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A New Direction: Survivor Fintopia

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by Neil Finney

As teachers, we will find ourselves questioning our direction and effectiveness with a class at some point during our teaching year. About five years ago, I had my startling moment of reflection while teaching a class that I felt just wasn’t responding to typical classroom management strategies.

One night after a staff meeting I had a conversation with my principal about how the group was escalating in their behavior choices in the class (and around the school) and we spoke about where to go next. This particular group of students had been together for years and were known as being ‘difficult to manage’ for teachers. I told my principal that I was going to try something new and see what happened.

After countless ‘heart to heart’ chats and guidance-style discussions about decision-making and setting personal (and class) goals, it became apparent to me that a new direction was needed. At that moment, I’d come to realize that it is only when we throw away the conventional that we are able to see what’s possible. In this case, I needed to shock my students with a fresh start – no questions asked.

I stayed late after that staff meeting constructing a sign that read “Survivor: Fintopia” (a play on my name) and created game rules and props to be used for beginning the game the next morning. There were challenge cards, a ‘sorting bag’ (ala Harry Potter) for team members, a new seating arrangement, and a buzz in the air.

When the students arrived the next day, I had scrapped my lessons for the first 100 minutes to pitch the game and its possibilities. The students were energized and hopeful that this new system (of behaviour management and class motivation) was the new perspective they needed to begin anew. We drew for teams, tribe names and flags were created, a leader was chosen and a tribe plan was put together (both to choose goals and rewards if that tribe won the most points for the week).

The students responded incredibly and there were implications for Survivor: Fintopia during both teaching and non-teaching times. Students were held accountable for their own behavior choices both to me and to their tribe. New leaders emerged from the most unlikely candidates and flourished as part of a stronger team. When all else fails, there is no longer a need to fear failure – search under those last rocks for new ideas.

Think of a time that you tried something ‘unconventional’ in your classroom that helped to solve a problem. Are you faced with a situation – right now – where you need to find a way to reach a challenging student or difficult class? 

During Neilʼs 9 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and now junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.

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