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Professional Development Openers and Icebreakers (ROUND-UP)

Choice Literacy

Experts on presentations once said that you had 30 seconds to capture the attention of your audience. Other experts now say you have the attention of the audience in the beginning - the challenge is in keeping it. No matter what, we can all agree the most nerve-wracking part of professional development is the start. Organizing an opener that fits you, your purpose and your audience is important to set the tone. Some people tell personal stories, while others appeal with statistics. One may pose a question and another gets the audience members connecting with each other right away. Here are four ideas to inspire your openings.

Aimee Buckner, author of Notebook Know-How and Notebook Connections:

I actually hate icebreakers. It's like being at church and having to say good morning to someone before I've had my coffee. It's just not me. I don't want to walk around the room to find out who speaks more than one language or who ate spaghetti for dinner last night. However, I do recognize that I need to help teachers wade into the pool of learning for the day.

I love to start with humor. Not only does it set an upbeat tone for those who are 'forced' to be there, but it also helps diminish the 'you're the expert' pedestal that many teacher leaders find themselves on. I have a slide show of educational cartoons that plays as people come in. I then start the meeting by reviewing our favorites. 

Another way I start my meetings is with a video. It can be an inspiring video like a clip from Facing the Giants (2006) or a humorous You Tube video"Monk needs help opening a book." I've even shown the trailer for Lane Smith's IT'S A BOOK. For me, starting off with laughter helps me put aside the stresses of my classroom or school politics so I can focus on the learning at hand.

Amanda Adrian, elementary instructional coach in Washington state and Choice Literacy contributor:

Most of the professional development I offer is ongoing - I meet with groups multiple times as part of a series focused on one topic. Because each session is connected to the last, I like an opener that reviews concepts previously taught; engages participants in focused dialogue; and gets participants up and moving. "Did you know?" is a simple structure that accomplishes all three. Here's how it goes:

1. Each participant is given a card that has been prepared earlier by me. An example of a "Did you know?" card would read: "Did you know?...Minilessons are a time for explicit, focused instruction." Each includes a different key point that was taught during a previous session.

2. Participants stand up and pair up with a partner. I encourage teachers to find a partner with whom they don't typically work (i.e., from a different school or grade level).

3. One partner begins by reading her card. "Did you know? . . . Minilessons are a time for explicit, focused instruction?" The other partner responds to the question. It may sound something like this: "I did know that, but sometimes I struggle to keep minilessons mini."

4. Partners then switch roles and repeat, using the card belonging to the second partner.

5. Partners trade cards and head out to repeat the process with a new partner.

6. I end the activity when participants have had a chance to hear and share several "Did you know?" cards.

After a long school day, "Did you know?" gives teachers an opportunity to get their blood flowing, their intellectual wheels turning, and their prior knowledge activated. Off we go . . . ready both mentally and physically for new learning.

Jennifer Jones, instructional resource teacher in Wisconsin and Choice Literacy contributor:

How I will break the ice with my audience and wrap things up to ensure a memorable professional development experience haunts me before any workshop. I'm always envious of other presenters, and quite honestly tend to adopt their icebreakers and closers and make them my own. I have more of a technique to share than a show-stopping activity. When presenting, I've learned that my audience is made up of some percentage of individuals who want to be there, some percentage of folks who don't want to be there, and many who aren't sure if they want to be there. For this reason I have discovered that one of the best icebreakers is being present before things even get started. Last-minute technology glitches, copies, and any number of other logistical nightmares tend to impede a presenter's ability to mingle prior to getting started. No degree of preparedness ever seems to be enough, but the power of greeting your audience, roaming around the room, introducing yourself, and learning about who is there with you and why can be just what you need to break the ice and get things rolling with a personal touch.

Shari Frost, literacy coach support specialist in school districts throughout Illinois and Wisconsin, editor of The Literacy Coaching Clearinghouse and co-author of Effective Literacy Coaching: Building Expertise and Culture of Literacy with Roberta Buhle and Camille Blachowicz:

My all-time favorite icebreaker was inspired by an activity that my first-grade students initiated. I read The Hundred Penny Box (Mathis, 1986) to them. In this story, Aunt Dew has a box that contains a penny for each year of her life. Her great nephew would take a penny from the box, and Aunt Dew would tell him a story about what was happening in her life that year.

The parent-teacher organization at my school was having some kind of sale (bake sale? taffy apples? wrapping paper?) and all the kids had money. One child held up a penny and said, "1991 - that was the year my baby sister was born. We moved to a bigger house." The other kids started looking through their coins to see what they had and what they could remember about the year. For next few days, kids were coming in with pennies and stories of their lives. Their smart teacher finally caught on and decided to extend an invitation for a writing project. Collect a penny for each year of your life and write a story about what happened that year. It turned into a lovely family project. The children had to talk to their parents, because they needed to collect stories of the first three years of their lives.

What does this have to do with an icebreaker? I collect pennies representing the life spans of the participants. When the participants enter the room, they take a penny. They are told to look at the date and jot down a memory from that year. If the group is large, they share in small groups and each group selects a story to be shared with the whole group. If the group is small, we share as a whole group.

I have heard many funny, surprising, and heartbreaking stories over the years. The pennies always get everyone talking and feeling connected.

 

Choice Literacy