One of the most important things I've learned as a journalism teacher is the critical need for team-building. Choosing to take journalism as an elective means choosing to do a lot of work outside of class, so the students have to be fully invested in the product.
Creating that investment is a multifaceted process. It starts with purpose: creating a shared sense of "this is important." But if we want our students to understand that this the important task cannot be accomplished alone, we also need to make them a team. Teams look out for each other. Teams help each other overcome obstacles and motivate each other when motivation is low. Teams get done what individuals cannot.
Teampedia is a great place to start. It is a "collaborative encyclopedia of free team building activities, free icebreakers, teamwork resources, and tools for teams," and it's one of the first places I go when I'm looking to build community.
When I decided recently that I wanted another way to reinforce the "news family" aspect of my journalism class, one of my colleagues suggested creating a "kudos board" where students could leave each other shout-outs. I combined this idea with Teampedia's "Thankfulness Tree" activity to create my journalism Gratitude Tree.
I wasn't sure if a group of high school students would go for something like this or just write it off as cheesy, but it's been enormously popular and provided a much needed boost in morale and motivation in the final months of the school year.
Although I've been using this for journalism, I can think of many ways a tree like this could build community in any setting. It could be an Idea Tree (students could add "leaves" with great ideas they've gotten from each other) in any academic class, for example. It could even be adapted for families to use at home: a Family Gratitude Tree to remind us why we are thankful for each other. We are so busy that it's easy to forget to say thanks, and this provides a forum and physical reminder of that gratefulness.
As you can see from the students' messages, it's become a source of tremendous joy in my class. Not a day goes by without someone adding a post-it or two. When the tree gets too full or post-its start falling off, the students will get to keep their leaves as a tangible reminder of their importance to the class.
For images of this work-in-progress, check out the gallery below.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream