Who Packs Your Parachute?


I have a question for you: why do we teach teamwork in schools?

While you think about that one, consider this story-

Charles Plumb was a jet pilot for the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam war.  He had been on countless missions, but on his 75th mission (only five days before he was scheduled to return home), his plane was shot down and completely destroyed by an air missile.  In a panic, Plumb managed to eject from the plane and parachute safely to the ground–enemy ground.  Plumb was captured, tortured, and spent the next six years in a Vietnam war prison.

Years later, Charlie was sitting in a restaurant with his wife when a man came up to him and exclaimed, “You’re Plumb!  You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.  You were shot down!”  Plumb was shocked.  “How did you know that?”

“I packed your parachute,” the man replied.  “I guess it worked!”

(Watch the video below to hear Plumb tell this story personally.)

This is the importance of teamwork.

Teamwork is necessary in the classroom, and not just because it will help them with their studies–teamwork is something they are going to use for the rest of their lives.  Teamwork is what saved Charles Plumb’s life.  And to this day, the question he often asks his audience is simple:

Who packs your parachute?

In a classroom, are students understanding that every single role is important?  That even the students who seem to do the “easy routes” or the “simple questions” bring something valuable into the classroom?

I find this lesson of utmost importance for our students today.  When we place students into groups, are we doing it just to claim it was a group activity?  Or are our students truly co-dependent on one another?  The latter is imperative in classrooms; students need to understand the importance of each other.

Every single student has something to offer in the classroom.

And it goes beyond just the teacher recognizing this.  We need to be encouraging our students to realize this about their peers, leading to successful teamwork and united classrooms.  Their voices matter, and every role they play matters, no matter how small it may seem.

Teamwork goes beyond problem solving-teamwork creates bonds between students.

If you’ve ever been on a sports team or involved in a band, you know how incredible it feels when you as a group succeed in something.  This is the environment we need to be striving for in classrooms–students should see each other not just as peers, but as teammates.  Not only will this help students feel comfortable in the classroom, but it will allow students to work together to answer tough questions and figure out harder curriculum.

How can we do this?


It’s not simple, but it’s absolutely worth it.  Here are some ideas:

-Take time in the classroom to do student-bonding activities.  Whether this be games, problem-solving activities, or even just get-to-know-you projects, give students the opportunity to get to know one another.

-Create teams, but make sure to switch them up every once in a while.  Allow students to grow comfortable with one group before rotating them with other students, ultimately striving for a classroom where every student is comfortable with one another.

-Use teamwork often in curriculum.  When teaching, don’t make students do everything individually–give them the opportunity to work with one another on the things that are harder/the things they’re struggling with.

-Utilize interdependence–group activities where everyone is dependent upon everyone else.  Relate it back to the, “Who packs your parachute?” concept, so students understand that they are dependent upon one another in order to succeed.

Image result for teamwork in the classroom quotes

I heard it put very simply once, and you may have heard this quote before:

Image result for we're all mad here

“We’re all mad here” is a quote from Alice and Wonderland, but I like to think of it a little bit differently…




In our classroom, let’s all be a little mad, and take extra care to pack each other’s parachutes well.

If you have any other thoughts, I’d love to hear them!  Drop them in the comments below.

About Naomi Patten 13 Articles
Future Science Educator Miami University Class of 2019 Follow me on Twitter @MsPattenScience


  1. Naomi, I love your analogy to packing someone else’s parachute! I think it’s really important that we consider the importance of teamwork in the classroom, because honestly, allowing your students to work together and giving them opportunities to be creative and original can be the difference between sinking and swimming in education. Cooperative learning is integral to students’ success, and you’ve done an awesome job of explaining how a teacher can incorporate it!

  2. Naomi,
    I adore the opening that you used. Using a real-life example that is incredibly interesting along with a video attached to it grabbed my attention! Your focus on the students building teamwork and letting the students bond was great! You gave great examples of how you can foster this teamwork and keep students engaged, good work! Was there any particular type of cooperative learning model that you liked the best?

  3. That is such a powerful speech, and an excellent, real-world example of how important trusts and cooperation are! I couldn’t get your twitter link to work. Maybe try posting it again?
    I also would like to hear a little more about “We’re all mad here.” Is this another concept you would share with your students to remind them that every role is important?

    • Yeah, the Twitter link was giving me all sorts of trouble! I’ll work on fixing that, hahaha. And the “we’re all mad here” is a focus point I would want students to keep in mind every time they work in teams–a reminder that every single person is important for them to reach their overall goal! I’m glad you liked the speech as much as I did!

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