse. I am also what some would call a “Nervous Nelly.” I often like to ask a lot of questions regarding new situations in order to prepare myself and ready my mindset to accomplish any task. In this case, the six of us attempting the Y2K breakout room had never gone before. So with no one available to share some insights, all I could pull upon was my own gumption and sassy nature to solve the clues in the room. Not to mention that the breakout soundtrack included many of my favorite high school jams; don’t judge me for my love of NSYNC. But even the music could not ease the uncertainty of it all.
Approach new situations with a positive attitude.
Clearly, an attitude or mindset helps when facing unknown situations. Often it can make or break the experience for the participant. Whether you are teaching, learning, running, etc. your attitude will influence your outcome.
Our situation started looked bleak. Here we have a six people, all with advanced degrees, clearly, we are book smart. The question was, are we “street smart?” We entered into the room where there were a ton of combination locks all hiding future clues behind a variety of cabinet doors. Immediately, our alpha leader took the bull by the horns and started delegating tasks to the rest of us. To be honest, it was one of those situations where I did not know where to begin, where to look, and even how I was going to contribute to solving the puzzle in our small, tiny breakout space.
Assess the situation and find your role on the team.
Sometimes finding your role on the team may take time. It might even change depending on the team, scenario, or your personal goals. Remember, you don’t have to stay in that role. You have choice and voice over your contribution to the team, classroom, school, and community.
The clues started to come, but honestly, I did not see anything beyond what was right in front of me. My breakout-mates were making connections, using inference, and, quite honestly, rockin’ it. We were on our path toward getting the final code to break on out. At one point a secret passage opened up for us. This is great but then we were seriously stuck. We had the option to ask for three clues, but no one really wanted to use them up in case we needed them later and honestly, we all wanted to solve this bad boy on our own (thanks, pride). Frustration started to set in. I could sense that the team was starting to lose communication. We were now functioning in pairs of two at best.
What do you do when you hit a roadblock?
When a roadblock pops up, it could be a person, student, parent - you name it, what is your first reaction? Often with each year of experience, we gain new strategies and engage with colleagues who have a myriad of answers or support to help us overcome the roadblock. But what happens when you don’t have time to consult and you have to come up with an immediate, “shoot from the hip” solution? Best said in the movie Speed, “Pop quiz hotshot … What do you do? What do you do?”
Well, I hate to admit it, but we were not successful in our breakout. We were trapped. Once the employee released us from our Y2K prison, my husband and his friends walked out of the room trying to process the hour that had just happened. I, however, walked out feeling like I let my team down. Here this was supposed to be a fun, problem-solving evening, but all I could do was analyze how I did do enough, find clues fast enough, blah, blah blah. Now that I have been removed from the breakout room long enough, I realize that I started that whole night with the wrong approach and mindset. I was not ready to “fail forward.” I was not ready to give it a go. I wanted to win. I was so focused on the winning, I lost sight of the process and definitely lost out on an opportunity for fun.
Stop, drop, and don’t take it all so seriously.
When we encounter new people, teaching dilemmas, personal setbacks, the list keeps going, we have two options. One, we can flip out, internalize the problem, and cause personal strife. Or two, we can step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes a change of perspective and mindset is all that is needed to solve problems and move forward.
So if I ever decide to go into a breakout room again, I have some new goals for myself. But more importantly, I definitely learned some valuable lessons that night that are applicable in my edu-sphere. These lessons are quickly added to my survival kit that I carry with me each day as I enter the breakout room that is education.
What will YOU add to your survival kit?
The end of the school year is an excellent time for educators to take a moment to peruse their supplies and other teaching materials. I have been going through all of my teaching supplies this week. Supplies that I have collected over the course of my nine years in education. Supplies that I have held onto dearly for those “just in case” moments. Let me be the first to say I have officially joined the “Teacher Supply Hoarders Group.”
All kidding aside I have to ask myself, “Why are you holding on to all of that baggage, all of that stuff?” I have toted my supplies with me to various schools and even across state lines. I have kept what I felt was valuable and essential to being a good teacher. The fact is that those cute borders, motivational posters, and oodles of Sharpies are helpful, BUT not essential.
Purging all of these supplies has helped me to realize that what IS essential are soft skills: organization, creativity, respect, integrity, etc. Those go with me as well, but in a much smaller package that does not require a moving truck. Soft skills are what make up a person. It is their character, their being, their personhood. Soft skills can make or break relationships. They are a MUST for building relationships.
Take a moment to evaluate what is in need of purging or donation and what needs to be acquired to make you the best educator possible. Remember, those soft skill “supplies” cannot be bought in a store. Rather they can be found within. They can be cultivated and molded every single day you walk into a classroom. They can evolve when you take a moment to reflect and set goals. Through your interactions with others you can and will further develop your soft skills and continue to make an impact on those whom you serve.
Have fun shopping for those soft skills. I bet you’ll find a great deal.
Last night, I had a very vivid dream. I was down in the basement level of some sort of museum. The museum felt cold, uninviting, and industrial in style. The flooring was some sort of glossed concrete that added to the motif. Only art hung from the walls, the one splash of color in the space. There were a variety of benches scattered here and there for museum-goers to sit upon and carefully admire the art.
In the corner of the room was this tall staircase. The staircase was wide, erected with large slabs of concrete. It wrapped around a corner so that you could not see where it led. About two steps up onto the staircase, an older gentleman stood and faced me. He then said something very profound, “These stairs represent your struggle. Each one of you will climb the stairs, but it may take one person longer or shorter to get to the top of the staircase.”
What challenges have you faced this year?
I am sure you have experienced many challenges this school year. Maybe some of them have been personal. Maybe you have a conflict with a colleague that needs to be resolved. A possible parent with whom you have struggled connecting and communicating with. What about that student who needs your help but refuses to be helped?
The reality is that climb up the staircase can truly depend on every single one of those situations. There can even be a staircase for each one of those scenarios. Sometimes we fly to the top without any problem, without even breaking a sweat. But there are other times when the climb goes on for-ev-er! Often we want to climb to the top, find resolution and results, and live in a space where everything is easy.
The climb may be hard.
Surrounding yourself with people who are willing to climb with you is important. Finding others who will push you up is helpful too. Sometimes you need that pal who is willing to drag you up the stairs when you have nothing left to give.
Do you have those people in your life? If you think you don’t have supports in place, I challenge you to take a look around. You may find that your people, your cheerleaders, are everywhere. Cast a wide net! Your supports may be in your building, on Twitter, in another country, a family member, or even a former teacher.
What will you do if you are still on the stairs?
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native