In the Fall of 2020, I led my first TA (Teaching Assistant) session in my Organizational Behavior course. This assignment involved co-creating a classroom session on a topic of choice along with a partner and our professor, leading that session for my peers, and engaging in a post-session debriefing to receive feedback from my peers on my performance. From first glance, I knew that this assignment was going to be a challenge for me. However, I understand that many of our most significant moments of growth in leadership happen when we choose to leave our comfort zone. With that in mind, I chose to give this project my very best.
Leading up to our session, my partner and I met several times with our professor as we prepared ourselves for this co-created classroom experience. Our topic of choice was the individual in the organization. My partner and I chose this topic because it raised so many great questions that sparked interest in us- What are all of the different key characteristics and skills that make each individual within an organization unique? What events in an individual’s lifeline shape that person into who they are today? How do all of these unique individuals work together as an organizational unit to add value? What makes one individual value another individual in the workplace, and what is it that makes an individual feel either valued or not valued by another? These are all questions that sparked great excitement in us as we embarked on this journey of ours. Truly, there are countless benefits of understanding this concept of individuality in an organization. I strongly believe that when we take the time to learn about one another and understand what makes each of us uniquely different, we are then able to value one another and work together towards a common goal much more effectively.
In our first session with Dr. London, we dove right into the text and discussed which parts of our respective chapter were the most meaningful to us both individually and as a pair. The text we used was entitled “Contemporary Organizational Behavior” by Kimberly D. Elsbach, Anna B Kayes, and D. Christopher Hayes. The chapter on Individual Characteristics in this text was full of great concepts and information, however we did not want to just merely summarize the text for our peers in the session. Of course, that would be the easy way out. Instead, my partner and I made it our goal to craft a session that would be as interactive, thought-provoking, and relevant to their lives as possible. With this goal in mind, many ideas were bounced around between myself, my partner, and our professor. This first session presented an overwhelming amount of options for us in regards to all of the different directions we could go in for our session. We were both very excited, but knew that we had a lot to think about. Ultimately, we would need to narrow down these many options and ideas into one coherent session that would be both educational and moving for our peers.
In the planning sessions to follow, we spent our time narrowing down ideas, discussing alternatives, prioritizing, and boiling the session down to follow a set of key objectives. After lots of back and forth, the finalized objectives of our session were as follows: (1) To uncover the unique skills and attributes that make up each individual within an organization, (2) To understand the ways in which an individual’s significant life experiences shape their unique attributes, and (3) To explore the concept of values between individuals within an organization. The ultimate goal of our session as we planned it was to ensure that each student would walk away with an understanding of individuality in the workplace as well as the ways in which individuals are shaped through unique experiences, along with how a system of values can play a large role in an individual’s organizational experience.
For our first objective of uncovering the unique skills and attributes that make up each individual within an organization, we decided to have the students use Jamboard, a collaborative virtual whiteboard, to illustrate their ideas on the different skills and competencies most sought by employers, their individual learning goals, and the challenges/strengths presented to introverts vs. extroverts in the workplace. Along with the Jamboard, we also chose to incorporate an article from the Wall Street Journal into our discussion, entitled “What Introverts and Extroverts Need During Lockdown.” Incorporating this article was an attempt on our part to make the session’s material both relevant to our world today and engaging for the students.
For our second objective of understanding the ways in which an individual’s significant life experiences shape their unique attributes, we chose to engage the students in a hands-on activity. At this point in the session, we decided that we would give each student 5 minutes to pull out a piece of paper and draw a version of their own lifeline to identify the major events in their lives that have shaped them into the unique person they are today. After 5 minutes, we would break them up into partners to share their lifeline privately with a peer. Following this, we decided that we would engage the students in a class discussion where they would each share one significant event in their lives that shaped them and why. Although time consuming, we felt that this class discussion would be crucial in the bonding of our class as one unit.
To transition into our last objective of exploring the concept of values between individuals within an organization, we decided that we would give the students some time to reflect on when in their own lifelines. We would ask them, When in your lifeline did you feel the most valued, and when in your lifeline did you feel the least valued? To follow this reflection, we would break the class up into small groups to discuss what we felt to be the most important questions related to this topic: (1) What makes an individual feel valued or not? (2) What makes an individual value another individual or not? And (3) How do we get to a place where everyone is valued within the organization? We felt as though these questions had the ability to prompt meaningful discussion between our peers that would help them to be aware of the power of individual values within any organization that they may become a part of in their future careers. To conclude, following the small group discussions, we then would have a class discussion to share together all ideas, thoughts, and feelings on the subject matter.
Throughout the session, I felt as though my partner and I were able to keep the class fairly engaged in our activities and discussions by bringing our best energy and excitement to the session and our topic. Of course, Zoom learning brings forth its own unique challenges in regards to keeping students engaged. However, I do believe that we brought the energy that was needed to this session in order to keep everyone active in their learning. Truly, I would say that the highest moments for me during the session were the times when a student would open up and share something personal about themselves that the class did not already know about them before. This often takes vulnerability, and I was so happy to see students feeling comfortable enough in our session environment to share the more personal parts of their lives and who they are at their core. I believe that these tender moments work to build great bonds between peers in the class. In contrast, a low moment for me was when I realized that my partner and I may have been running low on time due to certain activities taking longer than we had expected. Time management was definitely a challenge in our session, as this was a very new experience for both myself and my partner. However, I believe that we handled our situation well as we prioritized and pivoted appropriately.
When reviewing the feedback in our post-session debriefing, I was very pleased to see that each student had significantly positive things to say about our performance and our presentation. Lots of the feedback noted our great energy and facilitation skills. Many commented positively on our use of Jamboard as a collaborative online learning tool. The most common feedback, though, was in regards to the lifeline activity and our class discussion to follow. An overwhelming number of students claimed this to be the most impactful part of our session. Many mentioned that they were appreciative of us taking the time to give everyone the opportunity to share one life event that has shaped them and why for the entire class. In this activity, students made deeper connections with one other and as a class as they learned more about their peers on a personal level. Also in this activity, students dealt with the thought-provoking questions that arise naturally when asked what life events in their past have shaped them into who they are today. Many of them may have been thinking, How have these events shaped me into the unique individual I am today? And why are some life events so transformative while others are not so much? While reflecting on their own lifelines and all of the events that shaped themselves as individuals, I believe that they took away a greater respect for the individuality of their peers around them.
While the students inevitably took many key points and understandings away from our session, I also took a few things away and learned a good bit about myself in the meantime. I would say the most important thing I learned was in regards to the power of using my own energy when leading an activity with a group of people. What I found was that when I had high energy, I raised the energy of the entire group. This is a very powerful thing to understand when we think about effective leadership and the commanding of a room. In regards to planning, I learned that there is a lot of pivoting involved in creating and executing a session like this with a group of people. Change has never been easy for me, so this experience has undoubtedly taught me that being able to change, pivot, and adapt to new things on the fly is crucial in any project. This is a great lesson and a valuable skill that I will undoubtedly use in my professional life when working with others in an organizational setting. Overall, this project was an incredible learning experience for me that I am very grateful for, and I look forward to using this leadership experience to aid in my professional growth for the future of my career.
See the artifacts below from our TA session.