Part 1: Worksite
I visited the “Tiny Gym” in Goodyear on Friday for my daughter’s gymnastics practice. At the tiny gym, there was a single instructor, with about a dozen toddlers practicing in the space. Each child was accompanied by at least one family member, with at least two adults accompanying about half of the kids. The space was open, with various mats and swinging bars, and the ground was laden with pads. One side of the studio/gym space was open windows that faced out to the parking lot. The environment could be related to my problem of practice in that it is very clearly a space designed around its purposes, and so it is effectively able to provide a specific set of services, and to produce a specific set of outcomes. In this case, that means kids who can build skills with gymnastics. I spent a lot of time here paying attention to the environmental and interaction design on the part of the instructor.
Part 2: Observation notes — Friday, June 15, 2018
I observed an open practice time at the gym, which is optional accompaniment time to the weekly, focused rehearsal. This practice started at 5:30pm, and lasted for an hour. At the beginning, all of the kids grabbed maracas from a bin and sat in a circle to sing the welcoming song and introductions; this took about 10 minutes. Next, it was free play time, and kids could run around to the various pieces of equipment and/or mats that they wanted, to play or practice particular skills. There were balance beams, hanging rings and bars, wedge mats or ramps, and block mats. There were even big circular mats with holes in the middle, which kids used to practice doing front rolls. Throughout this time, the instructor moved around the space and helped kids with various skills and drills. At one point, she stationed herself on a parallel bar, and helped kids do flips over the bar. After about 35 minutes of free play. For the final 15 minutes or so, the kids played with bouncy balls, and then the instructor blew bubbles that the kids chased. They all ended with a goodbye song, and then a secondary instructor in the gym’s lobby gave the kids stamps from a stamp pad.
It was interesting to compare this system to a school, because so many of the same elements are there. The introduction song and introduction of the kids is very similar to how a typical K12 class might start with a bell-ringer. The free play time appeared at first to be unstructured, but a closer look shows that the equipment was set up to mirror how they practiced during the rehearsal earlier in the week, and the instructor was reinforcing the specific skills from earlier in the week, too. And with the bubbles to wind things down, as well as the closing song, there were predictable elements of ritual and control by the instructor. It’s also worth noting that this gym is a franchise/chain, which I didn’t find out until recently, so it makes sense that it has established routines as a part of its system.
Part 3: Readings
The reading that this most reminded me of was Sutton and Rao’s Scaling Up Excellence, mostly in light of this being a franchise operation. I asked the instructor if she had ever worked at another location of the gym, and she said she hadn’t, but that she knew of people who had and said that she’d heard they’re all pretty similar. What was clear to me, connecting to the reading and the story about Disney’s emphasis on customer experience, is that the instructor made an emphasis to be positive and supportive. Given that all of the kids were toddlers or perhaps even infants, and that they are in the process of developing the motor skills to even run and jump, it likely requires lots of patience and optimism in the job performance. I imagine that as this organization has scaled, part of how it has trained its employees is to embrace that.
Sutton, R. I., and Rao, H. (2014). Scaling up excellence : Getting to more without settling for less (First edition). New York:Crown Business.
Part 4: Integrations
An interesting question that I’d come back to with this observation is how I might borrow from the lessons of a place like this in my own work toward my PoP. When I think about it, this place is a business, but it operates like an educational institution. The kids here are definitely customers, but they operate with ritual and habit, and they are nurturing and supportive. As I go work with schools, it makes me think about how I might tackle systematizing or ritualizing some aspects of our activities and services, while also staying personable and committed to supporting those educators we work with. This was an interesting observation, and I have taken more away from this than I’d anticipated!