Sample Educational Narrative: MDS 450, sample 2

MDS 450 Educational Narrative

[Name redacted; Identifying information altered throughout document]

I started working as a College/Career Advisor 4 years ago, with no formal training. While helping my own son navigate the college and scholarship process, the high school that he attended took notice of my efforts, and hired me to help other students. I did not realize at the time that this was my dream job, but it quickly became evident. In our school district, there are 3 high schools, all very different, and none wanting to play nicely with each other until this year. There are college/career advisors at each of the other schools, and we have seen this year that we can all reach such higher levels for our students, if we all work together. The work that we’ve accomplished together is astounding.

  1. Use a personal example to describe the four stages of team development. Name each stage specifically, and tell us the details of that stage, then move on to the next stage until you’ve addressed all four stages. 
  • Also describe the pitfalls at each stage, using higher-level thinking as defined by Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Identify what signals to you that the team is ready for the next stage.

Forming: In this stage, the team members get to know each other and try to get a feel for each other’s temperaments. They also try to get a game plan on how they will be attacking the problem. The pitfalls in this stage could be team members unwilling to compromise, or several members that decide they should be the group’s leader. The College/Career Advisors from the three Springfield high schools had to come up with a 4-year plan for our students. In previous years we did not have much social interaction with each other, and as such did not know each at all. Our determination to find the best solution for our students really helped bond us, and our love for our jobs revealed that we had many similarities. One set herself apart by being the alpha of the group, and took on the role as leader. We are now in the level of Bloom’s taxonomy of analyzing and have established a common goal. We’re ready to dig in.

Storming: In this stage, the team members brainstorm ideas in the process of solving the problem. They usually have conflicting ideas, so there might be a little discord, which could really help the creativity of the whole process. In the pitfalls of this stage, that discord could also fester and cause resentment in team members. If team members persevere and just work through different points of view to compromise and find a common ground, that can produce a much better final product. For the advisors, our biggest challenge was the fact that the student demographic was completely different for each school. One is quite wealthy with supportive parents who are knowledgeable about the college process. Another school’s demographic is a majority of LatinX students who have very supportive parents, but there is a language barrier, and they are unfamiliar with the college process. Just because they are unfamiliar, that does not diminish their desire for their children to go to college and fulfill their and their parent’s dreams of becoming a high school graduate. The last school has a very high homeless rate, and a large group of students who do no live with their biological families. They also have a very high LatinX population, and the challenge of the language barrier. Unfortunately, they also have a sense of apathy towards school in general, but especially college. The challenge for these schools was to find a plan that would work for all, even though there were so many different needs. Another challenge was our individual protective natures. We each completely adore “our kids”, and have no problem fighting for them, and always looking out for their best interests. We had to find a way to compromise and look at each other’s point of view. At this point, we move on to Bloom’s level of evaluating.

Norming: At this stage there is minimal conflict, as team members are more focused on finding a solution to the task in front of them. The pitfall would be that different points of view are not talked about, and members just try to compromise for the sake of compromising. In a situation like that, the best outcome may not be achieved. It’s through the conflicts that atypical solutions present themselves. When we were trying to organize different tasks for all of our kids, we were looking at making a plan for 3,600 students. Even though our schools are completely different, all the students are facing similar challenges, just in different proportions. When I fought for different tasks to be added that would really benefit my McKinney Vento or migrant students, the other school’s students would also benefit, just on a lower scale. The other school was arguing for tasks that were more likely to appeal to those students looking at Ivy League colleges and universities. I dug in my heels and really fought against these. In my mind, all I was focused on was the fact that it is challenging to get my kids to think about college at all, much less an Ivy League school. I had my eyes quickly opened when the other counselor brought to my attention that I was limiting my own kids. I was so focused on keeping their attention in hopes of them finishing the project, I was not taking into account that there might be students that actually want to look into an Ivy League school. I was limiting their dreams, and did not even realize it. Sure, these specific tasks will be skipped over by 99% of my kids, but there might be that one that does these tasks, and it serves as a catalyst that starts them on the path to an Ivy League. It was definitely time to raise the bar.

