A Cool Community Building Day: group created norms

I must say, I feel a bit strange not blogging about “cool things that happened today”. Facebook and Twitter are ablaze with the challenge Mike Griffin started early last week. Although my post isn’t about a cool thing that happened today, it definitely is a cool thing that happened in the last two weeks. For cool things that happened in the last 24 hours (and a bit), please check out these posts by teachers from around the globe: Ratna Ragunathan-Chandrasegaran (Malaysia), Icha Sarwono (Indonesia), Laura Phelps (Georgia), Ann Loseva (Russia), Kevin Stein (Japan),  Carol Goodey (Scotland), Gemma Lunn (Korea), Ava Fruin (USA), Tyson Seburn (Canada), and Tom Randolph (Korea)… did I miss anyone?

And now my cool little story…

The first week of March began the first week of training for our newest group of in-service teachers. Like any group of people meeting for the first time, the teachers are trying to figure out how the fit in, who they click with, and how everything comes together. Since last year, we’ve been been dedicating a day to helping them understand each other. We want them to start seeing that they are in this together. The program can be intense and it’s important they know that they are not alone.

One activity that we’ve done in the past is ask the teachers to think about what kind of support they need from each other, and also what strategies they might have to deal with possible conflicts and challenges that will come up. In the past we just asked them to discuss these points and then create a poster with their ideas. We then put this poster on the wall so they are able to refer to it throughout the semester. It’s based on the similar concept of getting students to create rules/norms for themselves. *For more ideas on this topic please check out #KELTChat summary: Classroom Rules and Implementing Them.

As you can see from the pictures above, we changed it up a little. In collaboration with my colleague Darryl Bautista, we asked the teachers to think of their time in our course as a foundation (school building metaphor), on which they can rest their hopes, fears, expectations, and ideas for resources available to them. This was the final result.

However, before they knew about this metaphor, the parts of the school (hopes, fears…) were only pieces of a puzzle. To start, all they had to do was individually write their ideas on the parts. Once the white-spaces were filled, they worked together as teams to find out what the pieces created when put together. Once the figured out it was a school, the final task was for them to sign the school’s steps and stick them to the foundation.

And voila! They created their norms for the semester.

These are the reasons I like this puzzle/metaphor activity better than the posters we used to do:

  • Collaboration is implicit in the activity. They have to work together to figure out what the pieces create.
  •  It’s focused on feelings and possibilities, and not conflicts. I think this gives space for everyone to feel heard. One strategy that used to come out of the “how-to-deal-with-conflicts” segment of the poster was “go out for drinks together.” Although I get it, I know not everyone in the group is a drinker and I always felt it excluded some. *As I write this, I think I still saw “alcohol” somewhere on the house. At least it isn’t front and center like it was before. I’m learning to let it go. :)
  • There was a lot more participation and action going on: they had to think creatively to put the pieces together; they had to negotiate with each other; everyone had to write a few times; they had to move to play with the puzzle pieces.
  • It was just a lot of fun to collaborate with Darryl on this one. :) We had a few reflection-in-action moments during the process I thought made the activity that much richer.

I look forward to tweaking this activity a bit next year. One idea that one of the teachers in relation to working with the final product was to brainstorm ways to deal with the fears they wrote. What modifications would you make? I’m also curious to know what community/team building activities do you do in your school or training programs?

Final thoughts and thanks:

  • A big thanks to Darryl who craftily designed and cut out pieces of the houses. :)
  • I’d like to thank Mary Scholl and Centro Espiral Mana SIT TESOL course for inspiring this idea. :)

Websites for community building activities:

Although the following site is geared towards businesses, I thought there was a lot of value here for educators as the site refers to learner-centeredness in many of their links. I’ll definitely be browsing this site in the future.

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4 comments

  1. I never thought of doing a community building activity, but I have always strived to create an atmosphere of “We are in this together”. So, every now and then I remind them how important we are for each other and elicit ideas on how to support and how they feel about learning, challenges and connect with them online, so they know they can contact me anytime.

    Inspiring post. I wish you a great term with them. ♥ Pretty cool thing indeed. :D

    1. Those big learning moments often happen in the “now and then” don’t they. As I think you and I have dialogued about in the past, it’s about creating those spaces where we allow the students to see themselves, their learning and in this case, each other. What a wonderful that you give them by letting them know you are there for them. Thank you for sharing this Rose.

      I also wish you a great term Rose! :) <3

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