No More Silos

John Norlin · January 28, 2020

As we took our first break of the day after spending ninety minutes intentionally connecting and playing as a staff, a veteran educator walked briskly past me and said, “I’ve been working in this school for over 30 years and that is the most connected I have ever felt to my colleagues.”


Ninety minutes of intentional connection…


One of my favorite quotes on the importance of play is, “You can learn more about someone in an hour of play than a lifetime of casual conversation.” Some have thought that this quote came from Plato, which is not the case, but there is wisdom in the words nonetheless. 


When was the last time that you played as a staff? By play I mean that time was made for intentional connection. By intentional connection, I mean that you had an opportunity to laugh and to share with each other. Things about your self, interests, passions, highlights, and even pain points. 


As my friend Phil Boyte says, “A staff that plays together, stays together.”


At our CharacterStrong Regional Educator Trainings and In-building Professional Development we make time for staff to connect intentionally. We weave in processing and relational activities so that staff can benefit both from experiencing it together which builds bonds, but also so that they could see how something like it could be done in their classroom to build a strong culture and climate where people want to be there vs feel like they have to be there. 


The number one thing that a school must always stay focused on is the strength of its Tier 1 supports. Tier 1 is the universal supports that represent what we are doing for ALL students and what ALL staff is engaged in. Many schools make the mistake of thinking that strengthening your Tier 1 system means what is happening from the school system to student level and or what is happening from the adult to student level. Those two areas are important, but it is not a True Tier 1. True Tier 1 is what we are doing:

  • School to Student 
  • School to Staff
  • School to Family
  • Staff to Student
  • Staff to Staff
  • Staff to Family
  • Student to Student
  • Student to Staff
  • Student to Family


How is your school doing relationally in each of these areas? At the core of our work in education, it is all about relationships. To strengthen the foundational supports means we need to work on intentionally strengthening the relationships in each area of a True Tier 1. And, one of the highest leverage areas that we can focus on is the staff to staff piece. 


I was working with a building once that was experiencing awesome results early on at strengthening their True Tier 1. They had done an amazing job of building readiness to implement the CharacterStrong Middle School Advisory Program school-wide. They were seeing such great success early that I went to interview them on what was the key to seeing this kind of positive impact. I heard numerous things that I expected to hear like the importance of having a common language when it came to teaching social-emotional learning and putting a focus on relationships. The one thing though that I wasn’t expecting to hear was how crucial the relationships they were building staff to staff was to their success. It kept coming up again and again. “I actually look forward to coming to work every single day because of my peers.” 


Sadly this is not always the case in all schools. Sometimes we get in each other’s way. Sometimes we negatively influence each other. Many times we work in silos and never connect with each other. 


When times get hard in education who do you go to? A staff who is well connected will work through tough times more effectively and efficiently. 


Here are three community-building activities that you can try with your staff to strengthen your True Tier 1:


W.A.Y. In (Who Are You Inventory)

  • Have participants make an inside and outside circle.
  • The people on the inside circle should be facing the people on the outside circle so that every person on the inside has a partner on the outside.
  • Provide the pair with structured questions to discuss about themselves.
  • If you want the participants to meet multiple people, have the outside circle face one direction while the inside circle faces the other. Rotate the inside circle X number of people and give them a new question to share about.
  • At any time, you can have a pair introduce each other to the larger group.


Super Tournament Edition Rock Paper Scissors

  • Round 1 = Participants mingle around the room, introduce themselves to someone, battle rock paper scissors best two out of three and whoever loses shares something about themselves. When done hi-five your partner and repeat the process over again until the facilitator stops round 1. 
  • Round 2 = Same process as round 1, but this time whoever loses asks a question to get to know the person who just beat them. Repeat round 2 over and over until the facilitator stops round 2. 
  • Round 3 = Same process as round 1 & 2, but this time whoever loses shares something that they learned about someone in round 1 or 2. Repeat round 3 until facilitator stops super-tournament edition rock paper scissors. 


That’s Me

  • Everyone stands in a circle facing inwards.
  • As the facilitator, start the activity by saying something interesting about yourself. For Example: “I spent last summer in Africa.”
  • Take a step forward. If others have done the same thing (they spent last summer in Africa), they step forward saying “That’s Me.” Your prompts can be as broad or as specific as you like! More specific prompts tend to create more rich connections when you find that you have them in common with others.
  • Everyone steps back in place and the next person in the circle shares something interesting about themselves.
  • Topics could include: favorite ice cream flavor, elementary school attended, mode of transportation to school, number of siblings, likes vacationing in a certain place, plays an instrument, etc..



John Norlin

John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.