Team building isn’t something that is regularly considered when thinking of working with teachers. It often comes across as something corporate communities might do when morale is low or an activity to help an athletic team come together after some sort of division. Moreover, many often feel that team-building activities can feel trite or cross uncomfortable boundaries.
Those are both excellent reasons to practice regular team building with teachers. Something that at first feels trite may be nostalgic, comical, and downright fun. On the other hand, an activity that can be uncomfortable can stretch and reform relationships, break down barriers, and encourage others to learn new information about one another. This isn’t about being friends, but it is about creating relationships that acknowledge the individuals that you work with as humans and not just people who show up to work.
What are the Benefits of Team Building for Teachers?
Does your across-the-hall neighbor have pets? Does she enjoy traveling? Does he run a Christmas tree farm in the winter? Does she have a child with special needs? Military vet? Former athlete? Widowed? Orphaned as a child? Struggle with anxiety? Frustrated by the smell of lavender? Allergic to bees? Really good at art? Run marathons on the weekend?
I could go on and on. Teacher team-building activities allows teachers to come out of their silos of facilitation, let their guards down a bit, and really see the humans that they work with every day. At the beginning of the school year one year, the administrators and I all took DiSC personality tests. Upon completion a person may fall in one or more of the following categories: dominant, influential, stable, or compliant. We then shared with one another our results on chart paper.
It was interesting. We had conversations about the results, if we agreed or disagreed with our own results, and the results of our colleagues. The best part about all of it was the shift in later conversations. Because we saw each other differently, we treated each other differently. I know personally I thought of prior situations that could have been managed differently if I had been privy to this knowledge about their personalities.
Teacher Team-Building Activities
The administrators in my building sent the DiSC personality test to each department in the building and we charted their results during the first department meeting of the year. It was delightful. ‘We’ isn’t a word commonly used to describe faculty meetings. The teachers were surprised at which other teachers in their departments matched their personality types, as well as which administrators.
Even more surprising was how some results seemed to not match at all. There are a number of personality tests that can be found for free on the internet; this is a great option to break the ice, re-acclimate colleagues, or introduce new people in the building.
An additional teacher team-building activity that has had success in my building is practicing gratitude. Some call it ‘glows and grows’, ‘plus/delta’, I’ve even heard it called ‘roses and thorns’. Whether it is at the beginning of the meeting or the end, it is always a great practice when gathering for a meeting to acknowledge positives (personal or professional) and see if an individual has some endeavor with which he/she would like support.
Another really powerful activity that not only boosts morale but also is an incredible bonding activity is the plate activity. When doing this exercise, each individual is given a paper plate. On the plate they write everything they are currently dealing with. In the center of the plate are professional responsibilities and on the outside (or the back) are personal ones. Then, everyone identifies three things that seem mundane, overwhelming, or particularly challenging for whatever reason. If they choose, they can also star one or two things in the personal arena in which they would like additional support.
After collecting, admins (or department chairs or whomever is conducting the meeting) analyze the plates and determine what they can “take off your plate.” When done diligently, this allows teachers to be paired with mentor teachers, creates safe spaces for teachers to advocate for themselves, and encourages administrators to look out for their faculty and staff more carefully.
It may seem cliché, but a tried and true team-building activity is observation. Teachers do amazing things every day and generally no one gets to see it. Particularly in buildings where teachers have common planning, they never really get to see each other in action. If administrators or other staff members cover classes, teachers can watch one another and just share the good stuff. Validation from peers is revitalizing and really builds authentic morale and capacity. Teachers naturally inspire each other and find ways to build each other up through shared experiences.
How to Adjust Activities for Virtual Team Building
Something happens every time a group of teachers gets together on an online platform to make a call. There’s a sudden rush of dopamine as we get a chance to smile at one another, see each other’s faces, and at times get a glimpse into each other’s homes while we are working virtually.
One important factor to always consider when making adjustments for virtual team building is time. Being online all day and going to “another meeting” is not the same as attending a meeting during a regular workday. Prepare in advance tech platforms that might be helpful like Jamboard instead of chart paper, for instance.
We also must check in on one another. These activities need to be filled with intent and should in no way resemble the idea of just getting something done. If a majority of the members aren’t feeling it, won’t engage, or are having trouble making connections, trash the activity and listen to their concerns. Play an online game instead, build a Kahoot, Jeopardy, or Wheel of Fortune.
Team building can’t be forced or rushed. Whoever is conducting the activity has to be keen to the emotional intelligence of the individuals participating in order to glean if the efforts are effective or not. Team building is not necessary for every teacher, team, or building. However, when done correctly, teachers become less like co-workers and much more like collaborative partners.