I spent a recent Saturday with a group of teachers at a leadership workshop. This event gathered two dozen educators who regularly engage in leadership in their respective classrooms, schools, districts, and across the state of Hawai’i, where my school is located. For the first hour or so, there was a collective hum of conversation—a re-engagement of sorts back into the groove of in-person gatherings and professional development.
Early in the school year, we are still recuperating from last school year—one of the most difficult years in recent history of the profession. In the face of high teacher turnover, the demands of public perception of education, and an ongoing pandemic, these teachers persisted and thrived. They have had their fair share of good and bad professional development (PD), staff (re)treats, and extrinsic motivators. But when I asked what the best, fun team-building activities for teachers and staff are, they delivered.
Team Building for Teachers
Schools are perfectly placed in relation to our larger communities and environments. Students live, learn, and play in these geographic locations. Our places help us understand where we are, who we are, and who we are together. To strengthen connections with students, adults must also engage in these spaces. Whether it is time spent hanging out at a local park, nature reserve, or community center, let place lead the learning.
What this can look like: Field trips to community-based locations allow teachers of all grade levels and subjects to experience a common event and find different learning outcomes. A community service project can also help teachers invest in a common learning and leading experience.
“Lean on the school community.”
Teachers feel appreciated when the community rallies around them. Staff morale is a key component of team building during the school year. Asking families and the community to volunteer time or skills to staff development days brings a sense of inclusivity and engagement that is beyond school-based leadership.
What this can look like: Ask families, parent-teacher organizations, and business partners to donate time or skills such as cooking demonstrations, quick massages, meditative sessions, or crafting activities on staff development days.
“Food brings people together.”
Food is the ultimate connector. Eating together invites conversation, bonding, and a chance to learn about cultures. Food is about comfort, so making an effort and investment to nourish people and bring them together to share a meal is rejuvenating.
What this can look like: Staff development days organized with an array of local food trucks or a lunch spread donated by a local business. Spaces should also include room for teachers to gather. A lower-budget opportunity may be a culturally-grounded potluck where teachers can share a dish that is special to their family or cultural community.
“The best PD is the teacher next door.”
Open communication between teachers is crucial to morale. Suggested starting and ending points can help prompt conversation, providing loose structure for specific outcomes. We often don’t have the time or space to start up these conversations, and it may be daunting for new teachers to ask a veteran teacher for help without being prompted first.
What this can look like: Line up the large group of participants in order of years at the school. Once the line is formed, fold the group in half so that the longest-serving participant is paired with an individual newest to the group. Give prompts for face-to-face conversations.
Team-Building Games for Teachers
“Learn activities from the student perspective.”
Teachers love engaging in activities they can turn around and use in their classrooms. At your PD workshop, provide opportunities to learn a new first-day-of-school connector activity; this will give teachers the added benefit of meeting a different colleague while allowing them to be in a continuous learner-leader role.
What this can look like: “Mingle, Mangle” is a game similar to musical chairs. Play some music and allow participants to walk around the room. When the moderator announces, “Mingle, Mangle! Find someone with the (same color shoes as you)!” find the closest participant and engage in a conversation about the given topic. Repeat rounds as necessary with different characteristics to find.
“Living data charts.”
A team-building exercise and a connection to STEM? What a combination! Build opportunities to deepen relational connections between teachers that can be amplified by movement and data visualization. This exercise can also serve as an opportunity to model inquiry based on the visual movement of people.
What this can look like: Like Four Corners, pose a question to the group and ask them to physically move to the location with their answer. The question may ask, “What superpower would you want?” Participants move to the location in the room for the options: (A) Ability to fly; (B) Control time; or (C) Communicate in any language. Now, participants are grouped by a common idea for the next activity.
“Scavenger hunts and relay games.”
Friendly competition livens a crowd. Group participants and give them a task, list, or starting point. Scavenger hunts around the school campus are great for new-to-school teachers and teacher candidates. Hunts that involve multiple locations in the community allow teachers to engage beyond the school campus. Limited on space? Relay games make great connectors.
What this can look like: Ask your Physical Education teachers to lead a relay game they regularly organize for the class. Ask community partners to host locations on a town-wide scavenger hunt. Group teachers randomly or who do not typically interact professionally to build new relationships.
Best Practices and Thoughtful Reminders
“No more usernames to remember.”
Teachers already juggle a plethora of online usernames and passwords. Asking teachers to sign-up for a new website or download an app, even if it is free, is a heavy burden to be used for a two-hour session. Choose digital technology that is accessible to all and does not require a login.
“Not everyone likes icebreaker games.”
Team-building activities are often predicated on the assumption that those participating are ready and willing to put themselves out there. Activities that ask participants to expose deep identities in unsafe or new spaces are not responsive to the layers of inequity that continue to exist in our society and even the profession.
“Who’s invited to participate?”
We want to feel that we are a part of a community that learns together. Sometimes that means struggling together and succeeding together. Are school leaders also participating in these events and demonstrating a level of vulnerability? What does it look like when all adults participate—including our custodians, clerical staff, and security guards?
Overall, what makes a great team-building activity? The opportunity to build a collective sense of identity, community, and belonging. Whether the activities are inside or outside, competitive or not, the opportunity to engage with others in our school building cannot be taken for granted. Our humanity in this profession, to center our wellness alongside professional development, is a necessary priority.
Share Your Team-Building Ideas for Teachers
Do you have team-building games for teachers or other activities you use to help foster a sense of belonging in your school? Share your relationship-building ideas with us on Twitter (@HMHCo) or Facebook, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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