Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How to Build Gracious Collaborators

Our Lego League team is heading for the Expo in December. Today the model is done. The offshore platform, the gas processing plant, the gas company, the kitchen. And the pipes are in place. What's completely amazing is that all four children worked harmoniously on the same model. They did not fight over who got what partner, who worked on what structure, or what color bricks to use for the countertop. They were absolutely great. I was so proud, I almost exploded.

How was this accomplished? Well, the children we had to work with are exceptionally wonderful. They are all brilliant, opinionated, imaginative little people, and they do get on each other's nerves. When one of them gets a strong vision, they get very determined to follow it specifically, and it's hard for them to accommodate a partner. I did a little work to help them find their gracious behavior.

From the moment I knew that they were going to be working together all on the same 15 by 15 inch plate, I was worried about the conflict. So, for the last two meetings we worked in teams of two and practiced building the major structures: the kitchen and the offshore platform. First, both teams built the kitchen. Then, the next team, both teams built the platform. Breaking the team into partners for two builds meant that there were only two little heads bumping over that 15 by 15 plate, instead of four. Which gave us time to practice our gracious collaboration.

I am all about the vocabulary. I introduced the concept of "gracious collaboration" and dramatized, in a silly way, both examples of good collaboration and examples of rotten, dysfunctional collaboration. I had the children brainstorm situations that might arise in the building process where conflict could develop. First I demonstrated extremely ungracious behavior (which made them laugh) and we decided on gracious things to say. We wrote these down on the chalkboard. The children came up with three conflicts: two people want to do the same part of the work, the partners disagree about whether an idea is good or not, and the partners disagree about what to do next. They decided on three gracious utterances. The first two are ways to avoid conflict, and the third is a way to respond to someone else's graciousness:

"I hear your idea, but may I make a suggestion?"

"I defer to you."

"Thank you, dear partner. Let's do your idea next!"

We agreed that no one person should constantly be in charge of graciousness -- that it should switch by turns between the partners. If child A defers this time, then child B will defer next time. We talked about how you can only graciously defer if you trust that your partner will also graciously defer when it's his/her turn.

When we started the build, I had a sheet of little stickers in my hand. Every time I heard one of the children say something on the list, or some other improvised polite-itude, I would shriek with delight and gallop over and put a sticker on that child's hand. I didn't say it was a competition, and we didn't have a winner, but they did want to get a lot of stickers. And they did. I will shamelessly admit to making a big fat deal out of it -- at one point I clasped my forehead and claimed to be crying with joy over the politeness and the glorious teamwork.

After the practice, I was impressed with the children, but today was the toughest test. They passed with flying colors. I never would have thought that four children could be so nice to each other. Collaboration has been achieved. Go Legodiles!

Here's a video of the collaboration practice:


  1. Anonymous1:56 PM

    Having viewed recent posts, I have only one thing to say...Lydia you are a wonder. All of this is so good as to defy belief. These children are blessed, blessed, blessed. And cute, too.

  2. You are SO cool.

    That is all I have to say about that. :)

  3. Wow!! You *are* a wonder. Thanks for sharing this - I need to be more explicit in my teaching of gracious character. Loved the video - those little polite people outdo most adults I know!

  4. Love the sticker idea for being caught in the act. Gracious behavior is so important, especially this time of the year.

    I love that you are another mom that's not afraid to be silly to help drive the point home.