May 18, 2014 Using Metaphor to Build Community and Positive Climate – Postcard Strengths Activity
This post was originally published in March of 2013. As the school year comes to a close I have been using this technique quite a bit with great success. I am posting this article again as a reminder to educators and group facilitators looking to help their groups build community, reflect on strengths and celebrate program or school year successes. This is also a great lead up to one of my favorite end of the year activities the “postcard to your future self”.
Postcard Strengths Activity
As discussed in the February 2013 article, using postcards, image cards and objects are powerful ways to spark introductory conversations and initiate meaningful individual and group reflection on learning experiences. They are also effective techniques for using metaphor to reflect upon and celebrate the strengths and contributions of individual group members.
Groups who know each other well, work together, or are involved in a collaborative project, often don’t have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the contributions and strengths of the individuals that make up that group. When they do, it can be an uplifting morale and rapport building experience that strengthens the whole team.
Postcards are one of my favorite tools for celebrating the strengths of group members such as colleagues in the work place, students in the same class, faculty members, or team members. I find they spark positive reflective conversations and feedback in a non-intimidating way. There are a couple of different methods I use to facilitate this process depending on the size of the group and the dynamics within the group. One technique uses the “Trade and Share” activity (see post) and the other uses a “Guessing” activity.
Postcard Strength “Guess” Activity:
I use this activity with smaller groups who know each other well, and with participants who are comfortable with group process and sharing with the whole group. First, invite group members to pick a card that represents a personal strength, a positive quality they bring to the team, or a strength or unique perspective they bring to their work as a student, member of the class, or practice as a professional (teacher, engineer, nurse, daycare provider etc.). Then ask participants to take turns holding up their postcard while their colleagues/peers guess why they chose it. This is a wonderful opportunity for people to hear positive feedback and insights from others. This celebration of personal strengths and contributions from colleagues or fellow students is something that doesn’t happen enough in the workplace or at school. In my experience people regularly share thoughtful complements and insights that go beyond the reasons the individual chose the card.
Next, invite the participant receiving the feedback to share how close the group was in guessing why they chose the card. This gives the individual the opportunity to express thoughts about their personal strengths and contributions – another important skill to practice. I often invite participants to write themselves a note on the postcard about these strengths as a reminder and take it with them as a memento. Or I have them self address the postcard and I send their reminder note to them at a future date see http://www.experientialtools.com/2011/06/15/transitions-celebrating-the-end-of-the-school-year-and-new-beginnings-for-students/post for more ideas around using postcard reminders.
Trade and Share Variation
The “Trade and Share” variation we explored in the February 2013 post is a useful technique for larger groups, or in situations where participants need more movement and practice sharing with partners before a group discussion. With this variation I ask participants to choose a card that represents a personal strength and then follow the trade and share sequence (2 or 3 trades).
During the “report out” I invite group members to not only share what they heard about the card from others about that person’s strengths, but also what they know about that person’s inner strengths or contributions to the team. This process of group members adding their thoughts, complements, and positive feedback is another nice way for people to hear about their personal strengths from their colleagues or peers.
I regularly use this with many of my school clients as a way to build community/ positive climate in middle and high school classrooms. The first time I facilitated this activity with 8th graders it worked beautifully. As the students entered social studies class their teacher and I asked them to pick a card that represented an inner strength (something we had been talking about in previous classes). We then facilitated the trade and share activity. When the group came back to together we asked students to share what they heard about the person’s card they ended up with. We opened it up to the group to add any additional thoughts about their fellow student’s strengths. For each turn 4 or 5 students added meaningful insights and positive feedback and complements about every one of their peers. Finally we asked the student whose card was talked about to add or clarify their reasons for choosing the card. It was a powerful moment for our group and was a perfect way to lead into the “Postcard to Your Future Self” activity mentioned above.
As this school year closes, I’ve been using it again in the last few weeks with a few of my classroom and teacher groups with great results. So often students are involved in interventions in school focused on what they “aren’t” supposed to say and do, it is nice to focus on the positive and give them an opportunity to practice the things they CAN do and say towards their peers to make for a better community and school environment.
Note: You could use objects or any kind of image card for this strengths celebration activity. I prefer the postcards, as I like to have participants write the note to themselves on the back which I send to them later.
The strengths guessing idea was first suggested to me by a participant in the midst of a postcard partner sharing activity at the Chewonki foundation a few years ago. Since that spontaneous experiment I have used this approach with numerous groups with very positive results.
For information on bulk discounted custom orders of Pick-A-Postcard cards for sending group members email me at firstname.lastname@example.org