Steady Blue Party-Planning Koalas (Guest Blogger: Megan Harju)

Introduction

Megan Harju

My name is Megan Harju. I am a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma pursuing a degree in Electrical Engineering with a minor in Nonprofit Studies. Usually at this point in my introduction, I get asked questions like, “Are you crazy? How do you plan on using both of those when you graduate?” My answer goes something like, “I hope to someday work for a nonprofit as an engineer that puts solar-powered microgrids in villages without electricity in developing nations.” 

It makes me sound WAY smarter than I am, I promise.

I’m in a challenging phase of life right now. I have this passion for alternative energy, but I also have a passion for public education. As a college student, living this passion right now means staying in touch with past teachers and letting them know how grateful I am for pushing me to be creative, think critically, and never limit myself on what I could achieve. I’m thankful for the scientific method and PEMDAS too, but the biggest impact of my time in public school was the confidence I gained to use those things in meaningful ways. 

Many of you, Oklahoma teachers, MY teachers, are that same inspiring voice now to the generation below me. I come humbly to this edu-blog to share some tools I’ve discovered in college that have shaped how I interact with people, see the world, and solve problems. In the right context, they can help students develop into proactive, passionate young adults capable of changing the world. 

Personality Tests in Context

In my past two years of college, I have taken more personal assessment-type tests than I can count. Personality tests, leadership styles, communication styles, strength and weakness finders, career interest surveys. I have taken them in everything from my Nonprofit Management & Leadership class to a weekly meeting with my Engineering Research Laboratory. The goal of these tests is two-fold: to learn about yourself, and to learn about the people around you. When moderated properly, these assessments can transform a room full of apathetic, socially awkward, and/or over-committed students into an interactive, stress-free haven of personal discovery.

Below are some of my favorite assessments with brief descriptions, stories of how they helped me, and ideas for how they could be implemented in the classroom.

UZoo – Leadership Style Assessment

The UZoo test is the first one I took in college, and I really enjoyed it. This assessment rates you on how much of four different animal personalities you possess using a point scale. The four animals are the Directing Lion, Interacting Porpoise, Steady Koala, and Cautious Eagle. Your dominant animal personality identifies how you, and people like you, typically behave in a group of people when given a task. 

For example, let’s consider the shy girl in class. She is smart but constantly second guesses herself on answers. She HATES group discussions in class, but will share a thought or two when her grade depends on it. On test days, she will come ask you to clarify a question whenever there’s even a hint of doubt as to what it means. She is a Steady Koala, through and through. 

Next, imagine the class clown. He loves cracking jokes and pushing your buttons. He’s one of your best participants in class discussions, but sometimes you wonder if his brain and mouth are even connected with some of the things he says. He sometimes gives incomplete answers on tests because he doesn’t read the questions fully. He’s an Interacting Porpoise.

Sometimes a person will get almost equal numbers for all four animals. I think of this as if there were a fifth choice, the Chameleon – a favorite of mine, since I am one. I survey my surroundings and adjust accordingly. 

If I’m working in a group of people who are only thinking about the big picture, my mind will notice no one is paying attention to detail, and that becomes my focus. If my group is overly concerned with details, my mind insists on thinking big picture. It’s a trade-off: chameleons are able to consider many ways of doing something, but they have a hard time picking one process and sticking with it.

This short Prezi includes most of the information needed to use the UZoo test in class.

I don’t have handout documents readily available, although if you are really inspired to use this or another test after reading this post, I could probably find some files for you to print. But this Prezi might actually be very useful as-is in a classroom setting, especially if paper is in short supply. Feel free to reach out and ask follow-up questions!

True Colors – Personality/Behavior Test

True Colors is similar to UZoo, but not identical. Instead of animals, there are four colors: Blue, Orange, Green, and Gold. Again, this assessment uses a point system to denote how much of each color/personality a person has in them. The main difference between UZoo and True Colors usually comes from how the facilitator frames the activity.

Example: This semester in my Nonprofit Management & Leadership class, my professor had us take this assessment at the beginning of the semester and collected our results. She used our results to divide the class into groups for an extensive project the last month of school. Each group was made so that they had a mix of Blue, Orange, Green, and Gold personalities. It promoted an awareness of how each member of the group handled things differently throughout the process. 

If someone gets equal scores for all four colors, it’s called a Rainbow. Rainbows can think and function like any of the 4 colors depending on the situation. If they’re in a group of mainly Blues and Oranges, who love people and interaction but aren’t as good about details or decisions, they’ll identify holes in the plan and work out details. If they’re with a bunch of Green and Gold engineers, Rainbows bring emotions and empathy into tasks to promote group unity and a sense of fun. 

There are more explanations and resources on the True Colors website, should you be so inclined.

Conflict Management Style – Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

This test is used by many corporations to help their employees better understand and overcome conflict in the workplace. It’s more advanced and would probably only hold the attention of high school students. It is a great personal development tool, though, if you care about your students’ well-being outside of just the classroom and are looking for a way to impact their lives with more than just US History or pre-Calculus. I imagine it would work well in tandem with a group project assignment.

Application

The best way to maximize success with any of these activities is to encourage and facilitate discussion and understanding of each category through describing examples and situational role play. One highly effective activity I have seen is to have students plan a party. Don’t give ANY details.

Split the classroom up into groups by their most dominant animal. Give them 5-10 minutes to plan their party. If they ask questions, give open-ended answers. “How much money can we spend?” It’s up to you. “What’s it for?” It can be a Birthday, holiday party, or just for the heck of it. Anything. “How many people can we invite?” As many as you want. The goal is that each group of students will plan a party that is predictably in line with the character traits of their animal group.

Next, have each group share their event with the class. See what group volunteers to go first: it’s probably the Lions or the Porpoises. You will find that the Porpoise group has absolutely NO details worked out, everyone is invited, and they will have lots of inflatables/activities/crazy stuff to do and eat at the party. The Eagles will probably plan a smaller gathering, with exact numbers already planned out even to the number of pizzas they will order. The Lions probably have a lot of details worked out, and their event will probably be classy. They might have a guest list because it’s a high profile event. And the Koalas just want to be together and make sure everyone is happy and feels loved. 

It's fun for students to see how their peers think when put with people who think like them. Speaking from the student’s perspective, I also really enjoy when the teacher/facilitator shares their animal/color. It gives students a way to see the teacher as a person who has certain ways of acting, just like they the students do. Maybe they’ll FINALLY understand why it drives you crazy when students move their desks out of line, because you’re an Eagle and you function best with orderly patterns.

The Benefits

Both teacher and students can benefit from any one of these activities. Teachers learn valuable information about their students that could help teachers effectively give instructions or advice to individual students when need be. Students learn about their peers, but more importantly, about themselves.

So often, we as humans are blind to our own actions. I like these tests because they show you your habits without condemning them. UZoo can make you realize, if you are a Porpoise, that you highly value what other people think of you. Or if you are a Lion, that sometimes you forget about other peoples’ feelings when trying to accomplish a goal. 

Thanks for reading! I hope these activities have given you some ideas and momentarily taken your mind off of the stress of being an Oklahoma educator. If you’re interested and want more information, comment here, email me, or hit up Google. I would love to hear from you!

Megan Harju / harju.megan@ou.edu

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