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South Providence team-building exercises to benefit students

Victoria Modlin, Kelly Van Horn and Lori Grzeszczak, all teachers at South Providence School, negotiate an obstacle that required two separate teams from opposite directions to work together so that each member crosses to the other side of the obstacle. Below, Kris Britton, (standing at right), a national speaker who does professional development at public schools, works with South Providence School staff on effective and engaging strategies for student success.

When South Providence School principal Barry Ross realized that 30 percent of his staff was new, he knew he had to build some camaraderie between the staff before the school bells rang on the first day of school.

South Providence is an alternative school for students that, for a variety of reasons, may not be best served in the traditional school setting. Ross said the nature of his school’s culture means keeping fresh ideas on reaching his student population, one reason for the slightly higher influx of new teachers this year.

“That’s new blood – teachers who have been in the traditional school setting who bring new ideas, recommendations and suggestions into the school,” Ross said. “That’s really important. So having new blood is a really good thing for this school.”

New blood may be good for keeping ideas fresh, but it presents its own set of challenges for teamwork among colleagues who do not know each other. So Ross felt like trust-building exercises between his staff, which would force them to depend on each other, would work wonders toward reaching that goal.

Ross met that challenge with the help of the Team Development Center (TDC), at the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. The program touts that it provides opportunities for teams to enhance leadership skills, problem solve and communicate through the use of its challenge courses.

“If I have a faculty that works together, that understands teamwork and how to help each other, at the end of the day they will be able to support each other and therefore support the kids,” Ross said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

One of the team-building activities was a plank walk, on which each team is provided one plank to assist their members across the rope bridge. The planks cannot touch the ground and only three members at a time are allowed on the crossbeams.

South Providence new faculty member Ted Gehring said he thought the exercises sounded like a fun way to build teamwork and would hopefully allow the staff to know each other better.

“There’s a lot of people who are new here and we have to create a good atmosphere to work together. So that will be good,” said the 15-year-veteran social studies teacher, who transferred this year to South Providence from Central Academy of Technology and Arts.

Veteran South Providence teacher Susan Wilhelm felt like the experience was definitely a success. “Since we have a number of new staff members, this team building exercise at the Whitewater Center helped us get to know each other in an environment outside the school setting,” she said. “We learned each other’s strengths in solving problems and we improved our communication with each other.”

Gabriel Oprea, also a new teacher at South Providence, had similar comments. “I enjoyed participating in an event where I could get to know my colleagues in difficult challenges and see how we could overcome them effectively. I think we bonded together strongly, and I think that the activity helped us to realize that goal very quickly.”

Ross said he was pleased with the experience for his teachers. “This was a very successful team-building exercise,” he said. “In a very short period of time, we were able to establish unit cohesion on our way to building trust.”

Building trust wasn’t the only training exercise that was offered to the South Providence teachers. Before the staff left for the team-building experience, they participated in a workshop given by Kris Britton, a national speaker who does professional development at public schools, conferences and universities around the United States.

She spoke to the South Providence staff on “effective and engaging strategies for student success.”

“I don’t want any teacher to just ‘stand and deliver’ and lecture,” Ross said. “The teacher’s job is to set the students up for success. My job is to set the teachers up for success. Providing this training will help in that effort.”

Britton discussed a variety of researched-based classroom practices. "The educators present at this workshop were able to take the skills and tools with them that they could use immediately in the classroom, skills that will impact student engagement and therefore impact student achievement,” Britton said.

After all the preparation was said and done, Gehring said it was time to get to work. “A teacher’s first order of business is to understand the student population,” he said. “I’m ready to get going.”

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, UCPS Communications Coordinator
Posted: Aug 29, 2011 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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