Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing: An Alzar School Saga

Alzar School | 23.10.19

Students at Alzar School are abuzz this week, busy as bees collaborating on projects and preparing for transitions between academic units. As we reach the mid-semester mark, students have been reflecting on their time at Alzar School so far, and are rolling into this metacognition with momentum from their exciting weekends spent with family and friends. 

Nervous laughter spilled into the hallway tonight at study hall. Students in Spanish class, motivated by the countdown to Chíle, fueron hablando en español in corners of the building y escuchando a música en español as they worked. They sought feedback and support from our Chilean students, who are excited to share their home country with us, muy pronto! Leandro noted the diligence of his peers who have studied French up to this point; they have tackled the daunting task of Spanish acquisition over a mere two months with courage. As a group of history students drew up maps for their AP & Honors World History project, Viv and Julia reminisced; “Remember that time everyone in our yurt cried together uncontrollably?”. Despite the lingering pressure to perform, this time – there are no tears. 

By all accounts, Alzar School Semester 15 is performing at their highest level yet – and this progression surely did not happen passively! They have arrived at this height by continually striving for growth along the trajectory of various stages of group development. As formulated by psychologist Bruce Tuckman, stages of group development often include forming, storming, norming and performing.

The “forming” phase involves a group comprised of individuals experiencing a lack of clarity surrounding their groups’ purpose and community roles. During this stage, team members are often polite and curious as they get to know one another on a personal level. As individuals begin to notice flaws in each other, conflict often arises in what is known as the “storming” phase. Personalities may clash and resentment builds as people notice others not pulling their weight in team efforts, such as chores and expedition tasks. For instance, students have lapsed on chores over the past couple of weeks as they focus on reconnecting with their new friends post-expedition. However, it did not take long for students to address these concerns during recent Community Meetings. Their problem-solving mindset demonstrates an effective transition into the “norming” phase, wherein conflicts are addressed in a productive manner that establishes and reiterates group roles and expectations.

The “performing” stage is characterized by drive, confidence and autonomy. This has played out at Alzar School during Community Meeting where students demonstrate a high level of accurate awareness regarding both personal and group needs. They are holding each other accountable, with minimal input from faculty and staff, to personal and peer leadership. For instance, chopping wood had become a sore spot for students, who are burning through the supply quickly so far during this chilly October. After some encouragement and guidance framed through high expectations for student involvement (in everything from academic engagement to daily structured activities to daily chores,) students are back in stride and stronger than ever.

Jillian chopping wood.

Movement between Tuckman’s status depends on internal group dynamics, as well as external factors – of which there are many here at Alzar School! Including the aforementioned transition to a new (and foreign, to most) setting. There is a likelihood that Alzar School students will cycle back through previous phases of development as we transition to South America. This is a good time for us to focus on teambuilding and intentional reflection that will assist students in taking responsibility for progress towards our community goals.