Team building is difficult. So many factors, so little time. Where do you start…really?

Groupwork at the best of times can elicit moans and groans from even the most balanced student. Despite a teacher’s best efforts to engage the students in developing their Learning Skills, encouraging random individuals to work together does not always make for the deepest learning.

My approach to creating groups is to have several large and small group discussions that explore the components of group work. The major pieces usually fall into four major categories:

  1. Supportive and equitable behaviour,
  2. Clear understanding of common goals,
  3. Synthesis of skill sets, and
  4. Shared workload.

As the discussion and debates fly, I gather post-it notes, record sound bites, and post the gathered data to our Google classroom. Bit by bit the students generate a canon of qualities that they feel are essential to working with each other and we post our postered  ‘Code’ in the classroom. As a  group, we commit to holding our code as a central set of behaviour norms for our cooking labs. As our cooking labs increase in difficulty and evolve in skill sets, the students find ample opportunity to try different configurations of brigades, or cooking groups.

The brigade system in the kitchen is akin to a military approach for group making. This ladder system puts the most senior and experienced cooks at the top of the pile with many below. It also penalizes and prevents natural growth into leadership moments, you only move up when the person ahead of you permits it.

Though the classroom lab easily supports such a system, I have always thought that the traditional brigade system makes leadership opportunities scarce and in some cases inhibits curious but tentative leaders from emerging. By rotating the group configurations, the newness will provide a valuable restart button for those students who miss their leadership opportunities the first time around. The students that are self-aware of their leadership path, will inevitably interact with a grouping that challenges their set methods and in doing so build their toolkits. The brigade system works well in the industry, but, in truth, if we are supporting a 4C’s  ecology in our classroom, then the hierarchical nature of the classic kitchen is detrimental by design.

Students will bring any number of biases to a new class. Who they want to be with, talk to, sit beside, and look at all become the instantaneous data points that form their unavoidable biases. The trick in building groupings is interfering with the process of prejudgement to judgment. Modeling positive and equitable language can teach a student ‘how’ to behave and it may reassure a timid student that you are present and aware. But this approach does little to develop ‘why’ students should behave in this manner. Open dialogue after the lab, where both successes and fails are deconstructed and new understandings are built, is the method I use to help my students along this path.

Additionally, to avoid my own fixed idea of lab design, I include my performance in the students’ assessments. I ask my students:

  1. What can I change?
  2. How can I change?
  3. Why should I change?
  4. If I do not change, what will I miss?

Students often question the validity of group-work. Many would complain that there is little worth in it. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to create structured, dynamic, responsive scenarios, where not only group-work is experienced as necessary and valuable, but it is the singular path to complete the course of action at hand.