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Back to School: LEGO Serious Play @ United World College South East Asia

A (wonderful) graduate story by Liam Isaac - Head of Digital Learning at UWC South East Asia.

From the moment I heard about LEGO Serious Play, I knew that it was something that I wanted to learn more about and - thanks to a fantastic online course run by Sean Blair - last February, whilst on a ‘cruise to nowhere’, I was lucky enough to complete the LEGO Serious Play Online Build Level 1 and 2 workshop.

Whilst I instantly knew that this method had the potential to be transformative within our secondary school context, I perhaps underestimated just how significant an impact it could have, along with the range of contexts within which it could prove effective.

In one school term alone, we have used LEGO Serious Play to facilitate shared vision building workshops with educator teams, explore our Middle School students’ relationship with Social Media and challenge learners in class to use this process to enhance their learning of key concepts within different subject areas.

In the coming months, we have plans for how the process can inform our approaches; notably the engagement of our wider-school parent and alumni community as well as formally embedding the process into schemes of work, effectively making LEGO Serious Play a mainstream strategy within the ‘teacher’s toolkit’.

Here are our big takeaways regarding how and why the process has proved successful within our specific school context.


What Went Well: Reasons Why LEGO Serious Play Has Proved Successful

It is a democratic process

In the context of education, this one is HUGE. As Sean stated during training, in LEGO Serious Play, ‘everybody builds, everybody shares’. This equitable engagement can be very difficult to achieve in a ‘typical’ classroom or meeting environment for a whole host of reasons; established hierarchies, different languages, cultural norms and learning needs, as well as the behavioural chasm between introvert and extrovert personalities to mention just a few.

Regardless of whether participants have been students or staff, the feedback from our sessions have always highlighted the democratic nature of this process as a significant positive. This was perhaps best epitomised by a member of our Outdoor Education team’s administration staff who valued the process as “providing opportunities for all individuals to actively participate”. This was particularly validating as the department’s backroom staff had not always been engaged in the co-creation of department visioning.

It is a safe space for idea sharing

The beauty of communicating through models - in our experience - is that it distances participants from the ideas they are sharing. We have observed that, by allowing the model - rather than the individual - to take centre stage in this manner, participants are less guarded about sharing potentially controversial ideas. This has been particularly powerful for workshops where students have been exploring socially sensitive issues; something that can be incredibly challenging for status-aware teenagers to do; especially when this process is facilitated by very “uncool” authority figures such as their teachers.

For example, in a workshop where Middle School students explored their relationship with Social Media - very much a ‘powder-keg’ issue - participants were able to use their models to frame their own ideas as the views of both themselves and their peers, without worrying that their ideas would directly reflect upon themselves as individuals, offering us, as school leaders, a more authentic less-filtered reflection of how our student-body really felt about social media.

This ‘veil of anonymity’ that LEGO Serious Play offers participants throughout the process is a significant positive case for its’ use within schools.

It promotes tolerance

As a large international school, UWCSEA is the proverbial melting pot. With such a diverse student, staff and community population, our school mission makes explicit our aim to ‘use education as a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace’. A fundamental foundation for peace is tolerance; tolerance for the opinions, beliefs and values of those who do not necessarily share the same opinions, beliefs and values as you.

Having observed how students and staff within our school community behave during the workshops and sessions that we have facilitated, I have become a huge advocate for the extent to which tolerance is inherently built into the LEGO Serious Play process.

The focus on active listening and the need to recap and summarise the ideas of others ensures that participants must truly listen, hear and understand the stories that their peers choose to share. In our educational context, this is not always the case, with students often eager to share their own ideas whilst not fully appreciating those of their peers. This process challenges this default to myopia. As one student put it in her workshop feedback:

“I felt that it made us listen more carefully and through paraphrasing, allowed us to understand each other's thoughts and concepts better”

In our experience, the shared model build is where the processes capacity for fostering tolerance truly comes to the fore. In one student workshop, when it came to constructing their shared response to the build question, not a single student chose one of their own ‘disaggregated parts’ to contribute to the shared build; instead preferring to select elements of their peers’ individual builds.

The significance of this is that, through the process, our students evidenced that they not only heard and appreciated the diversity of ideas that emerged, they validated these different ideas by choosing to contribute these to the group response over their own.

If this is not an outstanding analogy and blueprint for peace, then I do not know what is!


Challenges we encountered

These are just some of the reasons why we continue to advocate for the use of LEGO Serious Play within our specific school context, and why we will continue to explore where it can enhance our learning program.

It is also worth acknowledging that, through our exploration, we have experienced challenges when it comes to using this process. In the interests of transparency, here are the major ones that we have faced:

Time: In schools, timetables are constraining at the best of times and, therefore, finding the often extended periods of time required to facilitate powerful and meaningful workshops with students and staff alike has been sometimes difficult

Quality Control: Running workshops with larger student numbers has proved challenging; particularly where facilitator to participant ratios are such that multiple build groups are in play. In particular, it has sometimes proved difficult to impress upon students the significance of recapping where the facilitator has not been ‘at the table’ to explicitly do so.

Focus: Working with children is an amazing experience. They tend to bring considerably less ‘baggage’ to the table than we adults do. The pay off for this enthusiasm is that it can be challenging to maintain focus. As with any learning experience, keeping learners on task, whilst maintaining the levels of creative freedom necessary for the LEGO Serious Play process to be effective has been a balancing act.

Moving forward, we are excited to see the potential positive influence that this process can have upon our school community. Significantly, we would be very excited to share our experiences with other educators to build a professional community and learn from each other's successes and challenges.

Contact Liam via LinkedIn

Note from SeriousWork founder Sean Blair: Liam, thanks so much for sharing your brilliant story, to see such a wide range of uses in such a short time since training is truly impressive. Thank you for attending out online class from Singapore, and working so late into the night to learn these skills you have evidently mastered so well.

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