Knowing the Differences

Do you really know who you work with,  I mean do you really know them. I have worked in four school divisions during my career as a teacher and in that time I have made many friends and met many acquaintances, but after speaking with some of those that I call friends and participating in a simple but very insightful exercise I realized that I may not know as much about those that I have worked with and still work with.

The idea was a simple activity, something that many of us have visually seen and thought it was a powerful exercise but would probably not want to participate in. Why, well the activity requires an individual to take risks personally and to be honest, something that we may not completely do during our hectic days at school.

The exercise was borrowed from the Movie and Book “Freedom Writers”.  The exercise was simple draw a line, have people stand on either side of the line facing each other and when a question that applies to you, you walk towards the line. Like I said the exercise requires an individual to risk putting themselves and their past out in the open and it requires that as an individual that you are honest in your answers and to your peers. The biggest thing that I realized during this activity is that you as a staff and a person must also feel safe revealing to those that you work with some very intimate details about yourself.

The most reflective element about this exercise this that I participated in the activity with some staff members that I no longer work with, but did work with closely for seven years. Working in the environment we did, an intensive treatment institution for children in care, we relied on each other heavily, the trust and relationships that were built were essential in many situations as we had to anticipate how are peers were going to act or in many cases react.

So back to my story. So there I was, standing with my friends and the leader of the exercise began asking the questions. The questions started simple enough, step to the line if you were born in Alberta, step to the line if you have siblings, step to the line if you were right-handed and so on. Then the questions became more in-depth and more self-reflective.  Finally, the questions came, the ones that caused you to think, to look at your peers and in your mind say “oh my god” or “I had no idea”. These questions were, step forward if you have been in an abusive relationship, step forward if you have ever been shot at, step forward if you have ever witnessed someone die in front of you and not from old age, and other difficult questions. To say the least I was not only shocked but impressed.

Obviously after the exercise was completed there were a lot of questions and comments. Some staff were given the opportunity to share their individual stories to decrease the shock. Some did and some didn’t, but we were also given the opportunity to process as a group after, which was awesome.

I am not saying that as a team you should try this exercise, but it is a thought and may be a very strong team building exercise. What I am saying is that as educators we place a significant amount of emphasis on building relationships and most of us do. However we build these relationships with the students in our class and some of the parents of our students. Next time your in the staff room look around, do you know all of your colleagues spouses names and what they do for a living, do you know their their kids names or are you shocked when you hear that a colleagues family member is sick. I know it can be hard, especially if you are in a large school with a large staff, but considering the importance of relationships I believe that the investment will pay off. Why, well it is those students that we have close and positive relationships with that we find the most success and enjoyment with, then why not look forward to going to work to also interact and grow with those that we can consider our family outside of home. It is something that I realize I may need to do more actively.

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