Energizers and Community Builders for Professional Networking: Balancing Fun and Professionalism for Adult IceBreakers
by Sona Baker
Running a professional development conference for teachers and teacher educators requires a balance between content and community. Networking is essential during these convenings, and community builders are a meaningful, fun way to build these connections. Through survey results from all of our past events, Teachersquared has found that our most successful events and convenings (highest satisfaction ratings from participants) are ones in which we provide ample time for energizers and interactive activities. While there are a plethora of icebreakers and games that can be found online, over the past few years TeacherSquared has cultivated and modified a set of energizers and community builders to use specifically for building relationships and joy for adult participants.
The purpose of community builders are for participants to learn more about one another on a personal level, and build their network of colleagues. Having a short community builder at the start of each day, day one in particular, is a great way to frame the convening in an open-minded, collaborative way. In the spirit of community building, we often ask participants on day one of a conference for volunteers to lead the remaining community builders throughout the remainder of the convening.
This community builder is for groups of adults who have either just met, or have limited knowledge about each other. It elevates some basic “get-to-know-each-other” questions using movement along two planes of continuums. There are two types of questions involved:
- The facilitator first asks a question that can have a range of responses. Watch below as TeacherSquared Deputy Director, Christian Sparling, asks participants to line up according to “who traveled the furthest [to get to the event].” Note that there are no further instructions - this encourages participants to ask one another questions to accurately line up.
- The next set of 2-4 questions should be related to the original question, but should have yes/no responses. As the questions are asked, participants who answer yes take a step forward, turning the 2D line continuum into a 3D continuum and allowing participants to learn even more about their peers and colleagues. Watch Christian begin this part by asking the already lined up participants if they “had to take 3 or more modes of transportation to [get to the event].”
To run this community builder on your own, check out our example questions and template slides as a starting base.
One of the best ways to build connections amongst participants is to find commonalities amongst each other. This community builder allows a small group of participants to learn a bit more about each other through a fun activity. Depending on the size of the group, participants should break up into groups of four to six. The larger the groups, the more interesting the conversations will be. Once split up, each group will need to find at least one fact that is common amongst all of them, as well as at least one fact that is different amongst all of them. We recommend setting parameters for facts that cannot be used - e.g. “we are all educators” - to make it more difficult. After a few minutes, groups should share out all the commonalities and differences they found and the group with the most wins!
The one-minute slide activity is a great community builder for a small group to get to know each others’ personal and professional histories. This activity either requires some pre-work, or a few extra minutes allotted at the start of the activity. Each person uses their computer to build a slide (best practice: use Google Slides so everyone can edit the same presentation!) that explains their story using logos, images, and photos. Participants should include a variety of information, including but not limited to: hometown, school, first job, professional trajectory, family/personal life, hobbies, etc. After each participant has a completed slide, each person receives one minute to present their slide and themselves to the rest of the group. It is best if the slide is animated so each new image pops up when the presenter is ready. Feel free to use our example template.
This community builder is a fantastic choice for a more thoughtful activity that can easily be tied into the content of the day. To start, participants should split into groups of four to six and each person will need one blank sheet of paper. Begin the activity by instructing participants to write their name and a sentence at the top of their paper - we recommend providing a content relevant prompt, such as:
- What are you most excited to get out of this experience?
- Why did you choose to become an educator?
- What is one thing that inspires you in your work?
Next, participants should each pass their papers one person to the right. Now, upon reading the top sentence, participants should draw a picture below it illustrating the sentence. After drawing their picture, they should fold the top of the paper over so the sentence is covered and only their picture is visible. Then, they should pass their paper one person to the right again - the next person will now write a sentence describing the photo, and folding the paper again so only their sentence is visible. Continue passing, drawing/writing, and folding the paper until each person gets back their own paper and can see the progression of their original sentence!
An energizer is a quick, fun activity designed to increase participants’ energy at a time of day when it can often wane. Energizers are great activities to use right after a break or meal to re-engage everyone and provide some movement opportunity.
Rocks, Paper, Scissors Championship:
The rules to this energizer are simple and the same as the traditional game - rocks beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock. Throw on “shoot.” What raises the excitement level on this game, however, is the added championship. Each participant starts off playing this game as an individual and finding a partner to play with. However, as soon as they lose a round, they become part of the winner’s “cheering team” and should walk behind the winner and cheer for them as they find another winner to play with. Teams continue growing by winning rounds until eventually there will be only two large teams left. Everyone gets in on the action by cheering and watching the final championship where one winner will finally be crowned. This energizer gets everyone moving and builds camaraderie and joy amongst participants.
This variation on the traditional game of “Person Bingo” can be adapted to any content. The purpose of this game is to get everyone out of their seats and talking to each other to find people with specific traits. As the facilitator, you will need to provide participants with the various criteria they are looking for. Traits can be as vague, specific, fun, or as content-related as you would like. Some examples include:
- Someone who speaks three or more languages
- Someone who has been a teacher educator for at least ten years
- Someone who has a garden
- Someone who hates ice cream
If you have any prior information about your participants, feel free to pepper in some known facts into this energizer. Once everyone has a sheet, participants should move around the room searching to fill their board, but each board can only have an individual listed one time. Whoever fills their board first, gets Bingo first, or has the most when time runs out, should share out all of the people they learned facts about with the whole group. To run this energizer, feel free to adapt our themed “Clue Bingo” version of this game using this template.
Network Meet and Greet:
This simple energizer gets participants moving around the room and talking to each other, while also increasing their personal and professional networks. The premise of this activity is simple: in a room full of like-minded individuals, there are bound to be many existing connections and contacts that are just waiting to be discovered. Participants should talk to each other in pairs and find a person that they both know that they have in common (excluding other participants of the convening) and keep track of these connections for their own networks. After a certain amount of time, the group should end the activity and determine who found the most connections around the room.
All of these community builders and energizers can be adapted to your specific group or conference. TeacherSquared believes it is critical to incorporate time for interactive activities throughout adult professional development to encourage networking, excitement, and movement. Over the course of the last three years, we have found great success in using these activities to allow participants to feel truly connected to each other, engage more deeply with the content, and to build professional relationships that outlast the time spent at a conference.
About the Author
Manager of Operations
As the Manager of Operations for TeacherSquared, Sona Baker handles logistics and operational work for the national center. Sona began her work in education in 2012 at Uncommon Schools – North Star Academy in Newark, NJ as a founding operations team member to launch a new middle school. She continued her career in education in 2015 by serving as Director of School Operations of a 6-8 middle school at STRIVE Preparatory Schools, a charter school network in Denver, CO before moving back to the east coast in 2016. Sona attended Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, where she earned her BA in Psychology and her M.Ed in Special Education.