As early educators, we need to create a positive, supportive, and trusting environment for the children and families we serve. To do this, we must also build those values into our team culture. Every member of your staff will be better able to do their jobs when they feel valued, trusted, and heard. This is where team building comes in.
For many, the thought of team building brings to mind forced group fun, awkward games, a distraction from the real work, and concerns about cost. These are all valid concerns and potentially grounded in your lived experience. The reality is that there are too many benefits to building a strong team culture not to try. Strong team culture is associated with higher job satisfaction, employee retention, and fewer interpersonal conflicts. At the end of the day, caring for young children is challenging, and we need to be able to rely on our teammates in both big and small ways.
What is effective team building?
Effective team building establishes and maintains a strong, united, goals-oriented, accountable, and committed team. An effective team building process involves more than bringing a team together but also ensuring different parts of the team work cohesively. Below are tips on how preschool directors can build effective teams.
Set expectations upfront
The first step to an effective team building experience is setting expectations upfront. This should include team vision, goals, and objectives. A clear vision, actionable goals, and objectives unify the team and promote collaboration and teamwork.
Team members should work together to develop the preschool's vision, goals, and objectives. This promotes inclusivity and pushes teams to work harder to realize the preschool's vision.
You’ll also want to introduce new staff members to your vision, goals, and objectives during onboarding and orientation. This way, they’ll be on the same page with other staff members.
Respect team members
Respect for team members is the foundation for successful teams. Mutual respect among staff promotes collaboration, trust, integrity, and participation.
Team members are more productive and committed to their jobs when they feel respected. Preschool directors should lead by example by respecting their staff to promote respect among team members.
Here are some ideas for demonstrating respect among teams:
- Treat team members with kindness and courtesy
- Encourage team members to express themselves freely
- Actively listen to team members when expressing their opinions
- Implement team members' ideas
- Treat team members fairly and equally
Develop emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your emotions and those of the people around you. Emotional intelligence has five key elements: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
Emotionally intelligent preschool directors know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how their emotions can affect the team. Directors who stay calm, in control, and logically assess situations are more successful at running functional preschools and effective teams.
Emotionally intelligent leaders treat their teams as human beings and not machines. They also understand team members are different and aren't motivated by the same things. Lastly, they’re patient and support each team member according to their strengths and abilities.
Promote a positive team environment
Preschool directors should use positive reinforcement to influence excellence in team performance. Shaping behavior is more effective with positive reinforcement than negative reinforcement. Preschool directors can promote a positive team environment by acknowledging staff for a job well done, celebrating achievements, and regularly showing appreciation for their hard work.
Create transparent and open communication channels
Good communication is crucial for building robust and effective teams. Clear lines of communication enhance understanding and collaboration, making teams more productive. Below are tips on how to promote effective communication among team members:
- Encourage transparency and openness
- Respect all points of view
- Clearly define roles
- Encourage feedback
- Develop schedules that work for everyone
Conducting annual performance evaluations can benefit everything from day-to-day operations to long-term employee retention. Structured performance reviews enable directors to identify staff strengths and areas for improvement and set specific goals that contribute to the overall success of your program.
Reviewing performance on a regular basis also creates a workplace culture that prioritizes feedback and professional development. Employees feel valued and connected to their work and are given a space to bring up any concerns or questions they have.
Aim for diversity
Diverse teams thrive and are the best for driving organizations to success. Those organizations with more diverse teams are more productive, innovative, and have better overall financial performance.
Diverse teams consist of members from different backgrounds and with varied experiences. This can include things like age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, areas of study, or industry background. Workplaces that prioritize building diverse teams foster an environment in which employees with different perspectives can feel valued, heard, and respected.
Why is team building important for teachers?
The strengths and abilities of the staff at a preschool determine a program's quality, and their happiness dictates the program's tone. Preschool staff are more effective when they enjoy their work. Team building is an excellent way to help staff feel supported, cared for, and happy in their roles. Let’s discuss why team building is important for preschool staff.
