Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

Until this moment, phrases like small wins or short-term wins seemed like buzz words to me. I admit that deep down, I thought:

“Awwwwww… a small win… isn’t that cute. I mean, really, who doesn’t love a good pep rally? Grab the pompoms and get your cheer on! Since the astronomical puzzle is so overwhelming, discouraging, and maybe downright depressing, let’s at least make others feel really good about themselves every time they interlock a few smaller pieces!”

But what I learned in this room blew my mind and will change my practice.

I’m still reflecting on our Wake Science Core Leadership Team‘s experience at the National Science Teacher’s Association Area Conference in St. Louis. It was my first attempt to Escape the Room, and it was so much fun.

At first, I thought it would be similar to @breakoutedu–the box, the room, or the digital version. As an educator, I predicted that this would require the usual 4Cs and team-building skills, and all the more with a dozen, enthusiastic, K-12 science educators.

Yes, all of those problem-solving ingredients were needed to escape the room. However, there were a few things I didn’t foresee as a result of this unforgettable adventure that I can’t wait to do again.

Getting Started

While the excitement and suspense were building along our walk to Escape the Room, conversations revealed some key details.

Some in our group had done this before, and some had not. I was in the latter camp. That’s important, because that means that some could access prior knowledge and had had a life experience to inform this venture. Specifically, they could transfer knowledge from a past learning experience to this current challenge. That’s priceless. Maybe this escape would be similar? Maybe just some parts would be similar? At the very least, they had already practiced the skills needed to achieve this goal. As a result, these were the teammates I expected to emerge, leading and influencing our strategies and processes.

Going in, our team had no real, strategic plan. Our only goal was to Escape the Room. We would have to be adaptive, applying our individual talents, strengths, and lifelong learning skills, while fueling synergy for survival. We would learn more specific details and directions on-the-spot. Perhaps a snapshot of lifelong learning itself, we’d have to plan, take risks, amend plans, adapt behaviors, try again, and repeat the cycle several times until we achieved our goal. It’s almost like the feedback loop in real time.

And then, it began.

Small Pieces to the Big Puzzle

Entering the room, I could feel the excitement. Even before any clues were discovered, translated, and applied as interlocking pieces in a much bigger puzzle, I fell in love with the process. While teammates scurried about every crevice seeking hard evidence to unlock the mystery, a few simple observations became apparent:

  • Immediately, a flurry of questions and answers bounced off the walls from all directions. This was intense.
  • Fellow educators maintained an undeniable calm-amidst-chaos, as if selectively blocking out some things while hyper-focusing on performing the tasks at hand.
  • Smaller, breakout teams emerged–and then collaborated with other small teams.
  • Roles naturally formed. While a few may have stayed in their comfort zone or practiced a noticeable pause, most did not.
  • Usually, one person read aloud clues that came across the screen. One person shouted when a key was discovered. When potential evidence appeared, it was immediately shared. Yet, during all of these revelations, members of the whole group stopped what they were doing to hear the update. From there, teams compared new progress to their current activities, and then rerouted their course accordingly. To me, this was the kind of problem-solving that most resembled pure learning processes in the world outside the room. Needless to say, I loved it. Thinking quickly on your feet is an imperative skill in any leadership role.
  • I felt an organic obligation to serve my team for the greater good. It wasn’t about me. So, what was my role, here? If I was good at one thing that someone was already doing, or if I had specific skills that someone else was already applying, how could I adapt to do this most good for the team?

One Small Win for the Teammate, One Giant Leap for the Team

In this challenge, I tried something new. I was one of the few who paused, stepping back to observe others, seeking first to understand before finding my niche. I waited to stake my claims. I reflected on the context. I strove to lead with the team‘s end-in-mind. I tried to make connections, synthesize clues, and hypothesize as they surfaced.  

And then, my contribution opportunity arrived.

The first half of this puzzle resonated with me:

“What has rivers but no water, mountains but no earthquakes… ?”

Thinking and talking through this with a teammate nearby, our brainstormed answer lead to digits in a phone number that literally unlocked one of the biggest obstacles to Escape the Room.

Here’s What Blew My Mind

If we did not answer this riddle, then we could not move on. Literally.

If lifelong learners of all ages–especially kids–don’t have opportunities to earn and celebrate small wins, then they can’t move on. Literally.

The moment you hear yourself saying things like: There’s no chance I could ever make that commitment, pursue my doctorate, earn that degree, pass that class, become an administrator, write a book, start blogging, win the race, break the record, #becomebetter there, make that situation better, achieve that goal, climb that mountain, or make it to the next step is the very moment you may wish to recognize, create, and pursue small win opportunities.

Blogger’s Note: On small wins and short-term wins, this post was influenced by a couple of multi-published authors and major league thought leaders in education. At the least, I’m specifically referencing Bill Ferriter in Growth Mindset Lessons in a Kids Ninja Fit Class and Douglas Reeves in my recent, face-to-face conversations with him at ASCD’s #Empower19 Conference. In addition, Escape the Room was a voluntary excursion, separate from the #NSTA19 Conference, and I paid my own way.

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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