Breaking the Ice — and Having Fun — in Professional Development for Teachers
There’s never enough time to get everything done during PD, but team-building and supporting your staff’s social-emotional needs builds a strong school culture and increases teacher efficacy. Here are some quick, fun professional development activities for teachers that will break the ice!
Step to the line
Have your staff stand in two lines facing each other. Use tape, string, or your imagination to draw a line down the middle between the two lines. The game host will then provide a series of statements, and for each one, participants will step to the center line when they agree. Others remain in place.
This game is a simple, fun opportunity to see how staff members are feeling about a certain issue, explore shared beliefs, or get to know each other better. Questions can be themed and can cover anything from teaching practices, values and beliefs, to personal, fun stuff.
- I believe my students learn best when they feel loved.
- I have traveled to a different country.
- I consider myself a leader.
- I have struggled in my classroom this year.
Highs and lows
For educators, every week brings challenges and moments of joy. Give your teachers some space and time to communally reflect and share their experiences through this activity. The host should provide a context for sharing by saying something such as: “Let’s share some highs and lows from the classroom this week.” Participants take turns sharing.
As a community, participants are able to find common ground, empathize, and connect with their colleagues.
Suggestion: Encourage people to start with a low and end on a high!
During a busy school day — or after one — it can be tricky for educators to shift gears and get focused in a meeting. Engaging in a few minutes of mindfulness slows down the hustle of the day and transitions the mind to a more calm and focused place. The simplest way to do this is to put on some calming music, turn out the lights, and instruct participants to close their eyes and take some slow breaths for the duration of the song. If thoughts wander, that’s okay. Instruct everyone to gently bring their awareness away from their long to-do list and back to their breathing. Need a little more structure? Visit YouTube or Calm.com for guided meditation sessions.
Set chairs to form an outside circle and an inside circle where participants face one another. Pairs discuss their responses to a given prompt and then rotate to discuss the next question with someone new. This is a powerful bonding exercise that allows for multiple one-on-one discussions, letting participants gather varying perspectives in a short amount of time.
Prompts can focus on getting-to-know-you topics (e.g., What was your favorite memory from elementary school?) to work-related topics (e.g., How have you used restorative justice practices in your classroom this year?) The facilitator can really mix it up by asking the group to move five spots to the right or by labeling one circle as the sharing circle and the other as the listening circle.
As people turn their attention to a meeting or staff development activity, building connections encourages educators to express what they’re carrying into a meeting and then shift their focus to the tasks at hand. According to the National School Reform Faculty, “Connections is a way for people to build a bridge from where they are or have been (mentally, physically, etc.) to where they will be going and what they will be doing. It is a time for individuals to reflect — within the context of a group — upon a thought, a story, an insight, a question, or a feeling that they are carrying with them into the session, and then connect it to the work they are about to do.”
The facilitator should begin by announcing: “Connections is open,” and then provide a time limit, like 5 minutes. The rules for Connections are: “Speak if you want to. Don’t speak if you don’t want to. Speak only once until everyone who wants to has had a chance to speak.
Listen and note what people say, but do not respond.” Silence is okay. Give people time to get comfortable and share whatever is on their mind: an experience they had that day, a thought they’re musing over, a frustration they faced on their way in, or a question.
Some examples of what might be shared:
- “A really difficult student took a lot of my energy today and I’m struggling to let it go.”
- “A parent called me today and told me how great their child is feeling in class. It really made my day.”
- “I’m wondering if my new rubric is student-friendly.”
Again, the idea is to express your thoughts into the air. Connections is not a discussion. When the time is up, the facilitator says: “Connections is now closed” and the meeting can begin with a more focused room.
Have a little fun and ask your staff to spend a few minutes creating a meme that sums up their teaching week. They can easily use web sites like Make a Meme, ImgFlip, or Memeful to create a funny visual interpretation of their work week! Have teachers upload their meme to a shared folder or a shared Padlet board to enjoy the humor together. Display printed memes in the teacher’s lounge to keep the humor going!
They said what?!
Set a timer for five minutes and ask the staff to share the funniest, most irreverent, and silly statements they heard that week in the classroom. Have a laugh and be reminded of the joy that working with kids brings.
3-minute teaching challenge
Good teachers can teach anything, right? Have educators teach each other something fun in PD! Fill a jar with lesson topics at the beginning of the year. Get creative and go beyond actual classroom topics. A teacher who loves origami could teach others how to make an origami crane. Another teacher could show how to juggle paper balls or how to do a magic trick. Each meeting, someone volunteers to teach a topic from the lesson jar. Get silly and show off your teaching skills!
Tip: Ask for volunteers and choose your lesson topic before the meeting so supplies can be arranged!
2 truths and a lie
Need to build a little camaraderie amongst the staff? Let them get to know each other and have some fun. Give everyone a few minutes to come up with two truths about themselves and one lie. Have the staff work in smaller groups or play together as a staff. Each person shares their truths and a lie, while the others have to guess which statement is the lie. For example, one could share: “I went skydiving in Thailand. I love Rocky Road ice cream. I once met Brad Pitt at a restaurant.” Which is the lie? Players will learn some fun stuff about their colleagues and you might have some surprising discoveries!
Jennifer L.M. Gunn spent 10 years in newspaper and magazine publishing before moving to public education. She is a curriculum designer, teaching coach, and high school educator in New York City. She is also cofounder of the annual EDxEDNYC Education Conference for teacher-led innovation, and regularly presents at conferences on the topics of adolescent literacy, leadership, and education innovation.