Builds trust among teachers
Trust is the backbone of effective teams. Preschool staff can collaborate and work harmoniously when they respect and trust each other. Team building activities strengthen relationships between teachers by building trust.
Promotes healthy communication
Effective team building activities promote healthy communication between staff members. These activities help staff members know one another, create a better understanding of each other, and build bonds of trust. As a result, these activities encourage members to concentrate on what they have in common instead of how different they are.
Improves teachers' performance
Some team building activities encourage collaboration and sharing tasks. Staff can apply these skills in real life while at work. For example, they can work together on lesson planning, with each teacher contributing their unique skills and expertise. This way, they complement each other to deliver their best and realize the preschool’s vision and mission.
Team building encourages creativity and innovation among preschool teachers. Team building activities promote collaboration and problem-solving. Therefore, preschool staff who work closely together are more creative and have plenty of ideas for growth. They can quickly brainstorm new ideas to set the preschool on a growth trajectory.
Team building activities for preschool teachers
For many programs, team building experiences are concentrated in just a handful of training days. Training is primarily business first, but you can incorporate team building games throughout the day. Think of them as productive brain breaks that enable the real work. Here are some ideas for creating fun, valuable, and affordable team building experiences for your unique staff.
Ahead of your next big training day, ask everyone to send in two to three facts about themselves that their colleagues don’t already know. Assemble them on a large grid (similar to a bingo card), and give each person a copy of the grid at the start of the day. The goal is to identify who each fact belongs to.
This will encourage people to break out of their immediate teaching teams and have conversations with other people. At the end of the day, give out prizes for people who fill in the most squares or achieve bingo.
This is a fun and creative game that pushes people out of their comfort zone and is essentially a hybrid of the games Pictionary and Telephone. This works best in groups of five to six people. Start by giving everyone a black piece of paper and a pen.
To kick the game off, everyone will write a sentence at the very top of their paper. Everyone passes their paper to the right. The next person’s job is to read the sentence to themselves and draw a picture of the sentence. After drawing the picture, you will fold the sentence backward so the next person cannot see it. When everyone is done drawing, you pass your papers to the right again. This time, the person will see the picture that was drawn and write a sentence describing the picture. Before passing the paper on to the next person, they’ll fold the image backward again, so only the sentence shows.
The game continues like this until everyone has had a turn with each paper, or you run out of space. Then, spend time reading through the sentences and images and laughing at the silly misunderstandings along the way.
Pro tip: People may be quick to say, “But I’m not good at drawing,” and you should reassure them that it doesn’t matter—this game is fun at every skill level. In fact, if people are too realistic in drawing, it makes the sentence writing too easy.
Encourage people to draw small pictures so you can fit several on a single page and not to overthink it!
Walk and talk
Take advantage of brain and body breaks by matching people up to go on quick walks together. Depending on the size of your team, you can match people up in groups of two to three and send them out for a stroll around the building or the block. You can even give people a conversation prompt or question to discuss during their walk.
Here are some question prompts you can use:
- If you could live anywhere on the planet and take everything that you love with you, where would you choose to live?
- What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
- If you had to eat one meal every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
- What would the title of your autobiography be?
- What fictional family would you be a member of?
- What’s your ideal day off?
Have a quick debrief when everyone gets back by asking each team member to share one thing they learned about their walking partner.
An obstacle course can be a great way to perk up after a lunch break and give everyone a chance to get some fresh air. Set up an obstacle course for your team to traverse. You can use jump ropes as balance beams, milk crates to step or jump over, or hula hoops as stepping stones. Don’t worry; the obstacle course doesn’t need to be too elaborate or challenging.
Pair people up in groups of two, and then blindfold one person. The person without the blindfold will have to help guide the blindfolded person through the course. This is a great way for your team to practice their communication—and listening—skills.
Instruct everyone to split up and gather three items from their classrooms, without further instruction on how they’ll be used. When everyone returns, break them into small groups.
