Category Archives: Winter 2022 Issue 2

The First Five Minutes

by Clare Creighton

It’s been about two years since the first time I was in a large group meeting and someone led a grounding activity. We turned off our Zoom cameras and one of the facilitators led us in a breathing exercise. I didn’t get the point.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with the opening minutes of meetings. For a while, the culture of the organization I was in was openly anti-ice-breaker. Those corny activities felt silly and lacked value when compared to the overflowing agenda of “business” items. And yet, I know there is value in a purposeful approach to how we start meetings. In the last year and a half, I’ve finally done the work of better understanding how different moves impact the meeting space. In contrast to strategies suggested by many of the business articles on the internet, the techniques I share below don’t offer you greater efficiency or a chance to get through your ambitious agenda faster. But for me they offer some valuable trade-offs. I don’t claim to be an expert here, so I’ve drawn on the perspectives of colleagues to help share about a few different ways to begin meetings.

Grounding Activities

A grounding activity is one that helps participants in the meeting to situate themselves in the space and to become more mentally and physically present. We move between meetings and activities at a rapid pace, so grounding can help us make that transition mentally. Nicole Hindes, Director of the Human Services Resources Center, helps us understand why grounding activities can be effective: “starting a meeting with a grounding is helpful for me because it reminds me that I’m a body, that we all have bodies. Much as I’d love to quick-transition between meetings and conversations with others, the reality is that I’m affected by each person I talk with. Sometimes I walk into a meeting or conversation and [may] still be carrying a heaviness or tension (or other energy) that hasn’t dissipated from my body from the conversation space immediately before. Taking the time to ground (and offering the same time and space to others) can help everyone find the attention and inner-resourcing that feels right for the people in front of us. Working in academia, where the cartesian-split prizes my mind over my body, means that I’m regularly fighting pressure to ignore my feelings and my body. A grounding reconnects me to the wisdom available to me in my body and slows me down enough to get curious about the wisdom in other’s bodies too.”


For a check-in, each person in the meeting shares what is “up” for them. For large meetings, this might happen in pairs or small groups. These check-ins don’t require a prompt, just an invitation to share what you are comfortable sharing about how you’re doing in or out of work. Colleague Emily Bowling, Director of Community Engagement & Leadership, offers these example prompts: “What do you want to share with others that you’re bringing in today? How are you arriving into the space today? What’s on your mind/heart as you enter our meeting today?” She describes the value of these check-ins: “I find starting staff meetings with an opportunity for each staff member to check-in is a valuable way to ensure we are relationally connecting and creating space to understand what is on the heart and minds of our colleagues – to know what they are carrying with them in that moment.” For me, the value of these check-ins clicked the other day as someone offered up the connection between how they were doing and how they might show up in the meeting. It makes sense that we carry into a meeting what is on our minds and in our hearts and bodies. Naming that for others might help them understand the way you show up in a meeting.


Ice-breakers are prompts or activities that warm-up the conversation and bring up the energy level in a room. Examples include prompts that ask folks to share or weigh in on a topic (e.g., “what’s the best flavor of Girl Scout Cookie?” or “share one of your office pet peeves”). There are a lot of tools to do this, but offering a simple prompt for folks to respond to can be a way to get to know colleagues in a light-hearted way. More time-intensive activities like the sentence picture game or the 30 circles activity can spark creativity and energy for the rest of that meeting. Challenge Course Coordinator & Instructor Mark Belson describes it as “connection before content:” “connect[ing] and shar[ing] random bits of innocuous information with each other helps participants to feel a sense of collaboration while also getting to know more about each other and our group. These often times simple and brief moments allow us to have our voice heard and also to hear the voices of others. And if we can also share in laugh or a feeling of connectedness, then all the better.”


Anna Bentley, Administrative Program Assistant for the ASC&WC, calls this the “aimless opener:” deliberate and intentional space left for a conversation that meanders where the group wants to go, leaving open-ended space for relationship building, conversation, and sharing. Anna says, “Have you ever gone to a meeting early and started chatting with other folks in the room while waiting for everyone to arrive? It’s easy to get into a deep discussion that takes up the first few minutes of a meeting. The facilitator can create space for organic conversation to unfold so colleagues can build relationships. There’s no end goal, pre-determined conversation topic, or requirement to participate. Aimless openers aren’t structured and often aren’t planned, but that doesn’t mean it is time wasted. They can still be incredibly valuable moments for teams to build connections.” For me, this is an intriguing possibility – leaving time in the meeting turns over the conversational space to the group to use in a way that meets their needs. It’s worth noting as well that for those more accustomed to a traditional meeting agenda, they might wonder why the “meeting” hasn’t started. This technique and the other strategies can benefit from transparency – it can be helpful for meeting participants to know how the opening minutes of a meeting are going to be structured and what they might get out of that time together.

I hope these insights into ways to start meetings prompt your thinking around the types of spaces you can create in meetings you facilitate. You can explore additional activity ideas with the resources below. Also, please feel free reply if you have other meeting strategies or ideas you think facilitators would benefit from.