Performing: In this stage, there is a beautiful meshing of personalities, ideas, and goals. The team members are looking at the forest, while still focusing on their own trees, and now cognizant of others as well. The final touches on the goals are developed and added at a faster rate, and there is finally light at the end of the tunnel for the project. This stage was really fun for us as advisors. We could see a clear path in what we wanted, and where we were going, and we really liked what we saw. No one thought that their ideas were inherently better than others’ ideas, we were just excited to get an idea and be able to flesh it out together. We were serious at times because we were focused and really trying to come up with a great solution. I had taken MDS 315 Integrative Learning during the previous semester, and I really enjoyed bringing that into play during this stage. We wrote down a single idea on a post-it note, and kept doing that until we had all of our ideas written down. It was quite overwhelming to see that many pieces of paper! But then we were able to take different ideas, and maybe combine or repurpose some, rearrange others, and completely toss out a few. We had such a good time molding that into a beautiful result that we all are very proud of, and will hopefully implement during the next school year. I’m not ashamed to admit, we went from being very obstinate and stubborn in the beginning, to actually (unattractively) dancing around the room singing the Dr. Scholls commercials: “We be gellin’!” We still have our school pride, but have found that we work faster and come up with a much better outcome for projects if we work as a team. At this stage, we put into practice Bloom’s taxonomy level of creating. We took all of our analyzing and evaluating and used that to create an outcome that was amenable for all those concerned. All three schools benefit, and quite frankly, all of our administration think we are absolutely the most intelligent people on the planet. That’s job security right there.

  1. Describe both developmental and detrimental behaviors of team members. After describing a few of each, lead us through an example of detrimental team behavior from your own experience. 
  • Based on what you learned in this experience and others, what personal behaviors do you have that could diminish team unity?
  • What are three goals you have to adjust behavior and be a better teammate?

In order to be successful, our team members had to possess certain developmental behaviors. Trust was a big one. We are three very different people, from our backgrounds to our education. For us, education was a speed bump. One of our members just earned her Masters degree, another had their Bachelors, and I do not have a degree yet. We each had to trust that each of us had different points of view, but we all were very focused in our desire to do the best we could to make sure we did all that we could for our kids to be successful. Conflict is another important behavior, and we definitely excelled in that one. We were very passionate about what we thought the plan should look like and were determined that our individual voices would be heard. Even though the kids that we were fighting for were not our biological kids, they were OUR kids, nonetheless, and no one would be shortchanging them. After really boiling everything down, we all realized that what it came down to was that we all were committed to keep trying till we had the best plan for our kids. It’s great to have conflict, so long as it promotes creativity. Commitment is another behavior that can make or break a project. If everyone is not fully committed, no one will bring their best effort. We were all determined to see it through to the end. We all accepted the huge accountability (another behavior) that we were responsible to make something really incredible and special that would impact our kids for years to come. And we all agreed that we really wanted an amazing result, results being the last behavior. Nothing that we did would matter if we did not get the results we desired. We needed to make sure our work was not in vain.

Alternatively, there are detrimental behaviors that can present themselves in teamwork. There can be resentment, procrastination, and stubbornness that can seriously derail a project. In my own experience, when we started the project, there was quite a bit of resentment. School pride ran very deep within each of us, and we all enjoyed teasing each other. We definitely got sidetracked in the beginning because we were trying to get to know each other on a more personal level. From this experience, I was actually quite surprised at what I learned about myself and realized that I had a few personal behaviors that I should work on in order to become a better teammate. Luckily for me, if I did not recognize my shortcoming as a team member in the beginning, they were pointed out to me. Going into the project, I was very wary in working with someone who had just earned her Masters. I felt inferior and had a chip on my shoulder. I was that quiet one that sits back and just tries to get the feel of things, while baselessly judging those who I do not even know.  In the beginning of the project, I enjoyed the procrastination because I knew this project would take a long time and be very labor intensive. I wanted to draw the fun out of it while I could. The biggest detrimental behavior for me without a doubt was stubbornness. Maybe because I am a mother, but there was no way I was going to let my students’ voices not be heard. No one messes with my kids. One of the other advisors has a very strong personality and is used to getting her way, with her kids getting on the metaphorical slide first. I went into the meeting with my heels dug in and a gigantic chip on my shoulder. I was ready for a showdown, and there was no way I was going to back down. I did not go into that first meeting with an open mind, just with an agenda that I was not going to let anyone intimidate me. In hindsight, no one ever tried to intimidate, and no one ever treated me like anything less than their equal. We all came in with the same agenda in just wanting to create something amazing for our kids. In subsequent project meetings, no matter who the team members are, I have tried to come in and give the benefit of the doubt that we all want the same thing, which is the best outcome for our kids.

