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Cultivating an Adult Learning Community

By Kristen MacConnell, Director of the Teacher Training Center
Cultivating an Adult Learning Community

I love the beginning of a new school year. It is filled with opportunities—opportunities to meet new colleagues, new students and new families and opportunities to reconnect with the people we already know. There is a sense of hope and excitement in the air, laced with a touch of anxiety. Let’s be real—will your students like you? Will you have tough parents? Will your new colleagues add value to your team?
Starting the year strong for adults is just as important as it is for our students. Here are a few of my favorite ways to cultivate adult learning communities. These activities can be done with your faculty or with your teams/departments.
Getting to Know You
The World Cafe is a fun and interactive way to build relationships. This spin on the world cafe protocol can also be used as a discussion tool for a variety of topics. I like to create a personalized menu with “starters, entrees, and desserts” inspired by the setting.
Here’s how it works:
1. Form three groups of 3 or 4 and sit together at a table.
2. Choose your time limit. 3-5 minutes per person works well.
3. Have each group begin by choosing one question from the “starters” section of the menu to answer. Each person answers one question. People can each answer the same question, or people can choose to answer different questions. Repeat the procedure for each section of the menu.
Building Culture
Developing a Credo is a great way to build a shared purpose around teaching and learning.
Here is how it works:
1. Ask each person to draft three separate sentences that could be included in the credo. I find it helpful to provide some sentence starters like: “We believe…., Children learn best…, Our limits….”
2. In table groups of 3-5 people (or if you are doing this on a team/in a department complete as one large group) share your favorite sentence. You draft 3 because if someone shares one close to yours, you can choose an alternative sentence to share.
3. If you are doing this as a large faculty, have table groups work together to craft 1 sentence based on the favorite sentences each person shared.
4. Compile the final product and share!
Sharing our Hopes and Fears
Each beginning of the school year is accompanied by change. Change is an opportunity for improvement but can also serve as a cause for great stress. Asking your faculty or team/department to name their hopes and fears can help you as a leader to cultivate a supportive working climate.
Here’s how it works:
1. Ask your team/faculty to jot down their greatest hope and their greatest fear for your work together this year. “If this is the greatest/worst experience you’ve had, what will have happened or not happened?”
2. Ask people to pair-share.
3. Generate a shared list (one for hopes and one fears) by either having people call out their hopes and fears or you can create a chart using post it notes which gives people a chance to get up and add their post it to each chart (a google doc can work as well if you want to save paper).
4. Have people look at both lists.
5. Ask them what they notice (depending on the talkativeness of group you might consider a pair share first, then popcorn out responses from the whole group- or just popcorn out responses).
a. “What did you notice?”
b. “Any surprises?”
6. Pair Share: What are you excited about? What inspires you after looking at the list? What would you like to see happen for our work together this year? What’s working and how can we do more of it?
Looking for other ideas to start team/department meetings off with a spark of joy? Check out the above ideas and other icebreakers at, click on “Leading from Behind.” Happy Learning!

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