What Do You Bring to the Table?

The neurotic lesson planner in me always arrives to classes or workshops with a surplus of material because as a young teacher one of my biggest nightmares was to run out of things to do and—heaven forfend—have to wing it in the classroom. I went into the YAB retreat hoping to get through three team building activities. All of them were brand new, so I was a little nervous about inaugurating them and seeing how they would come together in practice. In the end we had to cut the 15-minute communication skills activity I’d planned and run a bit into the post-workshop hour. But Amy, Lindsay, and I were all expecting this retreat to be as much a learning experience for us as it would be for YAB, and we ended up being extremely pleased with the results of the team building activities.

We kicked the weekend off with “What Do You Bring to the Table,” a workshop idea I adapted from Mariam MacGregor’s Teambuilding with Teens. I designed this activity as a way for everyone to focus on their fellow YAB members’ strengths and also to learn why they are valued by their peers. Here is how we went about it: We handed out envelopes to all participants and asked them to write their names on them. We then started spotlighting individuals and asking the entire room (including the individual in question) to write down and complete the phrase “[Name] is valuable to YAB because…” When they’d answered the question, they stuffed their slip of paper into that individual’s envelope. I asked everyone to keep tabs on how they felt during the different parts of this activity. Partway through, to speed things along (and once I got the sense that some people were a bit reluctant to volunteer themselves for the spotlight), I instituted a rule that the last person to put his or her slip into the envelope would go next.

After everyone had their turn in the spotlight, we handed out poster paper and markers and gave participants ten minutes to sift through their envelopes and make a representation of its contents. They could do something as simple as a word cloud or draw a self portrait. As such, the posters ran the gamut from something like this:

IMG_3266to this (those are not bunny ears, btw):


We had time for only a few presentations of the posters because what I really wanted to do was reflect on how the activity made them feel. Here are some of the answers:




“It was difficult to write about myself.”




We talked about some of these more difficult emotions, many of which were felt by the newcomers to YAB. I was especially impressed by Keyma, who was the first to volunteer herself for the spotlight, even though she ended up feeling uncomfortable because she didn’t feel that anyone knew her well enough to answer the question. So I asked her what seemed to be missing from everyone’s perceptions of her (and you can see below that they were very positive), and she answered that she is actually the class clown once she gets comfortable in a group.


(I wish I could explain the clock in the boat—it was very poetic when she described the movement of the water and the passing of time—but I will just massacre it if I tried).

I’ll leave you with some outtakes (because I was that annoying person on the trip who took hundreds of photos of everything). Here is our creepy classroom (“The Nature Lodge”), described by Zhanna more accurately as the “dead animal room”:

IMG_3246Some YAB members could not stop petting the wildlife.


And here is Brentin, calling upon the Muse for his poster. Actually, he called on her every single time he had to fill out a slip. Seriously.


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