Start Your Semester with Individual and Team Reflection

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At the start of the year, I welcomed 20 new students into the yearbook program. Only one student had returned from the previous year’s staff. Helping our staff become a team has been a year-long process. 

Journalism classrooms have many valuable life and work skills that automatically come with the coursework: learning time management, how to work with numerous deadlines, how to work as an individual, but also within a team. For students unfamiliar to a fast-paced environment, as well as juggling many tasks, any type of Journalism course can be overwhelming. For students who struggle with organization and time management, it can feel chaotic. And for students who are not used to working with a variety of personalities to achieve one goal, navigation of that system can create anxiety.

To help my students learn how to not only survive in yearbook, but thrive, we returned from winter break to a therapeutic team-building activity. To help students recognize the many personality types they were working with and consider organizational systems that would not only work for themselves, but the class in general, I had all of my students take 5-10 minutes to answer the following three questions for themselves:

  1. What are 1 to 2 warnings or cautions you want to give people before they work with you? (i.e., I have an obsession with details being perfect, so if I get bossy at times, I am not trying to be rude, I just really want the end result to be perfect.) 
  2. What really helps you work best in a team?
  3. What ideas do you specifically have about helping the yearbook classroom function more smoothly?

After students had a chance to write out their responses, each student shared his or her answers with the class.

Not only did this activity help me understand some of my students better, but the energy in the class drastically changed. The conversation also gave me an opportunity to start implementing some of the systems or processes students suggested. This gave students more ownership in the classroom and program. Students have even commented, “Hey, that was my idea!” with a smile as they see a new chart on the wall or as we start a 10-minute pause for a team-building activity.

Other Team Building Activities for Getting Back into the Groove After Winter Break

  • Schedule a family photo. Each spring, we do a “family photo” in the class. Sometimes, we get cheesy with it (one year we all crowded around a couch). I usually gift this picture in a frame to graduating seniors in May.
  • Bring in snacks. Sometime before Thanksgiving break, I had the cafeteria staff (there was an additional cost) bake the kids some brownie bites and doughnuts to snack on. The kids loved the snacks, and the cafeteria staff loved how much the kids both enjoyed and appreciated the snacks.
  • Schedule class/program meetings. Is there a platform where all students can get on the same page? I slacked with this last semester but am bringing meetings back this semester per the requests of the students. We are on block scheduling, which allows us to have 15-20 minute whole-class meetings on Mondays in a manageable routine.  We plan to use these meetings to address concerns, generate ideas, and assess progress on production.
  • What We Need. Is there a space where kids can say what they need to complete their assignments? We compiled this into our service points document, which allows students to say when they need an item. For example, the student designing the courtwarming spread can say, “I need the article a week before my deadline, which is this day.”