My Girl Scouts and I recently learned a new method for assessing group opinions so we can work toward consensus. It looked useful in the book (it’s included in the Agent of Change Journey program) but it wasn’t until we tried it that I learned how amazingly well it works for me!
Fist to Five is not an original idea of the Girl Scouts, but I’m so glad they included it in this Journey, which is about learning our individual strengths, learning to work together as a team, and planning and completing a big project to make the world a better place. Planning things as a team always involves a lot of discussion, and as much as I love the girls’ creative ideas, a discussion by 12 enthusiastic girls tends to reach a high volume and require a lot of leader moderation to prevent the shyer girls’ opinions from being drowned out. My menu selection system and troop budgeting process are effective ways of organizing group decision-making for specific situations, but they aren’t flexible enough for many of the types of decisions we have to make as a troop, and they both require advance preparation.
Fist to Five is great because it lets each person convey her opinion without speaking, and there are six levels of agreement instead of just yes/no. It’s easy to learn, and when you look around at a circle of hands it’s astonishingly easy to see the overall sentiments and see which people need a chance to explain their reservations. It also feels very natural because the open hand with all five fingers waving is exactly what you tend to raise when you’re excited about an idea, and the closed fist is just what you want to punch into the air when you totally disagree!
I taught the girls (4th and 5th graders) Fist to Five last week, when we convened to discuss as a troop the ideas for our final Journey project that the patrols had generated. (Quick brainstorming at the end of the previous meeting had turned up three main areas of interest–recycling, planting flowers, helping the hungry and/or homeless–so I’d asked each patrol to think of some specific projects in each of these areas.) They quickly caught on to the method…and used it to express lukewarm interest in every idea, except that the girl who had thought of each idea gave it a 4 or 5, along with maybe one or two other girls…so we were off to a disappointing start.
Then there was a rambling phase, which started when the patrol thinking about recycling said that they hadn’t come up with a clear project idea, but they’d been talking about how the trash cans outside our neighborhood supermarket are always overflowing with recyclable bottles and cans, but it seems like people might not use a recycling bin correctly even if there was one there, because there’s also trash and recyclables all over the sidewalk and flowerbed around there…and we all voiced dismay about the pervasiveness of littering and the thoughtlessness it reveals…but what can we do? We’ll stick up a bunch of signs nagging people not to litter [lots of fists!] and the signs will become litter themselves, and anyway nagging just annoys people…. We’ll pick up a bunch of litter and make the neighborhood look better [many 3’s and 4’s, but some 1’s–okay, what’s your objection?] but a week later it’ll be just as trashy again and nobody but us will care. I mentioned my new awareness of the cigarette butts on our sidewalks at about the same time someone suggested having a contest for the public to see who can pick up the most litter, and then the ideas began to flow rapidly and the hands began to fly up with more fingers each time, until every girl and both leaders had five fingers raised! And our final idea was very different from any of the possibilities I’d been considering! That’s group planning at its best!
At yesterday’s meeting, we went through some of the steps outlined in the Journey book to refine the project idea and lay plans for implementation. The girls immediately began using Fist to Five, without my mentioning it, to express their agreement when I suggested that we wait for warmer weather and longer daylight to do the actual project. They continued using it as we discussed possible activities to fill in the rest of our year. I didn’t have to “call a vote” on each thing; they just put up their hands as soon as they’d formed opinions, sometimes changing their fingers as new details were voiced. I was amazed at how quickly and easily I was able to assess their opinions this way! Now, there were only 5 girls present yesterday (many of them were at a choir concert, and others were sick), but even so I wouldn’t have expected to get through so many topics in one meeting. Usually each girl wants to talk, at some length, and have everybody else listen, and I spend half my time saying, “Shh! Listen to Courtney! You’ll get your turn!” and making sure everyone does get a turn, which makes it difficult for me to really listen to what’s being said or write down the ideas.
Fist to Five made it so much smoother! The girls weren’t silent, by any means, but most of their comments were very brief: “Ooh, edible sculpture!” “Sounds boring.” “Would we get a badge?” “I love Camp Elliott!” Some explanations were still needed, but most of what they wanted to say was right there in their hands.