Why Check-ins Should Be Part of Your Team Meeting Culture

Back-to-School Icebreakers Are Awkward, But They Work — Science of Us

Free Resources and Handouts – Training Wheels

Playmeo – Search 490+ Fun Interactive Group Games

Examples of Grounding Activities

Navigating Multilingualism

by Kelley Calvert

In training consultants to support multilingual writers in the Writing Center last fall, I struggled to determine where to begin. The topic of multilingual support is so vast, while the number of contact hours for training remains so limited. Then, I came across the NPR podcast Rough Translation with an episode entitled, “Non-native Speakers Navigate the World of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad; English” in which global communication specialist Heather Hansen discusses English as an international language and problematizes the notion of “native speakers.” Early in the podcast, she shares her experience as an English speaker immersed in a German-speaking classroom, saying, “If only I could do this in English, they would all know how smart I am.” This statement served as a lightbulb for me: the first step in understanding how to support multilingual students involves empathy–not just in the sense of understanding their experiences, but in terms of understanding our own.

I offer the following notes on the training as a springboard for ideas and insights into our thinking on multilingualism. As educators, we can use the podcast to facilitate a conversation in the classroom or train other peer educators on campus; on a personal level, we can simply listen to the podcast and bring some self-awareness to our own perceptions of language and language learning during a long drive or quiet moment at home.

We began our 50-minute Writing Center training by listening to a segment of the podcast. I chose minutes 8:18 to 13:13 of the 34-minute podcast because I felt these five minutes provided the most material for discussion, covering statistics on English speakers globally, offering surprising information about cross-cultural communication, and placing the burden of conversation on both the speaker and listener. While listening to the podcast, I asked consultants to jot down one idea that surprised or interested them.

After listening, many consultants shared their thoughts. Several noted that they had never thought about the fact that 4.4 billion people speak English in the world, with 4 billion learning the language in a classroom setting. That means that “native speakers” make up a tiny fraction of the world’s English-speaking population. Another salient area of noticing revolved around the frequent use of idioms (e.g., the whole nine yards, to touch base) in American English and how difficult these idioms can be for non-native speakers. Finally, many consultants noted how Hansen problematized the notion of the native speaker: Indian, South African, and Singaporean people grow up speaking English, so why aren’t they included in the native-speaker canon?

From this warm-up discussion, we moved into a “Connect-Extend-Challenge” activity, based on Harvard’s Thinking Routines. On post-it notes, I asked consultants to answer questions in the following sequence:

  • “Connect” question on green post-its: What connections can you make to your work in the Writing Center? We then collected the post-its and arranged them in one area of the whiteboard.
  • “Extend” question on blue post-its: What new ideas did you get that broadened your thinking or extended it in different directions? We again collected the post-its and arranged them on the whiteboard.
  • “Challenge” question on yellow post-its: What challenges emerge for you and/or the Writing Center based on this podcast?

After collecting this final set of “Challenge” post-its, consultants moved the post-its around and grouped them into themes as a collaborative exercise. This process was beneficial in many ways. For consultants, they were able to read, analyze, and discuss peers’ ideas and thoughts. They were able to think more deeply about the topics addressed in the podcast while interacting and building relationships with their peer colleagues. In connecting, many shared their own experiences of difference and related those to challenges faced by multilingual writers. In extending, some consultants noted that they were for the first time considering how their communication styles (e.g., using idioms) might impact conversations with multilingual writers. In considering challenges, many noted the difficulty of addressing writers’ concerns around grammar while also affirming the value of their multilingualism.

As a trainer and administrator, I benefited greatly from this activity as I was granted a window into peer educators’ experiences. Based on the challenges identified in the post-its, support staff were able to identify areas for future training and professional development. I encourage you to have a listen to the podcast and reply with a comment on the questions or insights it brings forth for you. If any of the activities mentioned above could benefit your classroom or context, feel free to reach out with any questions. I am always happy to share materials, thoughts, and ideas.

Promoting Equity in Recruitment and Hiring of Student Staff

by Chris Ervin

Last fall in The Success Kitchen, Anna Bentley provided an overview of the Academic Success Center’s and Writing Center’s learning process around equity during 2020-21. In this edition, I take a deeper dive into the work we did around equity in the recruitment and hiring of student staff. Our goal was first to learn about equity in recruitment and hiring, then examine our own practices for potential bias, and finally to enact change that reduces those opportunities for bias. I offer here an example of how our learning process resulted in some revisions to recruitment and hiring for my unit, The Writing Center.

Informed by our Search Advocate training, including building a criteria matrix, we considered a number of questions: Which students might see themselves as potential writing consultants? Who are we inviting to apply? How are we sharing that invitation? Who are we selecting to advance as finalists? Who are we offering positions to, and how are we communicating with those who wouldn’t be offered positions? In other words, we began testing some of the basic assumptions that had become embedded in our hiring process.

