Gotta Learn How to Work in a Group!

So my first week of OT grad school is officially over and I’m about to embark on Week 2! After a while I’m sure the days, weeks and months will all start to run together, but for now I’m feeling refreshed and ready to rumble through another week of 9-4 classes and 5-12 homework. 😛

One thing that’s true of OT school – and something my former OT supervisors tried to tell me about – is the insane amount of group work we’re required to complete. In all of my classes, we’ve been required to work, collaborate and present as members of a group at least once during the 3-hour class periods. In doing so, we’re supposed to be learning what it will be like for us as practitioners who will be working on healthcare teams with a variety of other professionals or in settings with multiple other therapists and coworkers.

During the past week, I’ve had some really fun and some pretty frustrating group work experiences. Sometimes I’ve worked with classmates who laughed and joked as we got the assignment done, and on other days I’ve felt like banging my head against the wall after the group’s official “scribe” ignored my comments and failed to write another one of my suggestions on our paper. -__-
And although every group work experience hasn’t been great, I have definitely learned something important about working in a group from each one.

 

  1. Make sure everybody’s voice is heard. Everybody in my program has a different point of view, idea or thought to share, and listening to each person’s perspective has led to some very stimulating and engaging conversations about the material being discussed or discovered by the group. In order to make sure you benefit from exposure to as many ideas and conversations as possible, be sensitive to the quieter people in the group, and ask for their opinions if they don’t seem to be participating as actively as the more talkative members.
  2. Don’t be afraid to shine! If you majored in neuroscience and biology and you can offer some great information, mnemonics, study tips or other helpful tools to your classmates during an anatomy class, don’t hold back! While you should take care not to out-talk the professor or correct the textbook, do make use of the information you have at your disposal and be a resource to your classmates as well.
  3. It’s OK to be wrong. During a case study review in my “anatomy” class, I was 100% certain that I knew what the term “anticholinesterase” meant. My group wrote down my very confident answer…and then Google told us it was totally wrong. I felt pretty embarrassed about my mistake, but my group members just laughed it off and kept working. And I learned that even if I’m 100% incorrect, there’s always something (accurate) to be learned from my (or others’) mistakes.
  4. If group work gets tough or goes poorly, try to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. After a particularly tense and rather unfruitful group work session, one of my classmates asked the group what we thought went wrong and how we could improve the situation in the future. It was a little awkward for me to speak up and express my opinion about how I think group members could have better handled the assignment, but I think the constructive criticism that I and others provided was ultimately helpful. Part of the learning process is learning how to accept and give criticism, and you might as well start practicing now!
  5. Make good use of your time while having a good time! During group activities, some people get “tunnel vision” and get too focused on finding answers and completing the assignment, to the exclusion of all other conversation or interaction. Obviously you’re in class to get the work done, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it fun! While the main focus of your group should clearly be the assignment at hand, you can still use the opportunity to work with a small number of your classmates to get to know them a little better, exchange a few funny stories from your undergraduate experiences or discuss how the assignment relates to an experience you had at a previous work or volunteer site. Remember – all work and no play makes group work a very painful, boring task!

 

I hope this tips are helpful to anyone embarking on a journey through OT school, undergrad or any other setting in which you have to work with others often. Throughout school and afterwards, I’m going to keep developing my clinical skills through group work and learning from the people around me, so I’ll keep Tip #5 in mind as classes begin again tomorrow and my education as an OT continues onward!

 

Do you enjoy group work or is it typically the bane of your existence? Do you have any tips for working in a group?

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