Tell the groups that they are now stuck on a deserted island together, and the items they just retrieved are all they have to survive. Give everyone time to brainstorm how they’ll use their items to survive and share.
Have groups take turns sharing their funny, resourceful, and absurd survival stories.
Virtual team building for teachers
Virtual team building for staff involves games or exercises you can do remotely to build stronger bonds. Virtual team building for teachers is convenient and saves time and money since it can be conducted remotely.
Here are some of the best low-cost and fun virtual team building activities for teachers to consider.
Virtual scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts are a popular team building activity and can be easily translated to a virtual environment. Using a video conferencing tool like Zoom, instruct participants to go find common household items and show it to the group on screen. The first person to find the item gets a point. Examples of items include: a kitchen utensil, their favorite snack, something blue, or something soft.
A virtual trivia session is a great way to test your team’s knowledge and can be played in teams or individually. The format can be as simple as coming up with a series of questions based around a theme or you can create a powerpoint presentation or use an online trivia platform like Kahoot! You can even include trivia questions related to your program or team members to add an element of personalization. Examples of questions include, “What year did your program start?” or “Which staff member has worked at your center the longest?”.
Two truths and a lie
This is a common icebreaker activity that allows your team to learn more about each other. First, ask each team member to come up with three facts about themselves—two that are true, and one that is false. Then have everyone take turns listing their three facts aloud. Encourage everyone else to vote on which one is the lie. Chances are, new insights about your staff will be revealed in this simple activity!
Ongoing team building
We all know that in-service days can be precious and rare, and you probably want to commit to team building more than just once or twice a year. Here are some ideas for how to create a culture of team building every day.
Create a system in which teammates can give each other recognition for their hard work. This could be virtual or handwritten. If you have a weekly email you send out to your staff, consider including the high fives there. You can request your staff submit their high fives to you over email (or using a free Google form if you want them to be anonymous).
Alternatively, if you want to go low tech and have a physical staff bulletin board on display, you can create a dropbox where teammates can write and share their high fives. You can then display them on the staff bulletin board to ensure they get visibility.
It can be really nice to recognize special holidays, milestones, and birthdays, and if you’re like a lot of other centers, you don’t have any budget to do this. Consider scheduling the occasional potluck for your team to come together and celebrate with food.
Keep in mind that asking people to contribute in this way can sometimes be a burden, and people won’t always feel comfortable sharing if they’re unable to provide food. So think about ways to make sure this isn’t becoming a stressor for people. For example, depending on the size of your team, you could pick one day in a month and celebrate all of the birthdays and milestones on the same day rather than over multiple days.
Family-friendly, post-work outing
It can be difficult to plan social events outside of work hours because everyone has a variety of obligations that could begin as soon as they’re off the work clock. Think about what kind of local, convenient, and inclusive outings you and your team might be able to schedule. Is there an outdoor skating rink you can all go to in the winter for an afterwork skate? When the weather's warm, is there a free evening outdoor concert where you can set up a group picnic?
If you have bookworms in your center, it might be fun to create a book club. It could be focused on education-related books, or completely unrelated to your work. If you’re concerned about commitment level, it could just be an article club featuring a longer, meatier article. If it’s possible to arrange lunch schedules and coverage so the club can discuss what they’re reading over lunch, even better! If that’s not possible, your members will at least have something to discuss in passing in the kitchen and teacher break room.
Walk, run, or jog—there’s something for every fitness level. Once a week or month schedule time for teammates who want to walk, run, or jog together. This can be a great way to support everyone’s fitness goals, while also giving teammates a chance to chat in a more casual setting. This is totally optional, but your walking/jogging club might even want to sign up for a 5k together and run as a team.
Create a supportive team culture year-round
Building a cohesive and functioning team does not happen overnight but instead takes time and attention. Effective team building activities promote collaboration, healthy communication and trust among your staff. All of these lead to a positive team environment that will benefit everyone at your center, including the children and their families.