Story by Johnathan Duffie

Sawdust, strange sounds, discomfort, curiosity and joy are just a few words that illustrate what members of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance Community Engagement Team experienced during a recent team building exercise.

In the middle of a workday in early February the School Quality Ambassadors who connect with Cleveland’s neighborhoods and families about public school options were instructed to dress in clothes they were unconcerned about getting dirty. Together, we left the office and headed to nearby Soulcraft Woodshop. Only two members of the group knew what was planned for the afternoon.

Soulcraft Woodshop is a hidden gem in Cleveland. In addition to allowing residents to rent shop space and woodworking equipment, Soulcraft offers hands-on workshops to meet a wide range of educational needs, including Soul@Work team building program, an innovative partnership between Soulcraft Woodshop and Sangfroid Strategy, designed to help teams strengthen rapport and problem-solving ability. By entering a new environment and crafting a project by hand, participants collaborate and exercise problem-solving skills in ways a conference room doesn’t often elicit.

Upon arrival, the group gathered in a circle for a briefing. Peter Debelak, the founder of Soulcraft Woodshop, and experienced Soulcraft instructors revealed a woodcrafting team challenge and provided safety training. Heather Lenz, the co-founder of Soul@Work, encouraged the Alliance team to “lean into the discomfort of the unknown” and to challenge themselves to embrace new things. By becoming ‘novices’ again, teams overcome the psychological barriers of approaching unfamiliar tasks and developing new skills.

For the next three hours, each member of our team created a woodcraft project of their choice. Unsurprisingly, their finished products were a remarkable display of the natural talent that members of the Alliance’s Community Engagement Team possess.

“Soul@Work was a great choice for a team building program,” said Catherine Smith, Program Director at Cleveland Transformation Alliance.  Smith believes that hands-on group activities such as woodcrafting help build confidence, strength of character and problem-solving capabilities that are useful in the workplace. The grassroots leaders who make up the Alliance Community Engagement Team grumbled, laughed, and supported each other as they accomplished the skilled tasks of woodworking. They also left with a sense of accomplishment and connection that will likely carry over into their support of Cleveland families navigating public school options.

The Cleveland Transformation Alliance understands the need to accelerate the pace of positive change in our city’s public schools. Created through Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, the Cleveland Transformation Alliance is a public-private partnership that brings together a broad group of stakeholders working to reinvent public education in our city. We track and report on the progress and impact of the Cleveland Plan, and through our engagement team help families to find and use resources about quality school options.