Intervention spotlight: It's All In The Bag


Set the scene, you’re in your classroom, a student who you’ve had since the beginning of the year has a meltdown in the middle of class.

His frustration is boiling over, the class is staring at you, the teacher, and you’re supposed to figure out how to respond. We’ve all been there faced with challenging behaviors or a student who you want to help, but you’re just not sure how to. Wouldn’t it be great to get input from some people who you trust who could give you insight, a fresh set of eyes or some tried and true tips?

That was the heart behind an activity I recently used while teaching professional development to some very seasoned school administrators. By my calculation we had nearly 1000 years of collective experience in the room and I am passionate about building community with the staff I serve so my In the bag activity was a perfect fit.

It’s All In The Bag

Start with lunch size brown paper bags. I’ve actually had some trouble finding these locally, you can try your dollar stores for small quantities or if you want to use them for students or a district activity you can order larger quantities online.

For my activity I asked each participant to choose a problem they were having with a student, which they believed to be related to social emotional learning. Some of the examples were student sleeps in class, or child is failing and seems unmotivated. Two to three minutes for writing the problem is plenty of time for most people. Then have them put their initials on the bag somewhere so they can find it after the activity.

Next gather all the bags, shuffle and redistribute. I did this activity with about 60 people, it could also be done with small groups of 6-10. I gave each rotation about 2 minutes to write a solution, suggestion or idea about the problem. I did give the instruction to not include platitudes, but to stay focused on solutions. As you can see from the bags there were LOTS of great suggestions.

in the bag 1.jpg

You can have as many rotations as you like, for this group I did 5. We had a session that was nearly 2 hours. For a typical hour PLC rotation you might try 3 rotations.

Why this works

First, people are used to talking about problems, but writing them this way forces them to be clear and concise about what they are seeing. Because they had a bag, and a short period of time they didn’t get wrapped up in the emotion attached to the problem.

Second, because everything was anonymous people felt less encumbered about sharing. There were plenty of good suggestions and none of the typical, “Wow, that’s really hard’ or “I can’t believe that happened to you” that you might get if you were doing just a think, pair, share activity.

Lastly, it’s really pretty fun. You have no idea what’s coming in front of you, so it’s got a bit of a game feeling and if you’re at all competitive you want to give really good answers. By the 3rd and 4th rounds I tell participants to take a peek at some of the other responses so they don’t duplicate answers, and what I’ve found is that sometimes this can spark other ideas too.

When to use this

This is perfect for adult learners, so staff development in schools our out. Helping staff members learn to lean on each other doesn’t have to be accomplished on a ropes course in the mud. Many times they just need to see how easy it can be to get feedback from others that can change their perspective or reinforce that they are on the right track.

I can also see this working well with older students. For example in a bullying prevention activity, making writing about mean behavior they’ve seen and how they could help as an upstander or what they would suggest the target do. It could also work when you’re looking to build a team and there are problems with people actually hearing the other side of disagreements.

Do you think you can use this strategy? Please share with colleagues and let me know how you plan to use it in the comments below.