  1. Using Kolb’s cycle to outline the experience, tell the story of a team you were part of that achieved innovation in solving a problem. Work your way around Kolb’s cycle, naming each phase and describing your process for being innovative with a team, and what you learned at each stage in order to move on to the next one. 
  • How was this team different from a work group? 
  • What role did diversity play in the team effectiveness?

Once again, I would have to reach back to a story involving me and the other college/career advisors. Every year, the three high schools have a separate FAFSA night. We really had no idea how this was going to make that night look. It is essential to have it, so we were going to have to figure it out, and we all would tackle it together as a team so we could learn from each other. This year, Valleyview High school wanted to go first, so they made very few changes to their normal program, the only change being that it was held through zoom. Now we had the results of Kolb’s concrete experience. Only 3 families showed up, so we figured out what not to do. We started our reflective observation by looking at how Valleyview advertised the event and what details were included in the advertising. We also looked at what help they offered, for example they only had a few college representatives and did not give parents and students specific details for what kind of help was going to be offered. We resolved that we really needed to work harder in getting the word out to parents and students that this event was taking place. We also wanted to have a larger variety of services available such as Spanish speakers, college admissions representatives, and college financial advisors. We then moved on to abstract conceptualisation. We looked at the decisions that were made and if they were successful, then we tried to rethink our plan of attack. For example, Valleyview advertised, but not nearly enough. Also the details included in the information that went out to parents and students was information that we had always given out, no changes. Even though that information has worked in past years, it obviously was not getting received the same way. We needed to be more specific in what kind of help was offered instead of just putting out that there was a FAFSA help night. We then implemented active experimentation. Basically, it was “take two” for Springfield High School’s FAFSA night. They tried a weeknight instead of a weekend, and 7pm instead of 5pm, but because of time constraints, that was the only change that was implemented. The outcome of this night also did not meet our expectations as only 4 families showed up. So we went around Kolb’s cycle again, and reevaluated and revamped our plan. What we determined is that we needed to go big or go home, so to speak. The final trial was for usHigh School’s FAFSA night. I kept the weeknight at 7 pm, but made quite a few changes and additions. Columbus’s TRiO representative ran the zoom, with six other college representatives. With this large group, I was able to make my first major change. I took into account Columbus’s demographic and we were also able to offer FAFSA help in Spanish. Another big change we made is that I really went overboard with the marketing side. Because all area schools were completely online, we determined that our major obstacle was getting out the simple fact that a FAFSA night was being offered. During normal years, we would plaster flyers all around the school and email all the students that were seniors. That alone would net about 25 – 30 families. Identifying the lack of getting the knowledge out, I decided to start with emailing seniors, just like in previous years. Then I sent emails home to parents/guardians. I also talked to the person in charge of communications at Columbus and she was able to advertise FAFSA night in our weekly school’s newsletter, with very specific details about what questions we could answer and what specific help was being offered. She was also able to send out reminder texts several times through the Remind App. All these efforts resulted in a whopping 24 families showing up for Columbus’s FAFSA night zoom. It was a huge success! It not only helped many more families than I ever could have imagined, but it also was a wonderful feeling to know that with a lot of work and collaboration, amazing outcomes could happen.

This team was very different from a work group because we did not just tackle a problem, find a solution, and try it once no matter what the outcome was. We tried something different each time and let our solution evolve into something that was more successful than when we started.

Diversity did play into our team’s effectiveness in several ways. We each had different suggestions from our different points of view, and some worked while others did not. For example, each school has different needs represented by our students. At Columbus, we have quite a few homeless students, students with divorced parents, and a variety of other situations that made the question of “Who is my FAFSA parent” extremely hard to answer. We also took into consideration that our LatinX demographic were not being connected with as well as could be. This was a huge positive that came out of a challenging situation. Because of our different points of view, and willingness to look outside the traditional box, the success of FAFSA night reached more people and was a better success that we ever imagined.

4. Referencing your experience, tell us: what are the best practices for driving innovation with a team? What inhibits or promotes creativity in an organization? What is the role of creativity in an organization’s success?

