Teaching Opinion

Inspirational Professional Learning That Connects

By Starr Sackstein — March 25, 2018 3 min read
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Music from my pseudo-youth played while I walked in the gym awkwardly. I saw the circle of chairs set up and the speaker standing with the microphone.

Teachers were writing their names on tags and taking their chairs. When I walked into the gym, I was far from all-in, but I wanted to participate.

Honestly, I was already feeling out of place. My morning didn’t go the way it was supposed to. I reported for jury duty, dressing in my street clothes without all of my school “stuff,” and when I was able to get a postponement, I went directly back to school, even though I wasn’t dressed or prepared to be there.

So entering the gym, I felt like I was being watched. I wanted to participate, but I didn’t know what to expect. Like a student at a school dance, new to the school, I wandered around the room trying to find a place I wouldn’t be too out of place, I settled on a place in the back.

I thought it was safe.

Anyway, as I looked around the room for context clues about what to expect from the learning, I saw the Challenge Day posters. I checked the schedule again and it said “team building” which seemed good.

Minutes after we all congregated in the gym, the speaker told us all to get up and move over to someone we didn’t know. Since the music was still playing, he asked us to have a two-minute dance party with our new partner and I have to admit, I felt silly, but I went with it. If I would have been at my old colleagues, this experience would have been awesome. We would have had so much fun, but as the new leader, I felt like I was being watched, even though I probably wasn’t.

The first 15 minutes of the session was spent talking to different people, sharing embarrassing experiences and getting “real” fast. Since I’ve always been the kind of person who tries to lead by example, modeling the expected behaviors. If I want my team to participate, I had to too.

Before too long, we were sitting very close together discussing students who could be “annoying,” and it was interesting to listen to them speak of the traits that challenged them as teachers. After that, the presenter, Chris, put up a heart on the wall and asked us to describe a newborn baby. We shouted out words of kindness and love. Then he covered the heart with the post-its of the annoying traits, illustrating that we are all good people under our defenses. The point was well illustrated.

All along the way, he shared very personal stories. They were moving and telling and vulnerable. It set a tone, helping all of the participants feel more capable of being vulnerable ourselves.

The truly moving part of the time we shared together was a part where Chris asked us to stand if we could relate with a variety of different categories that would both allow us to share personal experiences without getting too personal and support each other by seeing that many of us shared challenging experiences that likely contributed to who we have become.

Honestly, when we started, I didn’t know if I was going to stand at anything but despite the discomfort of feeling possibly judged, I did. I went all-in and without making too much eye-contact at first, I stood, category after category, slowly noticing others who were standing with me.

Many times in the silent gym, I thought about former students, personal experiences, and life. Mostly I was reminded as to why I started teaching and the population I started with. My heart is bigger now having known them. I have so much gratitude for that.

At the end of the team building time, we had to hug eight more people and help clean up the gym. It has been a long time since I’ve participated in such a personal experience, but it mattered and I’m glad I did.

Hopefully, when I return to work after the weekend, the things that made it easier to connect with my team will only continue to strengthen as we get to know each other more. It’s so important to make sure that we can see the people we work with, with empathy and make decisions about how we address each other on that.

When was the last time you truly connected with the people you work with? How did that work out? Please share.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.