Building a learner-centered community: Four powerful team building activities

By Devin Vodicka

This week we celebrated the launch of Learner-Centered Collaborative by bringing our team together to meet in person for the first time since the pandemic.  Reflecting our strong belief in the importance of relationships, our primary goal for the event was to build community and connections across our team.  Thanks to the stellar efforts of volunteers who took the lead to plan the retreat, we had a wonderful experience and I came away energized and inspired.  In addition to focused time on our vision, mission, values, goals, and multi-year plan, we engaged in a number of activities that were focused on connectedness.  

Here are four team building activities that were particularly powerful:

Swagenger Hunt 

Loosely Structured

To build a sense of team identity we first gave everybody a sweatshirt with our new logo on it.  For this activity we were divided into small teams of four or five people and the task was to take selfies in front of items that were on a checklist.  Since we were fortunate to be in San Francisco, the list included local sights such as a bridge, a cable car, and other landmarks.  The photos were uploaded and shared to a Slack channel. In addition to generating a series of memorable experiences, a profound benefit was that we spent time walking and talking in small groups and the informal conversations were important opportunities to develop relationships.  

Our team found a bridge!
Cable Car Selfie: Sadie Henderson and team

While this activity would need to be adapted for your local environment, the combination of small groups, a fun task, walking, and having the time and space for unstructured conversations are a powerful way to create a bonding experience.  

Identity Workshop

Tightly Structured

For this activity we were led through a series of structured conversations that also included individual time to think and reflect.  For the interactive portions we used timers to ensure equity of voice and the discussions occurred in small groups to promote openness and connection.  Prompts ranged from “What’s in a name?” (which focused on the origins of your first and last name) to “If you really knew me …” which used the stem to allow for as much or as little vulnerability as the participant felt was comfortable.  

Afterwards I heard statements such as: “I learned new things about my colleagues” and “I feel closer to my team members after this activity.” To learn more about this type of activity, check out the free workshop we’ll be providing soon. 

World Cafe

Moderately Structured

This is one of my all-time favorites.  For the World Cafe you divide into small groups and rotate between stations where you respond to challenging questions.  Responses are recorded on poster paper and each rotation builds on the input from the previous group or groups.  For us, we focused on prompts such as “How might we promote connectedness in a remote organization?” and “How might we improve our feedback and evaluation process?” Having done this process many times, I am always amazed at how participants make connections and also by the ways in which the layering of insights across multiple groups and perspectives adds depth and promotes creativity.  

Play

Unstructured

Finding time to engage together in play is a fantastic way to promote connectedness and build a sense of teamwork and community.  We spent time at an arcade which was incredibly fun and I can’t even think of the right word to describe the near-constant laughter which I will always remember from the experience.  If you can’t make it to a place like an arcade other excellent alternatives that require very little preparation are board games and cards.  

Learner-Centered Collaborative leaders Rachel Riggio and Catina Hancock

In conclusion, take the time as a leader to make the time for your team to develop relationships with one another.  With examples here ranging from unstructured to highly structured activities, there are a range of options to consider.  The key is to prioritize what matters most as we seek to create the conditions for meaningful learning.  Relationships are at the heart of everything that we do.  Learner-centered leaders understand that team building activities are essential for us to model the connectedness and collaboration that we want to see in our students.  

The amazing Learner-Centered Collaborative team

Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.

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