INTRODUCTION: In my experience, most students are reluctant to ask for help, even from friends. Perhaps they don’t want to be perceived as weak or become indebted. Worse, they often fail to see the negative impact that some of their friends have on them. Each semester I read in students’ journals about the pressure they get from “friends” to drink, go out instead of doing homework, and make other poor decisions that pull them off course. Recently, a student complained to me that his brother was holding him back by making him late to school. Another said her roommate kept her up so late that she was falling asleep in class. Failure to recognize the negative impact of unsupportive peers can be as dangerous as a student’s failure to seek assistance. Perhaps even more dangerous.
Here is an activity to help students become more aware of the impact of the people with whom they spend time. It also helps them view relationships as resources that can, and should, make achieving their goals and dreams easier and more fun. While I use this activity in my College Success course, it can be used in any class or group to help students identify a goal (project, paper, etc.) and create positive support for achieving that goal. It takes about 50-60 minutes.
PURPOSE: To help students…
- Identify the people with whom they spend time and assess the level of support each relationship provides them in the pursuit of their goals and dreams.
- Identify a particular goal or dream and a “Dream Team” of people who do (or could) support them to accomplish it.
- Practice inviting someone to join their “Dream Team.”
- Optional: Give a homework assignment before this session to read about interdependence and networking. (For example, Chapter 5 in the On Course text)
- Optional, but highly recommended: A Video of the 1992 US men’s basketball team (Dream Team) winning the Olympic Gold Medal Game. You Tube has several versions of different lengths.
- Paper and pen for each student.
1. Show a video of (or tell about) the 1992 US Olympic basketball “Dream Team.” Remind or inform students that this was the first year that professionals were allowed to participate in the Olympics, and the US Dream Team won the gold medal with an average margin of victory of 43.8 points. But importantly, besides being talented as individuals, each player made a positive contribution to achieve their common team goal of a winning the gold medal. No one sabotaged the team’s success. (3 –5 min)
2. Ask the students to identify one of their own academic goals or dreams. Give examples such as “Earn a 4.0 GPA” or “Earn a master’s degree in psychology and become a counselor.” (2 minutes)
3. Ask students to write on a piece of paper the ten people with whom they spend most of their time. Then on a scale of one to ten, rate each relationship. A score of “1” indicates that the relationship completely pulls them away from their goals and dreams. A score of “10” means the relationship completely propels them towards their goals and dreams. (10 minutes)
4. Discuss what students learned by doing this ranking. Ask, “Are all of the people you spend time with helping you achieve your dream? Is anyone sabotaging your efforts? Do they all belong on your Dream Team?” (5 minutes)
5. Ask students to visualize their perfect Dream Team. Ask them to list people who could best support them to achieve their goals and dreams. The team can include both people they know and don’t know. (5 minutes)
6. Have students write a letter inviting someone to join their Dream Team. (5-10 min)
7. Put students in pairs to read and discuss their letters with a partner. (5-10 min)
8. Conclude with a group discussion. Debriefing questions might include “What did you realize about the people you presently spend time with? Is there anyone you might drop from your team and why? Who would you like to add to your Dream Team and why? Will you send your invitation letter? Why or why not?” (5 min)
9. Conclude the activity with a short writing assignment addressing questions such as, “What did you learn or relearn in this activity? What will you do with what you learned? What did you like or dislike about the activity?”(5 min)
When I asked my students to list and rate the ten people with whom they spend most of their time, some students hesitated. One student said, “I don’t choose my friends based on what they can do for me.” This was an opportunity to clarify that interdependence does not mean using others to get what you want, but it helps to note who is supportive of you and who is not. He was upset and said, “I dislike that we have to justify who our friends are and why we hang out with them.” A classmate said to the student, “You’re only saying that because you don’t want to put down your friend, but really you know he holds you back. The people you hang out with the most are the people you will turn into.”
When we discussed who in their lives were holding them back from their goals, one student said that half the people on his list had under a five rating and all he ever did with them was party and make fun of each other. Another student shared a different perspective and said, “I have never rated my friends like this before. It was an overall positive experience. Seeing my friends on paper really made me see what a great network I am creating.”
Students identified a variety of actions they would take: “I need to surround myself with motivated, goal-oriented drama-free people.” “I will limit my time with friends who are not concentrated on school and success.” “I will put up a Post- it that says ‘Who cares about your goals?’” “I will get a study group by next week.” Another student added, “I’m going to look for people who can help me with my major.”
I was pleased with how attentive students were as they wrote letters to invite someone to be on their dream team. It was as if they had been dying to ask for help and had just been given permission. One student wrote to a family friend who had earlier attended our college for three semesters and asked him about good instructors to choose. Another letter was to a classmate to ask if they could form a study group to prepare for the accounting final he was dreading. A frustrated math student wrote a letter to a math tutor for help on a physics test. One student who wanted to be a teacher wrote to her aunt who was a teacher to ask about what classes to take, schools to look at, and for a summer internship. A bright ambitious young woman wrote to a well-know beauty editor of a fashion magazine to tell her she wanted to work for the magazine.
My first intention was that students would identify the people they spend their time with and assesses the level of support that each relationship provides them in the quest for their goals and dreams. Students did this somewhat reluctantly, but successfully. This resulted in a discussion about the impact of those in our lives who are holding us back from our goals and dreams. Students were able to see that the choices of who they spend their time with can help or hurt the achievement of their dreams. One student said, “I learned that the people I surround myself with aren’t the people who will help me to get to my goals.” A visible victory came three weeks later when I asked that same student to share his success story for the week (a daily practice in our class) and he said, “I formed a study group for this final.”
I also wanted students to identify a list of characteristics of people who support them in pursuing their goals or dreams. They did this and even went as far as to share dream team members with each other. When one person described the kind of person he would like on his Dream Team, another student said, “Oh I know someone like that. I can introduce you.” A student who wanted to transfer heard another student talk about a counselor on her Dream Team and added that counselor to his own team.
My overall intention was that students personalize the concept of interdependence by relating it to the people in their lives, seeing how those people support or don’t support them in achieving important goals. One student made a declaration about how she would follow through on what she had learned: “I will put this list of people by my computer so I know I can ask for help at any time.” Another student used this activity to discover that “There are more people out there who could help me in my Chem. 101 class.”
The students’ writings indicated important realizations they made about people in their lives. One student wrote, “I found out that many people are more neutral in helping me succeed. I will hang out more with the people who have more success and will consistently remind me of my purpose in life.” Still another said, “I learned that asking for help is not as easy as I thought it would be. Writing the letter helped me to practice asking for help when I need it.” One student had not even admitted that she needed help on her path to college. “I learned that I do need support through college. I should ask for help whenever I need it and not hold myself back.” Finally, the activity helped one student become aware of how lucky she is to have the support she does; she planned to go home and thank her sister for being her biggest cheerleader.
The next time I do this activity I will spend more time clarifying that interdependence does not mean using each other. The student who was stuck on that viewpoint resisted the activity all together. His evaluation said, “My friends are my friends and I don’t choose them to try to help my dreams and goals.” I will take more time to be sensitive to this perception.
I also learned to be sure my examples are current and relevant. As an example of a Dream Team, I searched You Tube for a video clip of the 1992 US Olympic Basketball team of that name. When I introduced the clip and noticed the blank look on some faces, I realized this team played well before many of my students entered kindergarten. I will search for a video clip of a more current team. I might even make a slide show of several Dream Teams.
Students really responded well to the letters. I will allow more time for the letters next time and perhaps even provide envelopes if they want to mail them.
–Gabrielle Sundra, Counselor, Santa Barbara City College, CA