Preparing for excellent legal teamwork benefits from playful classroom work!

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To get our #UBLawResponds team of student attorneys ready to for our service-learning journey in Puerto Rico, we played. But it was the kind of play designed to teach meaningful lessons and prepare the students for deeper service-learning! 

By way of background, I have thought a lot about how having a strong team makes service-learning experiences both better for students and more productive for clients and partners. I thus have drawn upon training in building restorative communities that I received while studying for my graduate certification from the International Institute for Restorative Practices in designing some of my legal clinic classroom activities.

This week, #UBLawResponds student attorneys did a playful exercise that I designed, inspired by an exercise designed by Kay Pranis, international expert in restorative practices and peacemaking circles. In my version of this exercise, students sit in a circle around a table, select rocks from a shared container, and collectively create shared art. 

The rules of play seem simple: working in silence, select one or more rocks, place them however you feel moved to do in the center of the circle on a table, pass the container to the next person who does the same (and/or rearranges the rocks on the table), and continue around the circle multiple times, ending when everyone is satisfied with the shared construction. I have done this exercise with various groups for several years.

Yet this interaction is anything but simple: students must decide how to work together without speaking, decide how to create by moving things other have placed, decide how to react when others move what you have placed, allow the shared art to change and emerge with individuals taking brief control and then ceding it, and decide when to continue, and when to stop, and more.

This #UBLawResponds team was more boisterous than some with whom I have done this before. I believe in part this is because they have been spending half a day every weekday together since the second day of January, and have forged a connection and share a purpose. Yet beyond that, it was gratifying to hear them reflect afterwards on what they observed and learned about themselves and each other in this brief kinesthetic play-work. They deepened their connections, learned more about each other, and commented on how they think they will use these insights when we arrive in Puerto Rico.

My own observations and reflections are gratifying. I believe their participation shows that this #UBLawResponds team respects one another, allows for differences but encourages collective work to create something greater together, are committed to inclusion and excellence, and enjoys each other’s company. This comforts me as we finalize preparations for our upcoming trip:  we will be working hard to learn and create opportunities for further recovery and resilience efforts in Puerto Rico, and to allow the students to develop and hone new professional skills.

To learn more about our clinic, go here! To see how you can support this work, go here! And, if you have a chance…take some time to play this week!