Keeping Plates Spinning is The Best Part of The Job

A couple of years ago, someone asked me if Robotics could be done in a hybrid learning environment. Could we do a hands-on project with a combination of virtual meetings as well as physical meetings. At the time, I didn't have a great answer because I had no reason to explore the possibility. I was running my robotics team and focusing on doing everything possible to help the team do well.

That changed this year when I decided to take a year to go work for Google. My student robotics president looked at me with horror as I told her the news that I would not be there next year. Then after a minute of thought she said, "Oh wait, never mind we'll be fine." It was a fulfillment of something I tell my leadership team all of the time, "I will have done my job when you no longer need me."

This was the ultimate test, could they succeed without their teacher being there with them everyday? Let me start by defining success for my team. I know many mentors who's goal in life is for their robotics team to win, win, win! I want the best robot our team can possibly make but that is not my only focus as their mentor. My goal is to help them fulfill their goals and make their dreams possible.

That looks different for each student and it is my job to help them find it and then work with intense fervor to make it possible for them. Mentoring each student individually is what I call it keeping plates spinning because it is exciting, requires one to see the big picture, and also focus on each individual. Some of my students want to go into a STEM related job, but others want to be businesspeople, graphic designers, teachers, and the list goes on. If you visit my team there are many different projects going on at once. That is because if I find someone who I think I can mentor I find a niche for them on the team because it is not just about building robots, it is about building people.

I am so grateful that Lisa Davis is able to serve as the physical mentor watching out for the well being of the team while also helping them explore and grow in marketing, entrepreneurship, and service learning. If she was not willing to take on the additional responsibilities this year, there would be no team. It would have been impossible for me to virtually mentor the team a few years ago but with daily emails and weekly Google+ Hangouts I can talk to my team and support the individuals.

All year long I am looking at students to see where they have areas to grow. My decisions on who should lead our team are not necessarily based on who is a "leader" on the team but who could become a leader. Each of my presidents have been shocked when I asked them to step up but each time they have exceeded all expectations.

Presidents are chosen in their Sophomore year. I let the current president know who I have chosen and they usually disagree with me. That's ok, I have expected and planned for this. I don't select for talent but potential.

The reason the student is chosen in the Sophomore year is so they can serve as President in their Junior year while being mentored by the previous President who's now in their Senior year. When others teams chose their seniors to be leaders, the skills and lessons are lost each year. With this process, the previous President can spend the whole year reflecting on the experience helping the new President through their struggles.

This has resulted in an ever increasing improvement in our team and what it is able to achieve. I also select Presidents based upon what they are able to learn from the outgoing President and vice versa. Sometimes it is humility, or organization skills, maybe public speaking skills. I have the luxury of focusing on helping people grow.

Could we not do this with mainstream education? Teachers are repeating themselves multiple times a day, and again each year for 40+ years. This is horribly inefficient, let students teach students and have the teacher support the process. The inexperienced students will learn more easily from their peers and the teacher can look for ways to challenge the tutors and grow in their own understanding. Imagine advanced classes happening concurrently with regular classes within the same classroom!

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