Thursday, September 24, 2009

Group Dynamic

I've known a lot of kids over my teaching career, both individually and collectively. It's funny how a group takes on a personality of its own; any teacher will tell you it's true. At the end of last school year, rumor had it that we had a good group coming up-- the fifth grade teachers reported that these were the nicest kids they'd ever taught.

And they ARE nice. I sat in the theater this afternoon as 200 sixth graders listened and asked questions about the IB Middle Years Programme that we have at our school. They were very polite and eager to participate; they asked terrific questions that showed they were listening and engaged. Before that, we had our first class meetings of the year in my English classes. We use Glasser's model, and the counselor comes in to facilitate a student-directed agenda. The first session is usually taken up by guiding the students to set rules for the group, but every meeting includes compliments and the chance to identify topics to discuss.

In each class, I looked around the circle and listened carefully to each of the comments, not just its content, but also the spirit in which it was offered by the individual student. I tried to observe how the comments were received by the group as well. These kids were super-positive-- it was great to hear how happy they are with the school, and their teachers, and each other, too.

I'm curious though: how does that happen? How does one group develop characteristics different than another, even though the members of each are very similar? Where does a group dynamic come from? Not that I'm complaining, mind you.


  1. Interesting article tonight in the NYTimes about developing impulse control in our school/children. Perhaps this group has gotten that particular item down pat? What a treat to get a group like that!

  2. Teachin' (over at I'm a Dreamer) says you have a student bellwether, and that's possible. I know I've had several over the years.

    Last year, I found myself with only one freshmen class (student teacher), and I found myself impressed with them. I expressed it, and often -- days when their teamwork showed, when they were helpful or supportive, when they performed well or asked good questions, or we had a great group discussion. I took individuals aside when I observed them making good decisions, and I often blurted stuff such as "I just love this class" when, say everybody was present, and taking roll easy.

    At first it wasn't a conscious effort, but as I became cognizant of behavior changes, I did it more often and more deliberately. They provided the spark that made me enjoy them, and my enjoyment influenced their desire and efforts. The chemistry in the room was perfect. I miss it.

    I'm practicing praise (specific and sincere) with my students this year to see if it works.