Teamwork – Theresa Glenn
Theresa Glenn – Austin Community College
Service learning has been an integral part of Theresa’s courses for approximately ten years. Throughout that time her students have contributed almost 1,500 hours of volunteer service. Currently, she serves as chair of the Speech Department at Austin Community College and is on the college-wide service learning committee. Theresa brings 23 years of experience in corporate training and adult education to the classroom. She has presented her work to the American Red Cross, Leukemia Society of America, Texas Education Agency, Texas Board of Nursing, and other state organizations.
Leadership, teamwork, and small group communication are all core learning objectives in two of the standard courses offered in the Speech Department at Austin Community College. Specifically, every Introduction to Human Communication and Business and Professional Communication course is required to measure student success in these areas. The courses also cover the dimensions of cultural diversity and conflict management and how these affect teams.
I incorporate a service learning project that requires the students to apply John Dewey’s Reflective Thinking Sequence (i.e. problem solving method) to real world issues.
After some independent research, the students work in teams to research the causes, effects and possible solutions to the problem. It doesn’t stop there though. Next they present the problem and their findings to the community during the Austin CROP Walk which is an international fundraiser for Global Hunger and other global causes. This year the teams are tackling topics such as relief for Syrian refugees, food insecurity in Honduras, safe drinking water in Indonesia, the declining quality of health in rural areas of Vietnam and educating the children in Kenya.
Part of this project requires students to assess and reflect on how their communication affects the team’s ability to accomplish its task within a timely manner. Students complete a leadership self – assessment and identify goals for their group interaction. They must also identify steps to help them accomplish those goals. Part of the evaluation includes a very specific grading rubric that provides feedback on the effectiveness of each student’s communication skills. After covering the small group communication course materials students are expected to be able to create synergy within their group by maintaining a healthy balance of social and task communication roles. They are encouraged to avoid any dysfunctional communication roles.
After their group work is complete in the classroom, students share their information with the public by staffing educational tables during the CROP Walk. They share their research and solutions via educational posters and interactive games with the walkers. Students learn how teamwork and service learning can make a difference which is not something most college classroom experiences offer.
Finally, students are required to write a reflection journal regarding their experience in their team. They address issues regarding the effectiveness of their team, their own individual communication skills and contributions of other team members.
Results/Debrief: The project builds unity among students, contributes to retention rates, engages the community with the college and provides a win/win for everyone involved. Students learn much more than a problem solving method or how to overcome their fears of speaking in public. They took away core skills such as team work, effective communication, what it means to be an involved citizen, and a greater appreciation for things we tend to take for granted every day like clean drinking water.
Participant Angelica B. wrote in her reflection journal
“When you physically take a stand for something and let other people know what really is going on, it definitely has an impact on them. When you realize that you have the power to encourage change in other people’s beliefs, values, and/or ideas, this creates a whole new aspect of how you can really change the world in even small ways…..”
In closing, student Claudia R. expressed in her reflection journal,
“It opened my eyes to serving our community and other communities across the globe.”
I could not be more proud of their accomplishments.
- Coordinating the event is time consuming. It requires waivers, outside of class time for the students and scheduling conflicts. The best solution I have identified is to tell the students on the first day of class that this is a service learning course and they need to be available on this set day. An alternative research paper is available for students who cannot attend the CROP Walk, but only three students have ever opted to complete the research paper.
- There never seems to be enough time in the classroom for students to meet with their teams and prepare the educational poster or activity. One solution is to assign the teams earlier in the semester and encourage students to use on-line meetings such as WebEx. When the students know their team members will be providing feedback on each of them, students tend to make a greater effort to attend all the meetings.
- The weather does not always cooperate. Often it is very cold and rainy during the CROP Walk. I prepare the students ahead of time saying dress warm, bring hot cocoa and expect to stay the whole time.
- Students are often surprised that teamwork can be taught. They walk away from the unit realizing that their communication create the environment that the team works in. The environment does not create itself. Shy team members learn that their participation is critical to the team’s success and overly verbose students learn to not dominate the discussions and how to solicit other member’s ideas and input.
- Students who usually hate ‘team work’ learn the value behind synergy and why companies most often choose to have their employees work in teams. They also learn that even though some classmates will slack off, they have to learn how to manage those members as well because those are the same people they will be working with in their future careers. The slackers do not go away after you graduate, but a strong leader learns how to pull the best out of every team member.
- What I’ve learned through the years is that all the work is worth it!