Thursday, September 6, 2012

Creating Culture & Establishing Purpose

How do we as teachers create a culture and establish a purpose in our classroom?  The whole thing is a bit like an iceberg, isn't it?  There are the activities that we plan out, and an outsider can read in our lesson plans and curriculum maps.  There are the ice breakers and the way we arrange our room and the concrete goals we set.  But, if we are to create space that fosters learning and sets our students on a path to success, it must be more than a program.  It must come from within us and be woven into the way we interact with each other.  It must be rooted in our values, those intangibles we hold so dearly that they drive our actions and speech.  Those things that lie below the surface, but give substance to our lives.

How do we learn to work together?  By focusing on our shared values.  First you must find a way to access those.

One of the best team building activities I've ever done is one developed by Marshall Ganz out of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.  It is called the story of Self, Us and Now.  I've done this with adults in an organization/workplace and young people in a school.  It has worked because it is simple and effective.  To begin, people get into small groups and share their story of self.  One at a time, they tell a story about a past challenge and/or tough choice they had to make.  They share what they did, how they responded.  Finally, they relate their story to where they are now, how they came to be part of the organization they are with at that particular moment.  This allows people a glimpse into each other's past.  More importantly, is shows the inner strengths and values that each person brings to the team.

During the Story of Us, the leader discusses the group and their shared values.  He or she tells the story of how the organization came to be.  Finally, the leader shares the Story of Now, where the purpose is established.  It is a very effective way to bind people together.  They are just stories, but in every story there is a moral.  That is where the value lies.  That is where they get a glimpse at each other's substance, the stuff that lies below the surface and drives our every move.

I strongly encourage you to check this out and give it a try, be that with staff, students or both.  Then, let us know how it goes!

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