Forget the crowded auditorium and the motivational speeches. At Haddam-Killingworth schools, convocation is about dunk tanks, pool races, DJs, and human games of Hungry Hungry Hippos.
“All that fun and energy, that’s who we are as people, and it’s what makes us successful as teachers,” says Haddam-Killingworth Education Association President Donna DiGregorio, who came to convocation in a blue tutu. Together with her colleagues, also decked out in tulle, DiGregorio helped organize a team-building activity—Hungry Hungry Teacher—in which educators, administrators, and staff competed in a wheelbarrow-style race to collect as many plastic balls as possible in small, round laundry baskets.
“Activities like these are real morale-boosters,” says fourth-grade teacher Georganna Munz, who crushed her round of Hungry Hungry Teacher. “Our convocation is like a giant pep rally.” Munz, now in her third year at Haddam-Killingworth, previously taught for 16 years in Bloomfield.
Thinking outside the box
“Convocation is about two things,” says school superintendent Howard Thiery. “We’re here to welcome everyone and to celebrate.” A former teacher, Thiery says he was tired of same-old, same-old when it came to convocations. “We decided to blow it up this year.”
The idea for turning convocation into a morning of music, games, and camaraderie came from a similar event that the district organizes for students in June.
“I thought, why can’t we do that for the adults?” Thiery explains.
The morning event included outdoor games hosted by each of Haddam-Killingworth’s five schools, plus a health fair, disc jockey, and booths designed to look like food trucks, serving up everything from fresh pastries and hot beverages to fruit smoothies advertised as helping teachers get the school year off to a “smooth start.”
The culminating event was a “duel in the pool,” where teams of teachers raced back and forth in Haddam-Killingworth High School’s indoor pool in oversized inner tubes shaped like ducks, swans, toucans, unicorns, and sea monsters.
All for one, and one for all
Convocation is one of the few opportunities teachers from all five schools can come together in the same place, says math teacher Wendy Adamczyk, who is a building representative at the high school.
“It reminds us that we are one big team, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, guiding every student from their first days of school through graduation. When a student graduates, it’s because of all of us working together.” In fact, she adds, several of her colleagues at the high school are former students.
That feeling of lifelong relationships and being part of an effective team, says Adamczyk, is also what comes from belonging to a union.
“Relationships are what it’s about. We’re all in it together. As a building rep, I’ve had a lot of experiences and conversations that are useful to share with other teachers. Sometimes it can be intimidating for teachers to meet with their administrators, but as a union rep, I can help make those meetings more productive and comfortable and help bridge that gap.”
“Being active in our union is so important,” Munz agrees. “It keeps us united in what we believe in, which is good teaching and what’s best for all our kids.”
“We’re all on the same page here,” says DiGregorio. “We each bring our creativity and passion for education, our enthusiasm and dedication to our students, and seeing all my colleagues here inspires me. It’s a great way to kick off the year.”
Tomorrow marks the first day of school for Haddam-Killingworth students.