Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lessons from Speech Camp

Another week of Speech Camp has swiftly passed. The first full week of August (the CG annual Speech Camp) is filled with excitement, the promise of another great season, and organized chaos. Every year, I end the week weary from an exhausting yet fulfilling experience and also encouraged, excited, and ready for another fantastic year teaching great kids.

Leading up to the start of camp, I am often filled with trepidation and an overwhelming sense of uncertainty. It is natural to approach the unknown with apprehension. Even now as a seasoned veteran, the idea of gearing up for another year seems a little daunting. Preparing, planning, and creating a positive environment for 49 young and spirited high school students, takes a significant amount of energy and creativity. Honing public speaking and leadership skills is not an easy feat. Communicating with others requires individuals to be vulnerable, open, and confident, which are not the most natural characteristics for teenagers to embody, but what is so rewarding is watching students discover how to cultivate these skills, which will help them well beyond the coming speech season. This year, the week went so quickly, and we were so happy with the results.

Every year, I leave camp grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this community. Working with this group of students and adults teaches me a great deal about teamwork, collaboration, and becoming the best versions of ourselves. While there is so much to unpack from this week (a few team building games that yielded some impressive results, a few more lessons in public speaking, leadership growth, etc.), I have a few takeaways that I will carry with me into the 2016-2017 school year.

1. Organization is a time-saver, expectation setter, and can create more time for fun. 

I am obsessed with Google, Google Drive, and all things digital. Being a Google school for nearly four years, I have spent time reorganizing my Speech Team files. My naming convention is six layers deep (folder by event, word count, title, gender (if applicable), year used, name of student used), and it is my hope that this naming convention will help future head coaches to utilize years of files created to help our students access the best material available. With great material comes the opportunity to learn about important issues, grow as performers, and have chances to break into finals. Yes, going back and organizing files has taken time, but it has also allowed me to reflect on my practices, remember the good, and will allow me to save time for someone else in the future.

In addition to organizing files, I also spent time planning and linked team building activities, videos, and resources into a Google Sheet. Scheduled by the day, hour, and beyond helped us to be present, at the moment, know what goals we had for students each day, and also gave us options to change activities to meet the needs of our students. I used the sheet from last year to help me create this year's sheet. Next year, coaches will have this sheet to use as a template and resource to plan significant and meaningful experiences for future students. When we can spend less time inventing the wheel from scratch, we can focus on fun, too.

2.  Set high standards. 

We work hard, and we play hard on the speech team. It is a place to bond with friends and be oneself, but it is also a place to develop skills and grow academically. Students really do rise to meet challenges. I am so grateful to students who are open to learning and laughing at the same time. When we presented students with challenges and tasks, they were happy to fulfill them. They did not back down or question what was being asked of them. Led by our amazing seniors who served as excellent examples for our new students, the group actively participated, learned, and worked to be successful. Whether students were completing relay races, writing scripts, or creating videos, they did so with great effort and utilized their skills.

3. Be willing to fail big.

Failure is such a taboo topic, especially in education. We often approach education with the notion that no child will be left behind for a myriad of reasons, but on occasion leaving a few behind is the right motivation to complete a task, learn a lesson, or sparks a conversation that can lead to significant realizations. Failure is a powerful learning tool. During improvisational games, students are asked to jump into scenes, make up stories on the spot, and are told never to say "no." At times, this yields some silly and ridiculous results. There is always a solution to the scenes that do not go the way we anticipate them to go. What we learn from these moments would never occur if we feared and avoided failing on occasion. It is okay to make mistakes - as long as we grow from them and solve whatever problem or situation we encounter.

4. Trust others. 

We can learn so much from each other. Trust in one another, in the process, and in the idea that any situation can be a learning experience is crucial in communicative situations and academics. When we support each other, we can take more substantial risks, we can embrace failures, we can recognize and celebrate the best in others, and we can discover more about ourselves in the process. Establishing trust creates that positive environment which is necessary for any team to find success. I am so grateful for the students, parents, and colleagues that trust in the team and trust in the process to commit to the week and commit to growing as speakers, performers, and people. Teamwork relies on trust!

5. "Yes, and..." has a powerful impact on group dynamics.

"Yes, and..." is a fundamental rule of improvisation. When completing an improv scene, all parties involved should always say "yes" and add additional ideas to the scene to keep it moving. It is a method used to support performers and provide a positive outcome.

The idea of saying no is not one that is easy for me. The world often encourages individuals to take on less responsibility as to not overwhelm oneself or do too much. At the same time, saying yes can lead to amazing opportunities and experiences that one might never think to approach. While we should find work-life balance and not take on more than we can complete, it is okay to say yes and embrace the beauty of what can come. (Shonda Rhimes has an amazing TED Talk on saying YES! For parents and anyone who works a great deal, it is a great message!

Tweets by @Steph_SMac