Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Team Building Part 1: Hi, My Name is Michael and I Have a Blog

How do you start the first day of a new year?  Is it the tried and true roll call - introduce yourself - explain your rules and expectations and then review the syllabus?  Do you have each child stand up, say their name, and a little something about him or herself?  Or do you start with a name game to get the students to get to know each other?

People have argued that name games are just an excuse to let kids get chatty.  That it becomes more of a social or party than a learning environment.  Or it leads to students being silent and the teacher doing all of the talking.

I can't disagree with this.  Team building, ice breakers, and all of the activities that teachers (or groups) use to build cohesion can lead to a disaster.  Like ANY good lesson, they have to be well planned and executed with clear objectives and structure.

One of the 'classic' name games goes something like this:  Everyone stand in a big circle.   OK, now we're going to do a name game.  You say your name and one thing you like. Then the next person has to say their name and what they like and then YOUR name and what you like.  This continues on until the 25th person has to say everyone's name in the circle.  Then you smile and look at the student that is in space twenty-five.

I feel you, kitty!

Admit it - reading that paragraph raised your anxiety... and it should.  There are so many poor educational models presented in this 'game'.

1) Limited engagement.  If I go third, I have to remember a total of two names... Then I'm off for the next twenty two rounds.  I don't have to say another thing for the rest of the activity.

2) Stress inducing.  The goal any good ice breaker is to lower students' affective filter.  This does just the opposite. Students that go early become bored.  Students that go later are panicked they have to remember dozens of names.

3) So much wasted time! Students spend almost the entire activity standing (or sitting) and doing absolutely nothing else engaging. Seriously. Twenty-two rounds of doing nothing.

Some may say "well it teaches them to pay attention and learn the names so they are ready when it is their turn."  I say it teaches them that as a teacher, I'm willing to let a student fail on the very first day of class... in front of everyone.

I am a huge fan of building community.  With my background in both Outward Bound and Expeditionary Learning and I know the importance of having students build relationships with each other as well as with adults.  Students should feel welcome on the first day.  They need to learn that it is an emotionally safe environment.

Tuckman's Stages of Group Development

This post will have the first of five activities I like to play in my class during the first few weeks to build these positive relationships.  These games allow students to take risks in a safer environment, allow students to get to know each other in multiple facets, and keeps them moving.  When a student makes a mistake in these activities the general reaction is fun giggles, not nausea and bathroom breaks.

Protocol: I have... (a modified version of 'have you ever...")


Students stand in a circle around a center point (I'll often use polyspots to mark the center and outside points)

  • The person in the center (usually the adult to start) introduces him/herself 
    • "Hi, my name is Mr. Taylor"
  • The group greets the person by name
    • "Good morning, Mr. Taylor" 
    • "Hey, Mr. Taylor"
    • "What's up, Mr. Taylor"
  • The center person says, "good morning group" and says something that they "have" (I often use these examples when giving the rules so students have an idea on how they can get creative with the 'have' - that it doesn't have to be something 'physical')
    • "I have a cat"
    • "I have eaten pizza"
    • "I have a love for math"
    • "I have gone on looping roller coasters"
    • "I have an addiction to twitter"
  • From there anyone on the outside of the circle that also "has" that statement comes to the center and high-fives everyone that is in the center.
  • Anyone on the outside says "nope not me!" and high fives someone on the outside.
  • After high fives are exchanged, everyone then finds a DIFFERENT spot.
  • Play is repeated until everyone has been in the center at least once.

Five reasons I like this activity:
  • Everyone participates in each round. Even if you don't "have" you still get to high five
  • Everyone get to share a tidbit about themselves on their own level.
  • Everyone greets each other by name.  Greetings are so key to building community!
  • Everyone is constantly moving - standing in different spots and next to different people
  • Students get to see what they have in common with someone else - great way to make connections.
About half-way through the activity I will stop and have them look to their left and right.  From there I'll ask them to give me a thumbs up if they know the names of the person on either side.  Depending on the atmosphere I may have them do a quick handshake/fistbump and introduce themselves. 

Remember, though, ice breakers are JUST THAT! They break the top of the iceberg; they don't uncover the entire thing!  Students aren't going to learn everything about everyone in one activity, and they won't remember everyone's name after one game, but it is important to let them feel more comfortable to do so as the week and year progresses.

What games do you enjoy doing on your first day?  What games would you like me to discuss in the future?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Marathon Update - Goals, Parties, and Children - OH MY!

So much has happened since my last marathon training blog post.  To start, I am running about 20 miles per week with long runs of 10 miles.  That may seem like a lot (and it certainly is), but I still have over 350 miles of training to go before my marathon on October 18th.

First, I want to thank more than two dozen people that have donated to Nationwide Children's Hospital through my run.  I have reached both my original goal of $750 and my stretch goal of $1000.  These funds can buy 10 weeks worth of infant blood pressure cuffs, or four new mattresses for patients at the hospital.

I tell my students that when you reach a goal, you celebrate and then set a new goal.  That is what I have been doing.  Each time I reach my goal I celebrate by thanking those that helped, then set a new goal to reach.

Last week I also got to celebrate by attending RunFest - the kickoff to the Columbus half and full marathon.  It certainly was a party atmosphere with plenty of booths and displays!  It was at this event that we were also introduced to the 24 Children's Champions for the 2015 Marathon.

Each one an inspiration

My younger daughter joined me during this event and she was not disappointed either!  We received so much free stuff from so many vendors including a water bottle, shoe-wallets, girl scout cookies (not a cookie, a FULL BOX!), and a wicken shirt from Girls on the Run.  All of that free stuff got us pretty hungry.  Luckily they also had plenty of free food.

Alexa and I sat down at a table for lunch and began digging into the bratwurst and creme puff from the Schmidt's booth (an amazing local German Restaurant.)   A few minutes later another family sat down, and they were joined by a camera crew.

I asked if we needed to move and everyone said no, so we stayed and enjoyed our food.  We also listened to the interview.

Here is what I learned: I was sitting with Gunner - a 2 year old with a rare type of muscular dystrophy - and his family, an older brother and sister, and his mom and dad.  It was amazing to hear the parents talk about their child, their family, and what their son has gone through in his very young life.  You can see part of the interview on the RunFest 2015 kickoff video. (Highly recommended viewing!)

Can't wait to see him at mile 9!

Gunner is one of 24 children that will represent the Children's Champions.  These are the children, along with SO many others, that I chose to run this marathon.  These are the children and families that need the help.

When I started this journey I used the word perspective.  This is still true to me today.  If you are having a bad day, I strongly encourage you to read about the Children's Champions.  There is a short bio of each of them on the Nationwide Children's Website. It really will give you some perspective.

If you are able to donate, please click the link below.  After you click, select the orange 'give now' button on the right side of the page.  As a reminder all donations are 100% tax deductible.

If you donate $25 or more  (I've been recommending the symbolic $26.20 amount) you get to pick a song for me to add to my playlist!  It is a way for you to 'run along' with me - when that song comes on I'll be thinking of you and how you helped someone in need.   A few of you that donated $25 or more still owe me songs!  Here is the current list of songs as selected by donors:

If you are not in a place to give - you can help by forwarding my message to someone you know can help.  As always, my goal is never to 'guilt' anyone in to giving - I know there are thousands of causes out there and nobody has the means to support them all!

Thank you for reading and all of the support!