Part of the new series on delight.
Many people, including myself, have an aversion to the icebreaker. Too often it’s a somewhat disingenuous activity assuming that random people have a desire to connect with other strangers in a confined space when in reality they had no intention of doing anything other than listening to a presentation or at most working with people they already know.
You’ve probably been in that room where it’s just awkward. If you lean towards introversion, these experiences can be painful. If the speaker engages in a long setup of the activity, you either get up to use the restroom or pretend you have an urgent phone call and leave the room. (Confession, I’ve done both)
But when one of the goals of a meeting or gathering is to build community, then it can actually make sense and if done well provide purpose and context to the upcoming work or learning. At this point, it’s not an icebreaker but a learning activity.
I’m currently involved in coaching 4 school divisions in Virginia as a part of a larger initiative called VaLIN or Virginia is for Learners Innovation Network. This is year 2 and we kicked off the year with a 2-day kick-off event where 50+ teams of 7 gathered to begin their work. Leading us was Kaleb Rashad who is self-described as the “director of doing badass work”. Kaleb provided some wonderful context that focused on equity and care.
On day 2 he opened with an icebreaker although he never called it that. It certainly had all the potential of awkwardness. He asked us all to walk around the room slowly and silently and simply acknowledge others’ presence in a non-verbal way. He stopped every couple of minutes and added a bit more complexity from adding verbal acknowledgement to specific prompts that emphasized listening over interactions. He closed this by discussing its purpose around connection, being, presence and slowing down.
I take a great deal of delight in those who identify and go against the grain. There’s no doubt our lives continue to race. Typical education events feel rushed and just being present with others is often not acknowledged, inconsequential or even superfluous. I love being asked and encouraged to slow down and breathe. When others lead this work, I’m immediately a fan. Thank you, Kaleb.