In the beginning there was grad school. That ended in 2010. Now what do I blog about?

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April 23, 2010

Create a fun staff development day activity

Today I caught this random tweet and it brought in a memory from about 8 years ago when I worked at a residential facility for at risk youth. I caught myself smiling immediately, remembering planning a fantastic staff development day. In this tweet, a teacher reflects on a young student activity using a camera to complete tasks on a scavenger hunt. She adds that the photos were really good. I remembered how much fun my teams had and how impressed my boss was with the result. I want to share the project in more detail than Andrea was able to in her tweet. It can be adapted for many different things and is really a fun and engaging large-to-small group activity for team building, training and program development. Can be done with any age group of students or adult learners, or staff and faculty.

Background & Purpose: The facility where I worked was a Job Corps center. Kids, aged 16-24, lived there 7/days/week. They had educational and vocational activities during the weekdays, and recreation and residential activities at night and on weekends. The day staff and night and weekend staff were very different, obviously having very different goals and responsibilities. Because of the 24/7 operation with 3 different shifts, often the evening and weekend staff did not know the edu and voc staff nor had they ever been in the classrooms or shops while students were in class. My plan was two-fold: to introduce the night and weekend staff to the day staff and also let them see their kids at work so they could get a better sense of the day program.

Method: I split my team of residential advisers (RAs) and recreation staff (Rec Aids) into small groups of 6 or 8. Each group was given a Polaroid camera and 2 packs of film and the scavenger hunt task list. The task list included things such as "Go to the Masonry Trade facility. Find the trade instructor and the student foreman. Take a group photo with them in front of the cinder block pile.", and "Go to Culinary Arts. Put on aprons, chef hats and rubber gloves. Pose for a group photo with oldest and youngest culinary students." and "Go to Ms Murray's math class. Sit at the student desks to pose for a 'class' picture."

These types of varied activities required that they interact with the students and instructors at each site and not just 'drive by' to look around. Of course the day staff all knew what was happening so they could plan accordingly, but we kept the students in the dark. The students LOVED IT because they were pleasantly surprised to see their RAs and Rec Aids visit the shops and classrooms. The had a really good time showing off their work and projects and introducing teachers to their dorm staff. Many of our kids had broken homes or were foster kids and their RAs were sort of surrogate parents on some level, so this type of teacher-'parent' day was very moving and inspiring for them.

When the small groups were finished with their scavenger list, they were all to come back to the training room to finish the exercise. I had drinks and snacks brought in so they could have some refreshment. Each group was given a large poster board, glue, tape, and markers. They sat in groups to review their photos and create a poster board to share during 'brief-out' with the large group. On the poster, they were instructed to write what they learned about each place they visited. This ensured the group discussed their experience together, by talking about the program, what their students did during the day, the instructors they met, and the campus locations they rarely got to see.

Wrap-up: The small groups briefed-out to the larger group, by sharing the things that impressed them or surprised them most. In some cases, staff reported being surprised to learn that a notoriously disruptive kid in the dorms at night was actually very good and hardworking in trade class, or that a very shy student was a reading class tutor. These insights helped night and weekend staff understand that maybe some kids were bored outside of class or that they simply hadn't been recognized for their strengths and abilities. Some staff were pleased to know that instructors knew their names because students had spoken highly of them at some point. Small groups hung posters on the wall for the rest of the day and people enjoyed looking at all the photos. The teams had gotten very creative with their group poses!

My boss was pleased with the outcome of this event. It did improve communications between day staff and night staff. It helped all staff feel more welcome to communicate because the name/face connection was made. And it improved student/staff relationships. Students who do well in trade were proud to show off to their RAs and students who needed extra help were identified and started receiving it.

Reflection: One of the reasons I wanted to get my master's degree in education is so that I can have a more important role as a facilitator, leader and program developer. I don't know where this road will take me. I am excited to discover the possibilities. My ability to plan engaging staff development activities is an asset. Now, how do I market that and create opportunities to use it?

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