tom-troyI walked into the room, confident and excited. I knew what to expect. I was familiar with the potential twists and turns that lay ahead, because this was not my first time in this situation. The adult in the room greeted me and the others with a warm smile. When we were all settled in, he presented the rules of engagement for this hour-long challenge. We could not use any resources other than our creativity, wit and existing knowledge.

We started by searching for all information that we might find helpful. This led to vigorous and sometimes frenetic brainstorming sessions. Divergent thinking was the theme of the moment. As we became increasingly confident that we had identified allrelevant information, we grouped the information in ways that we might make connections to move us closer to our goals. This progress was rooted in effective communication where we spoke and listened in turn: we built on each other’s ideas. We were clearly performing at a level well beyond that which any of us could have achieved individually. We offered words of encouragement with each setback, and words of commendation with each breakthrough.  We all fed off the enthusiasm in the room and the rush of endorphins that undoubtedly catapulted us forward. Our repeated affirmations of progress were leading us to the palpable anticipation of a great and rewarding crescendo.

It was striking how quickly our hard-earned momentum came to a halt when we were stymied by a problem that our collective brilliance could not solve. Our group dynamic had imperceptibly shifted. Rather than each person adding constructively to the group, well-intentioned comments became counterproductive. We had somehow settled into group thinking. Our perspectives converged as we viewed the problem through the same lens, causing us to perseverate down the same dead-end road. As the minutes ticked by we could not seem to escape the deep rut we had created. This proved to be our undoing. We never did reach our ultimate goal: we never escaped the room.

I have reflected on this experience in the escape room more than a few times as I consciously and subconsciously try to internalize the lessons that can be applied to my personal and professional life.  From a teacher’s perspective, I was reminded of the sometimes complex conditions that can define success. In that escape room, we met most of these conditions: We had a positive attitude. We were diligent. We collaborated. We possessed the necessary knowledge. But, yet, we did not succeed. I’m sure that students everywhere encounter this situation from time to time. For growth to occur, it is critical that we move beyond our initial disappointment and frustration, and look for the learning opportunities so that we will have a greater likelihood of success in the future.  

I encourage you to take this opportunity to reflect for a few moments on an experience that you have had that did not go as well as you would have liked. Identify a lesson from this experience, and then apply this lesson to a situation you may be in today. We are all works in progress.