- Be a good coach. Give specific, balanced, positive and negative feedback.
- Empower your team and don’t micromanage.
- Express interest in team members’ success and personal well-being. Possess insights into others including their values and different points of view.
- Be productive and results-oriented.
- Be a good communicator and listen to your team.
- Help your employees with career development.
- Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.
- Have key technical skills so you can help advise the team.
Last on the list is “technical skills.” The majority of the most desired skills for managers are “soft skills” having to do with collaboration and communication. Google was also able to identify some pitfalls of the company’s worst managers. Essentially, they found out how crucial it was to be able to work well with a group.
Google provides a glimpse of what the real world is requiring of our graduates: good collaborators, communicators, and feedback givers and receivers. The natural question then is what are we doing on a daily basis to prepare our students to be better communicators, collaborators, and critical/creative thinkers? How are we assessing those skills? How are we tracking growth? How are we developing our students’ ability to work as teams?
Developing a trusting classroom culture is crucial for learning, and I don’t know of a single classroom teacher that doesn’t try to build and maintain a positive climate throughout the year. I also know that it’s a common practice to do team building activities. But, in my search for wanting my students to dive deeper into meaningful conversations, I found and am learning more about Spider Web Discussion- a tweak to the popular Socratic Seminar.
Spider is an acronym for Synergetic, Practiced, Independent, Developed, Exploration, with a Rubric. The Web comes from the web-like graph that the teacher draws to document the discussion in real time and uses it for debriefing. The teacher prepares by using backward design and identifies the goals of the classroom discussion by listing them for a rubric. Short and sweet rubrics are best. For example, I want everyone to participate and strive for a balance of voices in the discussion. This requires that those students that love to talk to monitor themselves and not monopolize the conversation and my quieter students to stretch and contribute. I also want my students to listen to understand by using specific language that encourages others to share or elaborate on their thinking.
Secondly, the teacher will want to choose a good discussion topic and/or text. The key is to find something engaging that your students will be eager to talk about with their peers. Before any discussion, I like to give my students time to reflect and write down some thoughts on the topic. This is a good strategy that helps all students but is almost essential for my more introverted students because they need more time to process and think before speaking. When we’re ready to start, students sit in a circle so that everyone can see each other. I quickly review the rubric. The goal is for the class to collaborative work together to “earn an A.” I’m not grading them for a grade in the grade book, but I am encouraging them to reflect and improve after each discussion. During the discussion, I map the flow of the conversation and note the number of interruptions, great questions, and insights, encouraging phrases, etc. Unlike the Socratic seminar, the students conduct the conversation, and the teacher “disappears.” They have to work collaboratively to keep the discussion moving forward with everyone participating and showing respect and understanding for various points of view. After the discussion, the teacher debriefs with the kids and fills out the rubric. An excellent book about Spider Web Discussions in great detail is The Best Class You Never Taught: How SPIDER Web Discussion Can Turn Students into Learning Leaders by Alexis Wiggins. It is a step by step guide and an easy, quick read.
My first attempt at having a Spider Web discussion was amazing! I was in awe as I watched and listened to my students. Students never cease to amaze me when there are high expectations, and they are empowered with their learning! I can’t wait to continue using this “strategy” and to track their growth. (I think of this type of discussion as more about classroom culture rather than a teaching strategy.) I was able to visually see evidence of who talked the most, who didn’t participate, who asked thought-provoking questions, who used encouraging language, who interrupted, who had inspiring insights, who was willing to take risks, and who was able to jump into the conversation but only repeated what had already been said. Although I could have predicted much of the outcome, there were a few surprises. I was also really proud of my class for being able to honestly reflect and talk about how they could improve for the next discussion. In my opinion, I think the Spider Web discussion tweak has the potential to be a real game-changer!