My last post covered our middle school’s first Synergy event. Hosted by Voices of DPMS. Each week at our middle school, a small group of 8th-grade students (Voices) leads the whole school in building relationships and building conversation skills. One of their most provocative lessons are called a series we call Synergy. The first Synergy event took place suddenly in the lunchroom. At this event, students were seated at tables with people they do not typically visit with on typical days.
In the days following this disruptive event, I listened to participants which led me to encourage DPMS Voices students to create a survey. Students were asked to reflect on the event and give input into improvements for the future.
The response was expectedly mixed, but there were some unexpected results. In a conversation I had with an highly networked and privileged 8th grader, I learned that she was angry to be asked to talk to someone new. She said she did not want to learn about other people. She was very concerned about being associated with students who were not in her friend group. I asked her “Do you think other people want to learn about you?” Her reply surprised me. She had not considered that anyone else wanted to learn about her life and experience, but she smiled at the thought. She was more concerned about protecting her social status. I found this to be a common theme. Middle-schoolers believe to talk with a person outside of their group exposes them to expulsion from the group. They are afraid that their friends will shun them.
To be honest, in new environments, I am ashamed to say I have been careful about not associating with a group’s less influential or representative members. It is difficult in situations where one hasn’t had time to build any respect equity to risk aligning yourself with an outsider. Unlike a middle-schooler, though, once the group is aware of my role and possible contributions, then I feel I can go converse with anyone. It is safer to take social risks when you have some respect or knowledge equity. Probably a middle school student is not confident in knowing what assets they offer to a group, so they may not feel assured a place when they return.
The DPMS Voices survey included questions about which topics they liked talking about the most. What participants enjoyed about the event and what they didn’t like.
Students reported they were resistant to talking to new people for these most common reasons;
Afraid that the new person would not want to talk to them
The new person might be mean to you
Afraid they would lose a friend to the new person. This is very common among middle school students. They fear that if their friend makes a new friend, they will be isolated, left without friends.
Afraid to lose social status.
Overall students found the Synergy event Interesting vs. horrible. Though they prefer not to ‘lose their lunchtime’ to such an event in the future. Some resented the loss of freedom to talk with friends. Though, after lunchtime, they were free during their rec. time for 10 more minutes.
Besides our Voices of DPMS class, we have another leadership group in our school. This group includes the class officers and ASB representatives. Since these Leadership kids are charged with organizing most school activities, they usually know what’s going on long before anyone else. So they were also bothered by the surprise of the Synergy event.
Some students shared that the event triggered some social anxieties. It was also evident that the students did not know what to do with the conversation cards. Some of them asked all of the questions on the card, and others didn’t even read them but were at a loss for conversation topics.
The biggest news was that the event and the follow-up survey sparked interest and content for future lessons. Voices students are ready to address some glaring concerns.
What do you think they wanted to ‘fix’ in our school culture?
What would you teach next?