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Forest School leaders study a range of learning and play theorists throughout their training and then as ongoing CPD throughout their careers. Covid 19 and the lock down situation means that many families are finding that suddenly a huge pressure is placed on parents and caregivers to create stability and new learning environments at home. For many, this is new and something they haven't considered before. I am writing these posts with the aim of introducing some learning theory which may support families to understand some of the things they are seeing happening in their homes and helping us all to recognise how we can support each other and our children at this time.

Today I am looking at Bruce Tuckman's team development model, which is commonly known as Forming-Storming-Norming- Performing.

At Forest School we deliver long term programmes which focus on creating communities that support the learning and development that everyone is part of. Long term programmes are proven to have a huge impact on the way that children and adults interact with each other and nature. Schools, nurseries, gyms, scouts and guides, dance groups etc etc all use the same model, same people, same place, every week to create 'teams' that support one another. Most people access different teams throughout the week and each team plays a different role in their lives. Family is also a community of its own, usually reaching out beyond one house hold. So a few weeks ago we were suddenly thrown into a world where we were asked to stay home, perhaps alone or with the same people every single day. Other teams were also formed, like community support groups. Other teams were completely changed with work colleagues being furloughed or everyone working from home. A new normal was needing to be found in all of the different teams we work in.

In 1965, Bruce Tuckman published his team development model which looks at the 5 stages;

  • Orientation (Forming Stage)

  • Power Struggle (Storming Stage)

  • Cooperation and Integration (Norming Stage)

  • Synergy (Performing Stage)

  • Closure (Adjourning Stage)

His theory is important because it recognises that when new teams are formed we are just a group of individuals who are expected to work together, in fact we often need to go through a series of phases in order to get to the best part which is when we are working as a team with the same focus and agenda.

Why is this important in a Forest School context?

We see this pattern with most of the long term group we work with. Often we stay in the storming stage for a while as children and adults find their place in the group, sometimes we get to performing and then something changes and we go right back to storming again. One thing we often notice is that if a new child joins us we go right back to forming again but with a lot of the structure and expectations in place we move faster through the stages back to performing. It also helps to support the argument for long term programmes where we are able to reach and work within the performing stage.

How does this apply to the new normal?

Over the past few weeks i have seen new communities and groups form for different purposes. Each of them has demonstrated this pattern of behaviour, indeed many groups that already exist seem to have gone right back to the forming and storming stages as people adapt. A lot of these groups are still in the very early stage of Forming where everyone seems to be on 'best behaviour', but the storming is creeping in with small disagreements and clear power struggles. In my own home roles and responsibilities have changed, my partner is working fully from home, I am not going out to work and the children aren't going to school and nursery or out to the woods. Although we have been a team for many years, our roles and expectations within the home have changed significantly. It feels as if the storming phase could be here for a while, but perhaps norming is beginning as time moves on. Will we reach performing? I have no idea. But for now it helps to remember that the storming phase is normal and to be expected whilst we all work this out.

Where is your team on Tuckman's scale?

Next time I will look at some research on nature connection and play based learning and how we can support this during our time at home.

If you are lucky enough to still have a regular income and the ability to financially support others at this time please consider donating to the following.

Further reading

Stein, J. Using the Stages of Team Development. here Norming, forming, storming and performing. Understanding the stages of team formation. here

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