#7 Growing Up To Learn… How Short I Am?

     My vaguely pessimistic title aside, my year with What’s the Story has actually been quite good, and it’s certainly lead to learning opportunities which I couldn’t have forecasted. First and foremost, it reframed my thinking around what the constructs of a compelling argument are; my time working as a debater involved leaning heavily on ‘expert’ professorial opinions, but similar to my work with education reform, I’ve rediscovered the notion that sometimes the best experts are the ones closest to the topic – experiential experts have thoughts which too often go unrepresented in research projects. This idea proved to be pervasive throughout my research of different topics, both pre-final topic selection with my inspection of Vermont’s welfare system as well as post-final topic selection with my investigation into the problem of sexual assault in Vermont high schools. From talking to people who were proximate to the welfare system, I began to understand how sometimes broken family dynamics can be traced back to the overcomplicated welfare system in that it often fails to effectively support the impoverished, in turn, causing generational poverty. In a very different area, from speaking with survivors of sexual assault, I came to more deeply understand the fundamentally problematic the issue of toxic masculinity’s microaggressions and how underrecognized sexual assault in high schools is. Not only was this style of inspecting a story valuable to my learning, but as my team and I began compiling our interview footage, it became clear the humanizing element of the video documentary process made the facts of a situation feel more tangible, and as a result, somehow more compelling.

     One especially surprising lesson from my work with the Intersectional Feminism team turned Feminism Team turned Sexual Assault team turned Sexual Assault in Vermont High Schools team came down to effective decision making in large groups. A younger, more naive version of myself failed to heed the wisdom which almost every mentor imparted: shrink your group size to three or four people. In theory, I’d expected that a large group size would mean a lightened workload for everyone as well as increased creativity. In practice, I encountered bottlenecks and struggles with making sure everyone could communicate their creative vision for the project. It also made job delegation challenging, since the subdividing was uneven and we seemed to advance our work at a broken cadence. Such logistical problems could have been relatively easily avoided at the start, but given my group’s collective insistence of our large size being a good idea, we found ourselves with a variety of challenges. One such challenge would be our first attempts to flesh out the style for our documentary – there were many competing visions, and even once settling on an idea, it was time consuming to transform that vague vision into a reality with so many moving parts. However, I will say, though we created what were certainly unnecessarily trying challenges, I believe each of these hurles conquered has made every member of my team stronger for having broached them. We were all very fortunate to have Avery Murray-Gurney lead point on organizing who is working on what project and making sure we could at least attempt to adhere to the deadlines we set.

     About a third into the year, after forming the first iteration of our group, my team was met with an unusual test of our conflict resolution skills; this prompted by high tensions after one class-wide meeting over the use of the n-word in an academic setting. There were two dueling central themes which made this obstacle so hard to overcome: firstly, the careless use of language and inflection followed by a somewhat mismanaged apology, and secondly, a severe distraction from focusing on communication replaced by a damning condemnation. Both caused harms, but I think the latter brought the gears of our group to a grinding halt, only increasing polarization from all sides, which is also to namely include the outside observers of the situation. The result of this suddenly complicated equation was a parting of ways. Despite our size, losing a team member was a sad loss for all of us, but I think that beyond logistics, it outlined that teamwork is hard and messy – it inevitably involves disagreeing views, but in the face of conflict, a lens focused on slowly pacing through each perspective is essential to avoid two different views from becoming to clashing forces. The importance of being communicative is only further magnified by participating in a group over time. On a smaller scale, in an effort to preemptively address group imbalances, while meeting a few times at Champlain Valley Union HS, we would create pie charts which illustrated what percentage of work we felt like everyone in the group was doing. I liked this because it showed over time changes in who began pulling more or less weight as we shifted into new phases.

     And finally, though technology is innately impersonal, it has done much to advance my work by enhancing project quality as well as enabling greater in-team communication. It almost seems like a juxtaposition to talk about the importance of the human element in stories which often feels muffled by technology while also recognizing the critical role technology played in my work. The overall experience served as a healthy reminder that when in pursuit of the truth – a pursuit seemingly less often had these days – turning to a computer for information isn’t necessarily the best route. The personal quality of interviews paired with the wide range of communication afforded by digital technologies offered a reinforcing lesson that everything is better in moderation, and with these forces in tandem create a powerful means to enabling research and learning, especially given the decentralized nature of our work. It wasn’t until I was regularly far away from my peers in this class that I realized the true enormous value of web-based programs. The immediacy of being able to view current versions of our project on WeVideo and Google Docs allowed for some calm in the chaos of a seven person team. Moreover, what organizing couldn’t be made clear through these two mediums was clarified through through various emails, texts, and video calls; my team used Slack as our main texting service and Google Hangouts as the platform to support our weekly check-ins on Sunday nights at 7.

     I feel the overall value add to my life comes down to knowing that organizing thoughtfully enables approaching all variety of expected and unexpected problems easier down the road. On that note, that smaller teams make for shorter lines of string between cups, meaning we are able to more clearly hear each others’ visions. Being organized also involves a thoughtful approach to problem solving in the social arena, something my group wrestled with on scales large and small. In a way, one of my core takeaways bridges the gap between these two aforementioned ideas: a conflict with myself over organization and how that impacts my team. I’ve had to work more than ever before on improving my self-management skills and remaining on track with my team’s end goal. My most consistent shortcoming was probably talking less outside of retreats, but over the course of the year, my organization in the way of work completion increased. It’s been one heck of a trip, and this work with kids from around the state has done a lot to afford me a better understanding of my areas of growth creating a social action project to last.


Featured image: “Pencils” by Jess Watters is licensed under CC SA

 

James Tedesco

One Response to “#7 Growing Up To Learn… How Short I Am?

  • Dixie Goswami
    4 years ago

    “And finally, though technology is innately impersonal, it has done much to advance my work by enhancing project quality as well as enabling greater in-team communication. It almost seems like a juxtaposition to talk about the importance of the human element in stories which often feels muffled by technology while also recognizing the critical role technology played in my work. The overall experience served as a healthy reminder that when in pursuit of the truth – a pursuit seemingly less often had these days – turning to a computer for information isn’t necessarily the best route. The personal quality of interviews paired with the wide range of communication afforded by digital technologies offered a reinforcing lesson that everything is better in moderation, and with these forces in tandem create a powerful means to enabling research and learning, especially given the decentralized nature of our work. It wasn’t until I was regularly far away from my peers in this class that I realized the true enormous value of web-based programs. The immediacy of being able to view current versions of our project on WeVideo and Google Docs allowed for some calm in the chaos of a seven person team. Moreover, what organizing couldn’t be made clear through these two mediums was clarified through through various emails, texts, and video calls; my team used Slack as our main texting service and Google Hangouts as the platform to support our weekly check-ins on Sunday nights at 7.”

    Dear James,
    While ads from tech programs for all ages as well as professional workshops for teachers, and summer programs for some students, I am turning to WtS Vermont and to you for primary data and analysis about what actually works when students are engaged in collaborative projects that will be made public and widely accessible. I urge you to speak to your colleges about providing hands-on workshops to Vermont teachers (and students) who are facing the challenge of team work facilitated by technology and for you to consider publishing a co-authored article about the problems you encountered, the solutions that worked, and the outcome of the experience across your team. Thank you. THANK YOU and WtSV.
    Dixie, Director BLTN NextGen, Bread Loaf School of English

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