Practice What we Teach: Engaging Activities for Building Community

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    Beth Nettles
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    Hello all,

    We are talking about building community for student success in this month’s Digest. When we provide professional development opportunities for faculty, be they workshops, training sessions, or courses, the participants become our students. Community building, interaction, and student success is equally important for our ‘students’. Besides, shouldn’t we be modeling what we want our faculty to do in their courses? Ice breaker activities encourage participants to learn more about each other and build connections with each other. Consider these five engaging activities that you might incorporate into your next faculty development.

    Learning Names: Participant introductions in at the beginning are standard fare. Shake it up by periodically interrupting the process and asking another participant to name all the attendees who have already introduced themselves. Continue this process until everyone has been introduced.

    Finding Common Ground: Breaking into small groups helps to create an open, supportive environment, with added intimacy. With groups of four, challenge the group to come up with five things they have in common. If necessary, you can create smaller groups; just require one additional commonality than group size to ensure there is discussion to find the additional common trait.

    Finish Sentences: Using flip charts or whiteboards, write the beginning of a sentence that is relevant to your training. Examples include: “I am most likely to participate when…”, “I learn best when…”, “This workshop is important to me because…” and “The best workshop I ever attended had me…”. After everyone has had a chance to contribute, discuss the comments and their significance to your professional development session.

    Concentric Circles: Divide the participants into two groups. Create two circles, one inside the other, with participants facing each other. The outer circle participants stay put; the inner circle group moves to the next participant when time is called. When prompted to begin, give the stationary group one minute to ask questions of the person sitting opposite them. After one minute, prompt the participants to flip roles and let the moving group ask the other person questions. At the two-minute mark, have the moving group rotate to the next participate. Continue until everyone has had a chance to talk to everyone else. End with a reflection of the activity; ask what they learned, would they do this in their classes, how would they do it differently.

    Six-word Stories: Story telling is a great way to form connections. Using Ernest Hemingway’s infamous short story challenge of using only six words, ask the participants to write a sentence that reveals something about themselves. First share with the group Hemingway’s story for context: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Give them five minutes to come up with their own six-word story; then ask participants to share their stories. Examples heard at a recent workshop: “Poor boy blessed with riches everyday”, “Escaped poverty through education and opportunity”, and “Completed staff evaluations this week, yeah!”

    What community building activities do you use in your professional development sessions?

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