Seamus McGuire, AmeriCorps Member, Alumni Sponsored Team,
Serving at Parker-Varney Elementary School
For me, 50 Acts of Greatness can be one of the most trying and rewarding experiences as a corps member. The purpose of 50 acts of greatness is to improve student behavior. Twice a week I will meet with my behavior focus list students and together we review and set goals for completing 50 Acts of Greatness. Most of these acts are as simple as holding a door open for a peer, or helping your brother or sister up when they have fallen down. Every time our group meets I ask my students what act of greatness they have accomplished since our last session. I keep track of every deed they tell me by writing them down and putting them in our leadership binder. This binder, which they helped me create, contains everyone’s great deeds and acts as a constant reminder to all that we have achieved. We often play or participate in games or team builders that enable the students to express themselves to one another in a safe, positive environment that can help them grow as individuals. Before starting our sessions I had my concerns. I thought about the objective and how it might be difficult to achieve. I thought about the idea of putting four of my classroom’s most troubling students at one table together. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. Regardless, I started to plan but soon found that even the best laid plans can be susceptible to distractions.
My first session for the group was to help create a full value contract for my students and myself. This contract, which would be made of suggestions and ideas from everyone in the group, would help set the rules and expectations for the rest of the year. This session was also a good opportunity to troubleshoot the group and find out what worked and what didn’t work within the group dynamic. During this session I noted that there was a lot of talking and distractions. Students were quick to get carried away in off topic conversations and would lose focus when another peer was sharing with the group. We sat at a large table in the hallway next to a large window overlooking the street. Other students were constantly walking around inadvertently causing my students to look at them. After much refocusing and with some perseverance we were able to finish the full value contract. However, I was unsatisfied with the way my group progressed during the session. I was frustrated with the students and myself. Why did my group not work? I started to reflect and after thinking on it I determined that I had set our group up for failure from the start.
After evaluating session one I honed in on where things went wrong. It was important for me to recognize that this was the first session with my behavior students. There was bound to be some kinks because my students have never been part of 50 Acts before. They’re in 3rd grade and I’m their first City Year, in fact this is the first 50 Acts session for everyone including myself. I noticed that our location in the hallway turned out to be a huge inhibitor on my group’s success. We were in the hallway where there was a lot of noise and other students. We were also sitting at a big table next to a window. To remedy this, for session two I talked to my teacher and asked her if she would host us in her room for 50 Acts during lunch. She agreed and the behavior in my group improved drastically. We sat at a smaller table in the back of our own classroom. This encouraged closer interactions in a familiar environment. My students weren’t looking around because we were in the same classroom we had been in since the first day of school. We sat much closer to one another which encouraged discussion and allowed me to moderate that discussion where I wouldn’t have to yell across the table to get a student’s attention. With this new setting I was able to eliminate a lot of the outside distractions and gained the attention and commitment of the students that were sitting right in front of me. With the outside factors eliminated my second session was not only more focused and smooth, but we were able to accomplish nearly twice as much as we had done in the previous session. I’m not saying that this cured everything. We still face small obstacles from time to time and we still can get off topic, but I have been able to greatly minimize these problems. Comprehension and retention have also improved because my students are more engaged and focused. I can’t wait to see what great things we can accomplish next.