Creating Community from Day One

Creating a strong sense of community is essential in education. It’s clear that students who feel safe and cared for do better in school, both academically and socially  But creating (and keeping) that feeling of community is hard work: we need to constantly monitor our culture, research new strategies, and look for better ways to communicate. It also means taking the time to connect, prioritizing activities which build a feeling of family.

At the heart of a school community is the staff. If our teachers and support staff don’t feel a sense of belonging, they can’t pass that feeling on to students and parents. In TCFL, we make this idea central to everything we do. So, in August, we always begin the academic year with a whole school philosophy workshop where we model our teaching strategies and implement activities that will help our teachers have hands-on experience with our philosophy as they get to know each other. This year, our school psychologists (Caro and Rachel) teamed up with our P.E. teachers (Luis and Benjamin) to kick off the year with a team-building philosophy workshop at the beach. 

This is what they did:

When we arrived at the beach, we started with an icebreaker, in which we formed 6 teams of 11 teachers each. The groups were made up of teachers from different subject areas and different grade levels, so that we interacted with people that we don’t always see on a regular basis.

There were 7 activities to complete at different stations. They ranged from physical challenges to artistic activities, like painting a mural. As we participated in the different tasks, we solved problems, discovered skills, worked as a team, and laughed so much!


 

 

 

 

At each station, we were asked to jot down our ideas of the parts of our philosophy that we used in order to complete the activity.

We wrapped up with a reflection on our learning. We stood together discussing the highlights of what we had learned and applauding each other. Teachers mentioned elements of our philosophy like:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Teamwork

But they also came up with ideas like:

  • Smile, even when you’re drowning.
  • Every little bit helps.
  • Following instructions is as important as leading.

Finally, it was time to relax together.  Max, one of our science teachers, and Arturo, a 2018 graduate, put on a barbecue for us. Cooking for about 70 people is hard, hot work so when it got overwhelming, true to our philosophy, Gabi — our media center lead — jumped in to help. The beach day was a great way to transition from summer vacation back to a work mentality. It gave us all time to reunite with old friends and bond with new teachers.

 

 

The next day, during our secondary workshop back at school, teachers were highly engaged, sharing ideas and talking about struggles in a way I’ve rarely seen on day two of our workshops. One of the teachers said to me, “Did you see how open and willing to work together everyone was? I think that’s because of yesterday. We feel closer.”

This is the power of community. We can share and take risks together when we feel safe and cared for.

Conclusion: This beach day was one of our best philosophy workshops ever! How do you help your teachers and school community come closer together at the start of the school year?

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