We examined how what we share in recruitment or in the job posting might deter someone from applying in the first place. For example, we now highlight that we are looking for students who are interested in supporting their peers, facilitating conversation, listening, and asking thoughtful questions. Our baseline criterion is no longer that an applicant can “hold their own” in a conversation about writing and reading. After all, a number of factors might lead to an applicant being able to talk about the last great novel they read or the challenges of writing an IB research paper in high school, none of which necessarily translates into the kind of facilitative role we want our writing consultants to play. Related to that, we stopped asking for a writing sample because our goal isn’t to hire great writers. Rather, we hope to hire students who become great facilitators of student writing growth and development, and ironically, sometimes strong writers get in their own way with regard to facilitating a peer’s thinking about their own writing.

We also tackled how applicants’ prior preparation or cultural backgrounds might inform how they show up in an interview, and we adjusted the interview setting to provide a more open-ended approach that, we hoped, would facilitate more individualized responses to our prompts. We designed interview questions that asked applicants to speak to their experience creating a welcoming environment for others, facilitating learning around challenging tasks, and working with individuals from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. We provided those questions to the applicants 24 hours in advance so they would have a chance to prepare their responses and we could hear their best thinking while minimizing nervousness associated with interviewing. We also coached ourselves on how to show up in the interviews—what to listen for and how to guard against bias. During the interviews, we listened carefully to how applicants responded to our questions, and when an applicant’s response seemed truncated or we wanted to hear more, we asked pointed follow-up questions that, for some, resulted in richer and more telling responses than had originally been offered.

Once we completed interviews and were deciding which applicants to make offers to, we met as a committee and made those decisions collectively, as we recognized that bias can enter into those decisions when interviewers weigh certain criteria more than others. In particular, abstractions are ripe with potential bias, like how well someone held up in a conversation or how invested an applicant seemed in to be in the process. Our use of a Search Advocate-style criteria matrix helped us guard against those opportunities for bias and stay focused on our qualifications. And finally, we offered to provide written feedback to applicants who were not offered positions. Some of the applicants who were not offered positions might end up in a future applicant pool for the Writing Center or for another unit on campus, and we felt invested in their growth and development as potential future applicants for OSU student employment.

In sum, our revised recruitment and hiring process allowed us to emphasize transferable skills like creating a welcoming environment and individualizing needs for others, and place value on a wide range of experiences with academic writing. We were prepared to make job offers to applicants who demonstrated an ability to facilitate learning for students who had a wide range of experiences with academic writing. The results have been promising, and I’m eager to refine our process, revisit our new assumptions, and apply our learning for our next hiring cycle, which begins in Winter 2022.

If you would like to view a copy of the “Equity in Recruitment & Hiring of Student Staff” guide that the Academic Success Center & Writing Center developed for our department’s use, please email Marjorie Coffey to request access.

Top 5 Ways SI Leaders (And You!) Can Help Students Develop a Sense of Belonging

by Chris Gasser, Carl Conner, Quinton Williams, and Ellie Macgregor

After engaging with selections from Dr. Terrell Strayhorn’s book, College Students’ Sense of Belonging: a Key to Educational Success for All Students, the Supplemental Instruction (SI) team established belonging, or “a sense [that]… generally refers to a feeling of connectedness, that one is important or matters to others,” as a program value.  Since then, we have worked hard to cultivate a strong sense of belonging in our collaborative group study tables. Every term, students voluntarily complete an end of term survey, and one question specifically asks about the actions that led to a student’s sense of belonging in SI. Using the term surveys from Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, SI team members Quinton and Ellie read through 698 student responses and identified the top three things that led to students’ sense of belonging in SI. Here’s what SI has found to be effective:

  • The SI Leader knew my name (55.4%): Perhaps unsurprisingly, students feel valued when we know who they are. Ever since the first version of this question, SI has rejected the phrase “I’m not a names person.” The data are clear. Working to know the names of students is the single most profound thing we can do to help students feel they belong. (It’s also the easiest!)
  • The SI leader created a welcoming environment (43.1%): While it may not sound like much, students cited actions like being welcoming when they first arrive, being regularly greeted with warmth, and being friendly as the actions in this category.
  • Group Collaboration (21.9%): Responses in this category showed that students felt like they belonged when other students in the group were friendly towards them. Students also appreciated working in teams and collaborating with each other to complete activities.
  • Questions were encouraged (21.6%): In a close fourth place, the ability to ask and answer questions helped students develop their sense of belonging. In many of these answers, students specifically mention the importance of feeling safe to share ideas, ask question “without feeling stupid,” and not being “demean[ed] [for] wrong answers.”
  • Expressing Appreciation (10%): Finally, students felt a sense of belonging when they felt appreciated, praised for their effort, encouraged to try, or given the chance to share their feelings around the course or a topic.

Though we initially we were in search of the “secret ingredient” for facilitating belonging, we found that basic human kindness expressed amply and consistently is what students seem to be looking for.

Student Staff Picks – Training Takeaways

Please visit this document for an accessible version of this article.

Student staff are at the heart of our work in the Academic Success Center & Writing Center. They engage in robust initial and ongoing training where they develop skills and strategies to support other students in their learning.

We invited student staff to share in response to the following prompt: “What is one topic or concept you learned about when training for your role at the Academic Success Center (ASC) & Writing Center that resonated for you and/or has stuck with you? Why is this topic or concept important to you, and how have you applied that learning outside of your work in the ASC and Writing Center?”

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