As the new school year begins, it’s important for the principal and the administrative team to focus on the mindset of the teachers as they prepare to welcome the students for another year of exploration and learning.
Here is an activity you can use that can help connect your teachers to their purpose, to their colleagues, to the school’s vision, and to their work this year.
Life Maps. As you look out at the faculty you’ve assembled, it’s important to consider that they are unquestionably the greatest resource you have to accomplish the good work of the school. So, what drives them? What path led them to be a part of your school? What are their anchors?
Consider leading your faculty in an exploration of their journey by asking them to draw their life maps. (Remember “the Game of Life”? Twisting, turning, full of curves and traps.) It’s a simple exercise: Give your teachers each a sheet of chart paper, some sharpies, and ask them to search google images for ‘life maps’ , not for a template but for some inspiration in designing their own map.
They’ll need adequate time to reflect on their lives… their choices, their triumphs, their tragedies, and the essential points in their journey that led them to your school. (This is probably a thirty-minute event).
After they’ve finished their maps, depending upon the size of your team, you have several options for your teachers to share the story of their journey. You can break them up into small groups (6-8 is what we’ve learned works best) and ask each person to share their story. Then, you can ask all of your faculty to post their maps in a hallway or room for a gallery walk. As your teachers walk around and look at their colleagues journeys, give them post-it notes so they can make comments as they make their way around. (Sort of an Instagram, alpha version!)
What can you hope to get from this exercise? For all of the groups I’ve used this with, the individuals in the group have discovered a deep appreciation for the other members of their cohort. Even at schools where the faculty has been together for a number of years, I’m amazed at how important parts of someone’s life has seemed to remain unknown by other colleagues.
This is more than an ice-breaker or a get-to-know-you activity. WHO your people really are (and what experiences led them to this point) has a significant impact on HOW they work with others, and WHAT they will do each day in their work. When your faculty members get to know each other and appreciate their paths, it breaks down walls, gives them a point on which to connect, and opens the door to deep collaboration.
Your school will be more effective if your faculty works collaboratively and with respect for one another. As they learn more about each other and the paths that led them together, they have a greater likelihood of coming together to do extraordinary work with your students.
And if you arrive there, it was well worth the investment of time.
© 2021 Dr. Mark D. Wilson. All Rights Reserved.
Recipe Card: Life Map Exercise Activity
Life Map Exercise
Purpose: Your teachers reflect on the journey that led them to this moment where they are a member of your faculty. They gain insight through their own personal exploration, and in discovering the paths of their colleagues.
- Distribute a piece of chart paper to each member of your faculty. Give them adequate table space to create their map. (Note: Everyone completes their own map, but they may want options for this activity. Offer choice to your learners. Some might want to work in the same space as a colleague to talk while they work; others might need quiet.)
- Based on your group size (leadership team? whole faculty? departments or grade levels?), determine if you’ll have your teachers share their journey with the whole group or in smaller groups.
- Consider posting the maps in a gallery style and give everyone post-it notes to “leave comments” on other’s maps.
- Ask your teachers to reflect. You can do this in a written format, or you may choose to do a stand-up rotation for dialogue. Some questions for reflection could include:
- How does the path that led you to this point impact who you are as a teacher?
- What did you learn about your colleagues through this activity?
- Why do the journeys of you and your colleagues matter in the work of your school?
- What’s next in your journey?
- You may have other variables you want to add to this activity, but one of the biggest take-aways most groups have is how applicable it is to their classroom and with their students. Getting to know your students and the journey they have been on is also an important pathway to their success.