Games and Relationships

This year in education is the “year of relationship building”. I’ve been in education over 15 years and have begun notice that each year their is a theme floating in the educational zeitgeist. A few years ago it was ‘rigor’. After that it was “edtech”. 2017-18 has been about “relationships”. This is an important element of the classroom and students that are comfortable having an open conversation with their classmates and teacher do seem more open to learning. So, I’m supporting this movement – my introverted nature is a slight hiccup though.

In my first real placement, right out of college, I was teaching the first half of American History to 7th graderd in a rural western NY town. I was inexperienced and awkward and definitely just trying to keep my head above water. I have since learned that the 1st year is known as a survival year and I nearly didn’t make it. That year, the education zietgiest was all about extroverts and introverts. We had a staff meeting were an outside “expert” was brought in to teach us about the difference. I don’t remember much except that all the faculty to a survey and I scored very far in the introverted side. Thankfully we didn’t have to share the results because after we tallied up the scores the presented explained the spectrum and when my number came up said something to effect of “well I hope their are no teachers in this range” – as if an introvert would make a terrible teaching candidate. I was mortified which did not help my social anxiety about being a very inexperienced and likely pretty poor teacher at that point in my career.

I have since learned that my introversion is not a flaw but a different perspective. I don’t dislike building relationships as much as it is exhausting to do so on the spot. Also, when I do make personal connections they are meaningful. One of the worse things they don’t teach in teacher college is that you spend a full 8 months learning about individual students and making those deep connections then 180 days is up and -poof- they disappear… Only to be seen in random moments 5 years later at a Starbucks or while you wait in line to pay for windshield wipers at Walmart. (May is a depressing month for me). What I have found is that structured activities to make relationships with students help break the barrier through my introversion. This is where gamification has helped me immensely. The lost below is a few ways that games and game design has helped me,build relationships.

  1. Ice Breakers and Team Builders. – this first one is obvious, but needs to be stated. Partially for me but also to help all those introverted students. Please don’t start class with a “tells us your name and something interesting about yourself” variation. This was a standard college intro activity for,me and it was always extremely embarrassing. Instead play a quick game that allows students an “out”. I prefer Fruitbasket. Here are the basics. First sit everyone in a circle with one seat fewer than number of players. (Teachers, play if you can). Create 3 or 4 groups with each labeled a fruit (ie bananas, strawberries, watermelons). The person in the middle calls out a fruit and each fruit,has to race to a new seat. Whoever is left in the middle calls out another fruit or yells FRUITBASKET and everyone has to,find a new seat. Its loud and crazy and totally fun. After 2-3 minutes add a new element -person in the middle tells,something about themselves and anyone else that it is true about has to find a new seat (ie I’ve been to Disney World). The “out” is that anyone can still say a fruit or call FRUITBASKET. This is just one example…
  2. My game narrative – having the game narrative is a built in conversation starter with some students. I wrote about this towards the beginning of the year here – Storytelling and Relationships.
  3. Shared Victories (and Defeats) – The excitement of wins and losses are both exhilarating moments to share with students. A victory, even a small one, or a near miss can lead to shared laugh or grumble. It’s the same bonding that you might get in a sports bar when your favorite team hits a homerun or misses a game winning field goal (I grew up near Buffalo… So that one hits home).
  4. Conferencing and Conversations – the autonomy and choice based learning structures that I have in place allow in my game inspired class has a secondary benefit; it allows more personal interactions. Not only do we have more time to talk but there is a clear discussion topic to build a conversation around.
  5. The Gamer Connection – At this point, we are all gamers or at least have a shared schema built around gaming language. My hardcore video gamers have an easy access point to start conversations when they recognize some of the structures I have built into the classroom. Students that have experience with table top games and dice based games are also quick to offer suggestions. I do my best to incorporate these suggestions so that student’s voice is heard in the class game process.
  6. Immersion and Role Play – Not only is role play and immersion a highly engaging element of video games, but this mechanic can be used to teach empathy and perspective in a social studies classroom. Immersion and Role Play also allow students that would rather not immediately share something about themselves to have a safety valve. Also great about this design element is that it does not gendered towards male students. In most research I have seen female players are equally engaged with this mechanic.
  7. Planning for Types & Adjusting for Individuals – When creating year long structures and day long lessons game design allows the designer to plan for types. For example, I know that there will be socially motivated students, those just looking for rewards, and some that want to just explore. Once the structures and plans are in place I can adjust for individual needs based on conversations and assessment data. Again, this is another entry point at building a relationship based on mutual respect.

As an introverted classroom teacher I have to really work at building the relationship connections that seems to come so easily for other teachers. At some point in the year I need to remind myself that students are master mind readers and can spot insincerity the moment they walk in the door. Over my career I have learned that it is important to be authentic, and although at times I have been known to exaggerate personality traits, the core of my classroom persona is honest. These, and other, elements of game design have helped me to make those deeper connections that are so necessary in the modern atmosphere.

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