GTA NYC Reflection – Part 1: Welcome Activities

Immediately following the Celebration dinner after the Google Teacher Academy in NYC, the GTA Team conducted a relatively detailed debrief of the session and produced notes and action items for the next event (which has yet to be announced). Many of those reflections are of course not meant to be blogged. However, many of my personal reflections are – and as they are relevant to professional development in general I thought I’d take the time to compose them on the plane ride home and share them here. (Note: A week has elapsed between the time I wrote this on the plane and the time I was finally able to pause and post it on the blog… and another day will pass before it actually appears on the blog – since I’ve set this series of four posts to appear one per day over the next four days.)

Like we did in our debrief, I’ll use the agenda for the day as a rough outline for this reflection… and you’ll see a few themes develop straight away: Innovation, Inspiration, and Passion

Back in the spring, when we began planing for this new round of GTAs, we decided to replace our original welcome activity in favor of something more meaningful. But having missed the original activity at our last two events, we brought it back for this event. Reflecting on the benefits and drawbacks of each got me thinking about the role of a welcome activity in general (or for professional development meant for educators at any rate).

As with so many other things, it helps to be clear about the purpose of the Welcome Activity. This may change depending on the event and the audience, but in general I think a welcome activity needs to do the following:

  • Help participants get to know each other
  • Help participants get their mental juices flowing
  • Help participants get physically involved in the event
  • Help participants get emotionally (or passionately) involved in the event

This is asking a lot. In our case, the old activity (“Building Innovators“) had the advantage of helping participants get their mental juices flowing and get physically involved in the event. (They are eventually asked to create a tower out of 3×5 cards that they’ve written on.) However, it more or less failed at helping participants get to know each other – and for the most part it didn’t engage people’s emotions or passions, though there was some competition involved. The newer activity (“The Innovation Connection“) had the advantage of helping participants get to know each other, get their mental juices flowing, and (ideally) get emotionally involved in the event (as they shared stories about “non-technology” classroom innovations). Arguably, the necessary movement around the room was physical, but it was not as concrete as the physical building exercise in the previous activity. Also, it was a bit confusing for participants to execute – so perhaps that belongs on the list above as well. A welcome activity must be easy to participate in. :)

My goal is to dream up a new activity for the GTA that does all of these things. I think, though, it might take more time in the agenda – as many things done right tend to do. Perhaps I’ll put a few new activities “into beta” by testing them out on upcoming Google Learning Institute events. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on what makes a good welcome activity for a professional development event.