The other day, my colleagues and I had our most important PD meeting in the last two years.
It was a St. Patrick’s Day party that my wife and I hosted at our place.
Yes, it was just a party. But, after two years of our faculty being physically, emotionally, and intellectually distant from each other, the act of gathering together to hoist some brews and talk to each other was invaluable.
As a group, we hadn’t really interacted for a long time. To break the ice I created a St. Patrick’s themed Bingo game (I called it O’Bing – pure genius!) that had people initiating conversations and sharing laughs. And once things got flowing, we just started rebuilding – in an authentic and humorous way – that sense of being a team.
Collective teacher efficacy, according to John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, is the leading influence on educational outcomes out of 252 impact factors. How do you build that sense of togetherness?
I don’t want to oversell the value of social events, but there’s a lot to be said about the importance of colleagues getting together under more casual circumstances. It’s like a breakout room for the soul.
This article from The Atlantic has a great middle section that discusses the collaborative importance of getting into a state of flow. Some leading-edge employers, such as Google, appreciate the value of flow and build in spaces for staff to disconnect from tasks and just be together. The staff lounge at Google, the article says, is a place for employees to “sink into a beanbag chair, and chat with whoever else happened to be around. They said doing so helped them to get mentally unstuck, to collaborate, to notice new connections.”
This may be important for Google, but it is critical for educators since we’ve been separated for the last two years, and even when things return to “normal”, we have tended to work in silos, apart and alone for much of our day.
There are lots of motivational quotes on the internet about the importance of making an emotional connection with a student before you can begin to teach them. The same is true for teachers. If you hope to build an effective and collaborative team, you have to begin by building authentic connections.
You can’t go wrong when you start with the heart. And, maybe – in a responsible way – the liver too.