Group Bonding Exercise

By PWBF Staff from Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory

The Provenance of an object is defined as the history of a valued object or work of art or literature. The provenance of an object can add great value to an otherwise mundane item. This narrative activity focuses on the “provenance” of each individual student in the program, asking that they reflect on the stories that make them who they are today.

Description: At the beginning of our ‘open shop’ sessions on Fridays, staff turns out the lights and facilitates this open story-telling space for half an hour. The staff member who initiates Provenance tells the same opening statements each time, repeating this definition of Provenance and extending the definition to our individual stories. The activity promotes safe space, deep reflection, open sharing and supportive communication.

Try it on: One nuance staff has learned over time is that it can be helpful to begin with a staff story in order to set the tone, especially at the beginning of a new academic year and with a new group of students. Adolescents often defend against vulnerability with humor, so opening with an example supports the process of sharing. This example also allows staff to explicitly share how the story connects with their own Provenance.

Assessing Impact: This activity does not take to quantitative or traditional assessment well, and the impact of the Provenance sessions can be individually assessed with regard to individual’s mood and collective team empathy. Our staff has placed importance on checking in with students who choose to share openly during Provenance. This individual check-in can provide an opportunity for assessment of how comfortable and safe the student felt sharing their story with peers and staff.

Down the Line: As the year progresses, staff can place the leadership of this activity in the students’ hands, sitting in on the session without participating. With the students leading their own Provenance, they can decide the tone and mood of the session. (We have found, somewhat paradoxically, that the young folks tend to share hard stories of critical developmental moments or loss when left to their own devices.)

Staff can use this activity to demonstrate their openness to sharing and joining with students, learn about some of their individual challenges, and gain empathy for the unique struggles of our young people. Provenance stories can provide crucial insight for students and staff alike with regard to their peers, creating and promoting a true safe space in which students honor their individual differences.

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