The best practices for driving innovation with a team is recognizing the challenges that need to be improved on, or completely having to start from scratch for a project. Especially this year with COVID, we have had to basically start from scratch on all of our projects. It is definitely not business as usual, and in several instances like the ones that I have referenced, it was easiest to start from scratch and highlight what each of our strengths are. While we all had to become masters at Zoom, we used other technologies as well. One counselor used Iorad to create easy to follow instructions for her students to complete a certain task. She shared these videos with all of us. In my case, I had an intern that was amazing with PowerPoint. We worked on a presentation together, then I used Screencast-O Matic to do a voice over to show our kids how to use the CIS website. This was also shared and modified with the other schools.

In our case, our creativity was inhibited because of the pressure to get something (anything) out to our students before certain deadlines. An example was FAFSA night. We really wanted to start that early because we know how all of our students procrastinate. Also, with everything that I did for College Application Week, that is a certain week that is set by the state. All school activities pertaining to this must be held during that week, no exceptions. That was quite stressful considering we had to retool all the activities to be accomplished online. I would have liked to put more thought and effort into the final product, but am content with what we came up with. Creativity was promoted when we all collaborated. We work really well together because we consider each other equals. No single person takes credit for anything, and we aren’t hindered by that. We build on each other’s thoughts and ideas, so everyone is encouraged and no one feels like they contribute substandard ideas. When the final product emerges, we’ve “Frankenstiened” our ideas so much, we all can see our fingerprints in every stage, so we are all proud of what we’ve done.

The role of creativity in an organization’s success is absolutely essential.  In my job, projects that stay the same year after year end up becoming obsolete. Like I said, I am a college/career advisor, and the same things that held teenagers’ attentions 20 years ago, definitely would not do it today. We constantly have to innovate because that’s what they are hit with all day, every day. There is so much going on that vies for their attention, a boring pamphlet about going to college would never make the cut. This is one of the main reasons that I took PRO 301 Technology for Professionals. I feel like I have to constantly innovate just to keep up because our students are learning more every day. If I stop, I will fall behind.

  1. What does productive collaboration look like for you? In what way do differences within a team affect the way the team collaborates? What sort of activities, methods, guidance, or strategies do you use to promote collaboration? (For example, how do you get a group to brainstorm together effectively? What structures or scenarios do you put in place to encourage participation?)

There are many innovation tools and techniques out there. One example is called DMAIC. It is an acronym that stands for:

Define the problem that affects your customer or your process.

Measure the extent of the problem.

Analyze the problem to find the root cause.

Improve. Brainstorm possible solutions to fix the issue.

Control. Maintain the changes by continuously watching them.

Another technique for innovation is the Design thinking process. Like DMAIC, it is a 5 step process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. These two techniques are very much alike. Honestly, neither one has much appeal to me. My favorite technique is to brainstorm. It has always been my favorite because it is more conducive to my way of thinking. I am not a step-by-step, details person when it comes to attacking a problem, I’m more of a “throw everything you have at it and see what sticks” kind of a person.

When in a class last semester, we had a group project. There were probably 5 or 6 of us that had to come up with the top 3 attributes of a good communicator. This was not a project that I was looking forward to, because I did not even know my teammate’s names, and we had never met because this was an online class. This was going to be brutal. Our first step was to individually research the topic by interviewing someone who was employed doing our dream job, and ask them to list a few communication attributes they thought were most important in their jobs. Then we came together as a group, and had the team leader write every single one on a whiteboard. From there we discussed them all, and threw out any that were duplicates or overlapped, and combined some attributes if they were similar. At this point, everything was going surprisingly swimmingly! Then we discussed the contributions much more thoroughly, and started to whittle away by throwing out perfectly good attributes, but those that we as a group, did not think should make the cut. With some compromising, and a little pointed conflict, we were able to get our list down to only five attributes. We voted on what we thought should be the top three, and presented those (proudly) to our professor.

This worked out much better than I would have hoped, and have been using some form of this technique since. Even when I am not in a group setting, I still find that brainstorming works beautifully. In a group setting though, there is something so satisfying about putting an idea on a post-it note and placing it on a desk or whiteboard with everyone else’s ideas. Everyone has a different color and it is so colorful and serves as a great reminder that all those ideas will blend to make something truly beautiful.

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