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Training Our Students for Working in Teams After College

Training Our Students for Working in Teams After College

Today I attended "Climate Change in the News" with meteorologists Pedro Montoro of Telemundo 47 and Erica Grow, American Meteorologist Society Councilor and former evening meteorologist of WNBC in NYC. Futures Initiative Faculty Fellows David Lindo-Atichati and Jose del Valle, who this Fall semester co-teach the “Climate Change and Discursive Frames” class, held this open classroom session at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

Although I came to the event because I do work in ecocriticism and climate change, I found myself wearing a different hat in the audience--my teacher hat. This event was part of the The University Worth Fighting For, a series of workshops that tie student-centered, engaged pedagogical practices to institutional change, race, equality, gender, and social justice. So naturally my mind drifted to how I could connect my pedagogical praxis to what I was hearing. 

Two things that Montoro and Grow said stuck out to me: (1) they spoke frequently about how meteorologists work in teams of people in the newsroom; and (2) beyond drawing from their expertise and from science, they devote much of their work to storytelling and connecting their stories to what will resonate personally with audiences. In my mind, these two elements of their work and workplace environment call for training in group work, effective communication and narration of ideas, and identifying one's audience, all of which can be obtained by taking humanities courses in college if we in the humanities do what we say we're doing and teach the soft skills students need to succeed in a challenging world (e.g., critical thinking). 

Group work isn't busy work. It's crucial to thriving in the workforce. What's funny is that I recently interviewed Susie Greene, Entrepreneur in Residence at UNC, and she told me that some students assumed (at first) that group work wasn't reflective of real situations in the real world. We both chuckled because group work resembles work in the real world far better than a lecture or any other structure for learning. On top of that, work in teams in the workforce doesn't end at the end of a semester; instead, it can go on for months and even years regardless of whether or not all the members of a team work well together. 

Storytelling is the bread and butter of the humanities, and it's not just for English majors. Students studying science, oceanography, meteorology, and so on, need to develop good storytelling skills if they want to thrive, to win grants, to land contracts, to forecast the next piece in the pattern, and to identify and predict trends. Yes, we read stories in English but we also craft them in history books and in politics; for example, in drawing comparisons to earlier political moments in history so we can address and guard against potential problems in the present. 

I was surprised to find myself thinking about pedagogy while learning how the weather gets told, and how it gets connected to evidence of climate change. But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised because this was, after all, a University Worth Fighting For event. 

One could use the newsroom scenario to develop an activity in which students, in teams, must create and narrate a story to broadcast based on research on an event or topic (it needn't be about a weather event but it certainly could be, say, about a natural disaster if this were for an environmental humanities course). Students could choose their main "roles" in the group based on what expertise they bring to the table: the person closest to the event or area of expertise required may not be the best script writer, and the writer may not be the best person to tell the story in front of a camera or in person in front of peers. Asking students to take the lead in a particular area can assist their reflection on the activity as it builds toward soft skills they will need in the future. It can help students self-reflect and become aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and also give students opportunities to put their talents to work to serve a team and accomplish a collective goal. By making each team member a leader of some element of the project, the responsibility is shared and evenly distributed and students practice leadership and entrepreneurial skills along the way. Although I'm not teaching this semester, I'd like to give it a try in my next class!

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