I was thrilled last year to be Team Manager for my granddaughter’s Destination Imagination (DI) Rising Stars! team. It was nearly two decades since I had a similar role with my sons’ teams. This time, I was working with seven girls in kindergarten! I admit the four- to five-month commitment kept me on my toes, but I also can report it was one of the best volunteer experiences in my retirement. Here are some suggestions about strategies that worked well for me and my co-manager:
- Build relationships with parents. We began the season with a face-face parent group meeting to discuss DI purpose & rules as well as our plan of action for the team (schedule, expectations, manager style, etc). My being entrusted with their precious five-year-olds was a big deal…so it was important that parents knew me and my approach to DI. It’s also good for parents to be acquainted with one another. That enhances team spirit throughout the season.
- Keep parents informed about their child’s DI experience. It was an investment of time on my part, but well worth it. I sent emails before (agenda, expected outcomes) and following (what was accomplished) every meeting. Maybe for older kids this is less critical, but I believe parental support nurtured by DI Team Managers is essential for Rising Stars teams. Today’s communication technology makes this efficient and everyone wins!
- Have kids create their own list of meeting ground rules. They can review them at each session and periodically have kids rate how they’re doing on the rules.
- Ask parents to send kids “ready to work.” Our meeting times meant each child came from home and was expected to have finished snack and potty time before arriving. Starting and ending on schedule sets a good example of meeting management.
- Keep meetings active and moving! One hour meetings worked well for five-to six-year-olds. Even though the time goes by very quickly, it’s about the limit of attention span. Pay attention to the need for “wiggle time.” Sometimes we would call “time out” in a meeting and just run around the room 4 times or do a bunch of summersaults/jumping jacks.
- Set a pattern for how meetings are structured. This gives kids a sense of “flow”:
- CHECK-IN: Check-in time gives each kid a voice and teaches others to listen. Use a fun question or “finish the statement” idea: “The best thing about DI is…” or “Today I hope I can…”
- BRAINSTORMING: Brainstorming is part of creativity building and team building and can be used to build toward the required Rising Stars Challenge solution. Gradually, the kids slide right into this on their own.
- CONCEPT LEARNING: Concept learning relates to the Rising Stars Challenge. Last year, the team had to understand maps and travel planning in order to solve the Rising Stars Challenge. This year, it will be about simple machines.
- SKILL BUILDING: Skill building is a very hands-on part of the meeting (i.e., getting the kids ready for their job of making props, costumes and problem solving by discovering and using the various skills each kid brings to the team).
- CHECK-OUT: Check-out time provided another chance for individual voice and listening. It gives closure and also gives feedback for the managers. Use statements like “Today I think I was good at…” or “My favorite part of today’s meeting was…”
- Assign between-meeting homework. Explain assignments to kids as well as in post-meeting emails to parents. For example, last year we asked families to talk with their daughters about family trips and encourage the DI member to make a map of a family trip for the next meeting. This gives opportunity to explain the “hands off” rules of DI and distinguish between being “supportive” versus “take-over” parents.
- Plan fun activities beyond regular meetings. Plan in a few times when it’s more than the one-hour meeting. For example, we did a mid-season pizza night with parents included and during the winter holiday break, we did a longer session that included some DI time, but more play/fun time for the girls to socialize.
And finally, I’d like to add something about the most rewarding part of managing a Rising Star team. I went into this aware of the opportunity to help kindergartners learn more about teamwork, problem solving and creativity. What I was amazed by is that in this young age group, DI is a wonderful opportunity to also develop character and caring skills. At this age, there’s quite a range of variance in capacities and abilities. Some girls were beginning to read and write, others not so much. My greatest joy came in helping each child celebrate her own place in the group and in helping them celebrate one another. Nothing pleased me more than watching this little team of girls learn patience, appreciation and mutual respect. Indeed, enough of a payback for all my investment as a DI Rising Star Team Manager!
About the Author: Jeanne Markell is beginning her second year as a Team Manager for a Rising Stars DI team in Minnesota. She retired in 2009 after a 40-year career as a professor and administrator with the University of Minnesota. Jeanne coached her sons’ Odyssey of the Mind teams in the 1990s and was delighted to discover Destination Imagination when her grandchild showed interest in the program. Jeanne in also a community volunteer teacher for the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center, on the Board of Directors of the University of Minnesota Retirees Association, and serves as a mentor and networker for young professionals in a number of fields. Jeanne has a wide range of hobbies and interests including local and state politics, reading, golf, travel and cooking/baking. Every August, she spends a few days as a baked goods judge for the Minnesota State Fair.