Perhaps the hardest thing in leading project-based work is knowing when to help students who are stuck, struggling, and feeling as if the world is collapsing on their project. While this is, at least according to Austin Kleon’s borrowed graphic, seemingly inevitable, and while my own experience in leading three years worth of NOVA Lab classes would bear out the truth of this observation, it doesn’t obviate the need to know when and how to help students see their way to completing a project that is, if not exactly what they’d hoped for, at least better than abandoning their work altogether.
Regardless of the student or the project, however, there are several key skills I practice to help me know when and how to help students in the “Dark Night of the Soul.” First and foremost is empathetic listening. I don’t solve the problem for the student. That would be contrary to the nature of the class and would erase an immense learning opportunity. Instead, I listen, ask questions, and offer resources. Second, I pull out my years of experience and my network of educators and former students and try to connect the project leaders with someone who might help them solve the issues holding up their project. Sometimes…in the best of times…these things happen together, immediately, and the project’s inverse arc and the student’s affect suddenly take on a positive attitude.
Such is the case with Brianna T.’s project, the Fast and Furriest 5K run .
Brianna is a 10th grader who refocused an original project two months ago to hosting a 5K fun run to help raise money for our local SPCA. She had never hosted a 5K before, but she loves animals and is purpose driven to help animals live better lives. However, for about a month, Brianna was having trouble getting traction with her project. Yes she made some fliers and, yes, she had many procedural hoops to jump through to get the site and permission, but the project wasn’t moving that quickly and the date, May 14 was coming at her like a greyhound after a rabbit (see what I did there?).
And then we went to Fluxspace and met our guest speakers, Jordan Deane and Emily Rodenbaugh of Cutloose Studios. Barely 10 minutes into Jordan’s presentation, as he spoke about his failures and successes in his life’s journey, it was clear that Jordan and Emily might be able to offer a lot of help to Brianna. And so, after their presentation, and after Brianna’s presentation I urged Brianna to go speak to them. In just 5 minutes, and then another 5 as they listened to Brianna present the story of her project, Brianna had a solid line of communication planned out with Emily and Jordan. And within a few days, Emily and Brianna were e-mailing and texting back and forth, planning for a successful run.
The Fast and The Furriest is really coming together now. Brianna has plenty of volunteers, many of them from our NOVA Lab Community. She has learned the value of asking for help and seeking out experts/mentors to assist when her own knowledge and skill set need bolstering. Most importantly, and this is something she mentioned in a quick reflection, she has realized the importance of building a team to assist in planning events like this…or really in any large undertaking.
For those who are close by, the Fast and Furriest run is May 14th at Perkiomen Valley Middle School West. A $20 donation gets you a ticket. Proceeds go to the Montgomery County SPCA. The flier below has a QR code to get you to the Eventbrite to purchase your ticket. You can also click here.