APRIL 21, 2014
What does it mean to be a part of a community? Is it just living in the same neighborhood? Liking the same things? Having similar experiences? Probably not any one of these things alone, but they’re a good start. One thing I would say that is necessary is a shared feeling of ownership. When you own something that you care about you feel responsible for it. You take care of it and look out for its well being. Having a shared sense of ownership builds community, and community builds meaning.
Back in December of last year, Don Pancoe approached our partner NextFab about sponsoring an Odyssey of the Mind team from Masterman. NextFab in turn approached DM+D thinking that it might be a better fit for us and so on the last Saturday before Christmas, eight energetic, nervous, excited, bewildered, intelligent kids got their first taste of DM+D.
Questions. So many questions. What’s this? What’s that? Did that soccer ball really go into space? What do you do here? Are you some sort of janitor? Where’s the bathroom? They just kept coming. Their curiosity was astounding! Not only were they exploring the extent of their ownership of the space but also their roles within the team. I let them investigate and go where they may, only stopping them when they ran up against something potentially dangerous.
I suppose now’s a good time to talk about what Odyssey of the Mind is. OM is an international competition in which teams of students from kindergarten to college are judged on their ability to solve open ended problems—some of them prepared and some of them spontaneous—that usually contain some sort of theatrical element. Coaches are usually parents or teachers who help facilitate practice but are not allowed to give help unless it is asked for by the team. This stipulation is one of the major defining features of OM, and does a couple important things, not the least of which is that it insures that the process is lead by the team and not the adult and gives the team ownership over the direction.
So there you go. Ownership again. Starting to catch on? Over the next couple of months, every Saturday, “Team ?” spent their afternoons practicing, painting, building, laughing, eating chips, not eating carrots, and building their community inside of DM+D. It really struck me when I got a call on my way home after one of their practice. The number was unknown but I picked it up anyway. It was Anya and Eliza calling to tell me that I had left the lights on at DM+D. Now that might not sound like much but why would they bother to find my number, something I hadn’t given them, and call me if they didn’t feel some ownership and responsibility over the space. They had a vested interest in making sure that DM+D was safe.
There are other examples from the past couple of months but I’ll cut to the chase. Two weeks after their competition “Team ?” held their “final practice” at DM+D and now they’re done. I miss our Saturday afternoon practices, with its just-on-the-edge-of-sanity feel, its excitement and its constant sense of exploration. Good luck to you all and I hope to see you again next year if not sooner.
Imam, Shahla, Anya, Eliza, Elijah, Vincent + Bix