[The Summer with SUSDA continues, as SUSDA Vice-President Stephanie Weiskopf once again reports from her orientation internship at the DePaul University in Chicago]
What is it about the word “icebreakers” that can often result in eye rolling or deep sighs? I personally adore icebreakers and thrive on the silliness or personal sharing that usually happens. However, I understand that this feeling isn’t always the norm. Don’t get me wrong, I think people feel good about getting to know others, learning about their peers, laughing, playing, and connecting; but there is something about the word “icebreaker” that has been possibly overused or abused and isn’t greeted with the same sentiment these days. I find the terms “community builders”, “energizers”, “reflections”, and “activities” where I used to hear icebreaker, which is all fine and dandy as long as the activities and the moments that icebreakers provide are not being replaced.
I find value in “two truths and a lie” and “story of a name” and think that they have a concrete place in student development. Many of us will be advising student groups, working on a team/committee, and training staff; all of which are outstanding places to put icebreakers into action. Not only do they build community, but can also serve as a fun way to set the tone of the group or experience.
I can say that one coldsnapper (trying to invent my own term here… just wait it’ll catch on) has really defined the development of a team I have been supervising this summer. My first week here at DePaul started with staff training for the transfer orientation leader team – a group of 11 transfer students ranging in age from 19-29. I was new, they were new, changes were happening in our office…how was I to pick a coldsnapper that would really set the tone for the summer? I chose one; not knowing the effect it would have on the development of the team, also known as “pterodactyl” (like the dinosaur). This silly little gem involves a group standing in a circle. One student turns to the right and says “pterodactyl” to their neighbor, the next student can either turn to the right and respond with “pterodactyl” or respond to the left with the noise a pterodactyl might make – like a high pitch screech sound – thus changing the direction of the circle. The only rule is that you cannot show your teeth (which can be quite challenging both when making these noises and when trying not to laugh). Once you have revealed your teeth… you’re toast. When I first introduced the game to the group, I was met with some resistance. They had not really bonded yet as a group and giggling was definitely not a norm. After a round or two of “pterodactyl”, they were like a different group. They were laughing, poking fun at one another, and really showing their personality.
We now start every program with “pterodactyl”, it is the punch line of jokes, they answer their phone with it instead of “hello”, and they even do it with their student groups. The transition leader team has been shaped by this coldsnapper and has reminded me of how valuable they can be to the development of a group. If you are ever faced with the question of “is there time?” The answer is always yes! Always say yes to these moments, just be mindful of what you call them – feel free to replace “icebreaker” with activity, game, energizer, or even… coldsnapper (see it’s catching on).