We are gearing up for another busy summer of professional development events in Oregon. I brainstorm our activities ahead of time and want to continue our focus on ones that increase our movement, collaboration, and human connection elements.

We’ve been doing quite a bit of group juggling the past couple years. Thanks to my dear colleague Tricia George for introducing us to this gem of a game-metaphor-fun. We’ll use it forever.

group juggling

We’re also adding a new activity to the rotation: a low-tech social network. I saw this in action at the Google Think Tank NYC this spring and fell in love with it. It’s low-cost, high-impact and has people sharing and connecting in a low-stress way in the opening minutes of an event. Stock each table with large index cards, colorful markers, washi tape, stickers, stamps, or whatever paper supplies you have on hand. Set aside a 15-minute block of time after the welcome and introductions for participants to create their social media avatar and profile. Good elements include: face sketch, name, job, location, school or organization, education, hobbies, interests, and the like.

At the 15-minute mark, ask the participants to spend a few minutes showing off their profile to their table mates. After they finish, they’ll grab a piece of tape and add their profiles to the wall. (I usually buy a roll of kraft paper for the backdrop.)

low-tech social network

Throughout the event—especially coming and going from breaks and meals—encourage participants to get to know their peers and create connections (via  marker or tape or yarn) with each other on hometowns, hobbies, jobs…. By the end of the event the wall looks like a social map.

participants looking at the wall of profiles

I’m adding a reflection activity to the end of the event to highlight the value of our face-to-face networks and online social networks both. Our professional development events bring people together from across the state. It’s a treasured slice of time when we get to break bread together, learn together, and form friendships. The low-tech social network helped us discover things in common that may not have surfaced during our conversations. It adds new fibers to the fabric we weave together. Online social networks allow us to expand our peer network beyond those lucky times when we’re in the same space at the same time together. This is especially important in rural Oregon, where educators often have hundreds and miles and a few mountains between them and the next closest person who teaches their subject or grade or style. Social networks are social networks.