Mankato Public Achievement
Best Practices, Lessons Learned, Success Stories, Barriers

June 16, 2000

BEST PRACTICES

1. Coach Manual
We wrote a brief manual for the coaches (The Yellow Book). It includes a suggested agenda for the first six meetings and a check-list for subsequent meetings (did you...evaluate?....use concepts? etc.).

2. Display Boards/Assemblies
We had a December assembly for each grade on the last Thursday before vacation. Each team was to prepare a display board with their name, mission statement, rules, some research and maybe a power map. This was intended to give teams some specific tasks to accomplish while team-building takes place. Coaches' evaluation of this was mixed. Some thought it worked. Others thought it was busy work, taking time from other things.

We also had a year end assembly for each grade. Each team reported. We gave T shirts and certificates to each student. We had Dairy Queen Dilly Bars for treats.

3. Small Groups prior to Issues Assembly
In September before the Issues Assembly we had one period where coaches met youth in randomly assigned small groups. The coaches tried to explain PA and help brainstorm issues. This was partly issue development for the kids but it was also coach preparation. The previous week coaches had the site visit. This week they met a group of youth prior to getting their own team.

4. Leadership team: Coach Mentors, Site Coordinator/Americorps
Again this year four of the previous year's coaches returned to serve as coach mentors. One chose to coach a team but others did not. Each had a cluster of teams under their care. They debriefed with these coaches and organized Tuesday seminar activities together. They read coach journal writing. They report to me by visiting periodically and/or by written report.

Our school has thus far been unable to produce a teacher or other staff member to serve as site coordinator. We provide our own. Jill Hurd is a former coach, was our site coordinator as an Americorps member last year. This year she was not in Americorps but continued as coordinator on a part-time basis. She took over supervision of our Americorps member who worked at the school.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. Debriefing
We only have 30 minutes at most for debriefing after team meetings. We have 30 coaches in two shifts. (So our whole class does not debrief together on Thursday. That's why the time in Tuesday seminars is also good for debriefing.)

Last year we had 16 coaches in one shift. That is too many to do much in whole-group debriefing. We usually divide into smaller groups. We do mostly check-in in the beginning of the year. Then we try to have a focused question or topic for debriefings. Sometimes this worked great, sometimes not so great. We had teachers sit in on debriefing once last year. We plan to do this as much as possible this year.

2. The End Game: Being Attentive to the Life Cycle of the Year:
It helps to have the coordinators keep the coaches aware of how many meetings are left. We also try to use our experience from past years to help them know what to expect. Teachers know the year has ups and downs. We just learned this. PA pays a lot of attention to the beginning of the year: coach orientation, issue development, team formation. We had some success paying attention to the particular challenges of the last few meetings. We focused coach meetings on the need to 1) be public and 2) to name success-help teams see what they have accomplished and learned. This fits with........

3. Actions not Just Projects
We started to talk with coaches and teams about thinking in terms of actions not just projects. Projects sometimes are so big and complex that teams are often unable to complete a project. They then feel like they didn't do anything or accomplish anything. They "failed." Actually they may have done a lot of actions including research, bringing in a guest speaker, doing a survey, taking a field trip, talking to authorities, writing letters. Looked at this way they really did a lot.

SUCCESS STORIES

1. Publicity
We sent out press releases in the spring and called reporters to interest them in covering all or some of the teams. The newspaper did a story on a park cleanup project. The city council and mayor noticed this and gave the team a proclamation at a city council meeting.

We finally got our web site reconstructed and in presentable form. It is worth checking out. (http://krypton.mankato.msus.edu/~jak3/pa). We also bought and distributed our T shirts.

2. Team Success

We had many successful teams. Several dealt with issues that had an edge like teen pregnancy, child abuse, legalizing fireworks, stopping coal train expansion, changing the school counseling center. Teen Center was the biggest and some teams made progress. Our park cleanup group received a commendation from the city.

BARRIERS
(we prefer to call these dilemmas)

1. Empowering Coaches (anarchy / democracy/ dictatorship)
Coaches and teams learn quickly that PA must be different from a traditional class. Teams adopt their own rules and decide what they will do. Coaches are "friendlier" than teachers are. Coaches are often too tolerant of disruptive behavior. We encouraged our coaches to be more proactive in dealing with disruptive or nonparticipating team members. Most coaches were still reluctant to do this. When teams or coaches did kick out or discipline members we had some problems in how and when this was done.

2. Coach interest in technique (theory vs practice)
Most coaches are more interested in learning how to do PA. As a professor I want them to learn why . This involves thinking beyond PA. PA is not an end in itself for our coaches. Why? 1. We want them to learn about democracy. 2. Coaches need to really understand democracy to converse about it with teams. We did use two excellent books (New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, PA) which both coaches and I thought useful: John Gastil. 1993. Democracy in Small Groups. Sam Kaner, et. al. 1996. Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision Making.