Building a foundation


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The day has finally arrived; the kids came back to school and I got to give out my bags.

The teachers had four days for preparation, and the students returned yesterday to a special start of the year, but today was our first real day with our kids. For my newspaper class, that means it’s time to start the team building.

Yesterday, on day one, our school continued the second year of a new initiative called Howdy Day. The name has been around forever, but was rebranded last year. The first day of school now consists of relationship building and no syllabus reading. I was on the committee that helped plan it, and while there were a few bumps in the road, I think it turned out great and have been hearing positive feedback.

However, on Tuesday this week, along with getting syllabi printed and putting the finishing touches on my classroom, I spent the day packing bags. It’s an idea that I “stole” when I took over the yearbook duties at our school 7 years ago, and have kept even after giving up my yearbook duties. The bags contain everyday items that symbolize a trait that students will need to have a successful year on the newspaper staff. It’s been hit or miss over the years, but it was a pretty big success today.

I believe in team building. I believe that serious activities can help build cohesiveness. I also believe that overly cheesy, ridiculous, over the top activities can do the same thing. When you are working in a club like newspaper, you need buy in, and these activities can help. The bag activity will just get the ball rolling (hey, that was one of the items in the bag). It was teacher-led, and it’s importance lies in showing them my expectations for the year. However, my editors decided that they wanted to be involved in leading the activities as the year moves forward, so they have instituted a team bonding Wednesday. We have block classes twice a week, so every Wednesday we will start by learning our skill of the day for the first half of the block, and then do a bonding activity led by the editors for the second half. This is the second year of that initiative, and it seemed to work wonders for our group last year.

With the activity today, we talked about things like perseverance, motivation organization, owning mistakes and learning from them, and speaking up for what you believe in. While those can be heavy topics, the activity allowed these topics to be presented in a lighthearted way that also gave them a little bit of candy and a class period spent blowing up balloons.  While a passerby may not have had any idea what we were doing, it did have a purpose both in building my expectations and in connecting 24 kids. It was our first real day together and the idea is to try to build an environment where everyone feels important, but also feels like they can contribute from day one.

As a coach, you always hear the metaphor that if your kids have truly bought into your program that they would be willing to run through a wall for you. This is why I value, and potentially over-value team building. When it’s done the right way, it can be powerful. However, you also have to know your audience. Not all groups like the touchy feely, cheesy activities, so for those groups you adjust.  I’m interested to give feedback to my editors as they plan these days and see which activities become successes, and which ones become flops.  I have definitely endured my share of flops over the years, so I hope I can help steer them in the right direction.

Students thrive when they have positive relationships with their teachers, and taking a little bit of time out of our normal schedule to incorporate these activities will only help in the long run. A lot of times the students who participate in the extra curricular activities are looking for a home away from home, so I think the more that we embrace that concept, the more impact we can have on our students.


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