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Words of Wisdom

52 cards and 15 activities to spark conversations and make sense of learning.
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What We Do

The Firefly Group helps people make sense of what they learn and experience.

Whether facilitating a group for better decision-making, keynoting a conference, leading a training, or writing an instructional design, we use novel methods that engage, spark creativity, and produce memorable results.

If this sounds like a good direction for your organization, let's talk about how we might collaborate! Please give me a call (802.257.7247) or send an . - Brian

Your ETR (Estimated Time to Read): 10 minutes
Your ETII (Estimated Time to Implement Ideas):
5 weeks

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Say It Quick!

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November 2017
Don't Kick 'Em Out

Say It Quick
a thoughtful message in exactly 99 words

bits of serendipity to inspire and motivate
fuel for your own continuous learning
tips and tricks you can try today

Any Alternatives? Please start with the positives.

Don't Kick 'Em Out - Suspending students is harmful

More Empathy, Please - Emotional intelligence reveals more options

iBingo - A new twist on a classic icebreaker

Say It Quick

When someone misbehaves, the simplest solution is to banish them from the kingdom (or classroom, or workplace, or dinner table). But that quick fix may do nothing to rectify the underlying issue that caused the troublesome action in the first place - especially if banishment was part of one of the cause. Learn about the role of empathy in reducing the effects of mischief-makers beginning with this story in exactly 99 Words.

Any Alternatives?
At the weekly staff meeting, the Home Healthcare Aids were discussing the living situation for Marjory, their client. With all her medical needs - diabetes, high blood pressure, and early dementia - her family really needed to be more involved. But that just wasn't happening. Since her husband died, her son only paid occasional, brief visits. Her daughter had moved across the country. All Marjory's friends were long gone and she had never been good at asking for help anyway.

The team felt stuck without options. But then, you can't move forward when you only dwell on the negatives.



Don't Kick 'Em Out
A recent article in the New York Times, "Don't Suspend Students. Empathize," describes two studies that demonstrate the importance of having an emotional connection between teachers and students.

The article notes that, according to the Department of Education, 7 percent of the student population - nearly 3.5 million students in kindergarten through high school - was suspended at least once in the 2011-12 academic year, the last for which these data are available. Surprisingly, ninety-five percent of student suspensions are for "willful defiance" or "disruption" rather than being prompted by student violence.

The article explains that when students are "disruptive," it is probably because they are dealing with stress - something severe like the death of a friend, poverty, or parental discord.

Suspensions for trivial offenses create anxiety among the other students. They see the capriciousness and worry they may be next. Their grades suffer too. On top of this, suspensions lead to lack of trust toward teachers "willful defiance" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One solution is empathy training for teachers. During the training, teachers read stories about "how what looks like disobedience may reflect the ways teenagers are learning how to navigate the world." As a result, suspension rates were cut in half because the teachers were able to combine both discipline and positive rapport. Trust for teachers among students also improved.

In another approach, researchers noticed that even trivial commonalities can build trust between people. They brought teachers and students closer together "by giving them information about what they shared, such as a passion for music, a wry sense of humor or even similar values." As a result, the teachers reported having formed closer relationships with their students. There was a positive effect upon students' grades when teachers were convinced of the similarities they had with their students.

When students are disrupting the learning environment for everyone, the quickest solution is to kick them out. But like the 99-Word Story, a quick fix focuses only on the negatives. It doesn't deal with the complexity of human interactions. Using empathy to look for hidden factors or shared responsibilities creates more options and better solutions.

More Information:
"Don't Suspend Students. Empathize" by David L. Kirp, The New York Times, September 2, 2017



More Empathy, Please
She's got a real problem!

That's our first reaction when someone says something inappropriate or does something we don't like. Though it's natural to assign blame to the other guy, it doesn't demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence. As the New York Times article in today's Discovery suggests, the person complaining about another's behavior might be responsible too.

Here are some factors that can decrease our empathy toward others in group situations - and some possible solutions:

Exercising our emotional intelligence, we are less likely to take the behavior of others personally. It gives us a chance to check in to see whether there is, in fact, something we could be doing differently so the other person can change their behavior.

Using our emotional intelligence to be more empathetic doesn't mean we need to identify completely with another person, condone their negative behavior, or set aside our own needs. But it does mean pausing long enough to consider what might be motivating the other person and, in that process, opening more doors for a solution than only a negative view would allow.




Discovering common areas of interest is a simple way to increase empathy with another person. At the beginning it's superficial but it can still be the inspiration for a better work relationship or friendship. Use this activity to help people exercise their emotional intelligence.


Materials: Paper and pen for each person
Time: 30 minutes
Participants: Any number working in pairs

Explain that a common icebreaker is Human Bingo. In most versions, participants are given a Bingo grid with participant interests already entered into each cell. Participants mill about the room looking for anyone who has one of the interests then they write the person's name into that cell.

In Round One of iBingo, players customize their own iBingo card with their interests then try to fill it with the names of other people in the room.

In the example below, I first meet Sarah. After a bit of conversation about our likes and dislikes, we discover a common interest in the science fiction and fantasy writer Orson Scott Card. I enter Sarah's name on the first row of my chart, label the next column "Author," and put O.S. Card under it in Sarah's row. (Sarah completes her iBingo card the same way but puts my name on the first row.)

Next I meet Ashraf. Together we discover that we have both lived in the same country, Egypt. We each label our next column as "Country" and enter "Egypt" on the same line as our name.

Subsequently, I meet Louis. Our shared physical "Activity" is "Swimming" so we make another row and column and fill in the cells accordingly.

When I meet Yasmine, I learn that she has lived in Egypt so I put an "X" by her name in my Country column but we still need to discover a unique common interest. We settle on the category of "Seasons" and "Autumn" specifically.

The game continues. For each person I meet, I make a new row and a new column on my iBingo card.

At any point in the play, I can return to a previous person I've met and put an "X" on the line with their name for any interest that we share. In my example, I eventually discover that Sarah and Louis also like Autumn.

Play of Round One ends after 15 minutes.

O.S. Card

For Round Two, the goal is to introduce people to each other whom I have discovered have similar interests. I look at my iBingo card and notice that Sarah, Louis, and Yasmine all like Autumn. I bring these three people together and make sure they know each other's names. Then I ask them, "What do we all have in common?"

Without looking at their iBingo cards, each makes a guess. Louis and Yasmine both guess "Autumn" so they each receive a point. Sarah guesses "O.S. Card" so doesn't get any points.I receive two points because two of the three people guessed correctly.

I continue bringing together people who have my interests and introducing them to each other. Everyone keeps their own score. Round Two ends after 10 minutes.

Bring everyone together for a short discussion using some of these questions:


Please give this activity a trial with your group then your experience!



If you like what you have read in this issue, I would like to bring the same innovation, creativity, and playfulness to your next meeting or learning event.

Whether you need a keynote speaker, or help with strategic planning, performance improvement, or training facilitators and trainers in your organization, I look forward to your call (802.380.4360) or .

-- Brian

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