Last week I read George Couros's blog post entitled Our First Staff Days: The Gift of Time. George, the principal of a Canadian K-12 school, talked about the need to give teachers time to get their rooms ready, and that many meetings in the first few days of school are unproductive because teachers' minds are in the classrooms.
Another post about meetings I read this week was the Pipedreams blog. Zoe Branigan-Pipe, who is also a Canadian educator, offers the following suggestions for meetings:
- Don't start the first staff meeting of the year with a PowerPoint - instead model new strategies such as using wikis to transmit what is mostly "housekeeping" business. Zoe also suggests using a backchannel. I love these ideas but reflecting on our first week of school they are possibly too revolutionary to be taken on at my school right now. Our first meeting of the year actually had 4 PowerPoints and at one other meeting I was told to put away my computer when I was using it to look up something directly related to what we were discussing!
- Use a secure school Twitter account to communicate, rather than email. Twitter promotes ongoing discussions and is not just one way communication. Again I like this idea, but we haven't had a very positive experience with Twitter at our school which has led to some teachers protecting their tweets.
- Start the first staff meeting by showing your staff your new blog. At my school I know there are some teachers who blog. There are others who are interested in setting up student blogs. Some teachers read my blog (including some of the new ones who just arrived and said "So you're Maggie!") I have no idea whether anyone on the admin team blogs or reads blogs. I did a Google blog search on the names of all the admin and came up with nothing, so I'm assuming none of them actually have their own blogs.
- Survey your staff - ask them what kind of PD they want - use a Google Form. I'm trying to get Google Apps into our school. It's a slow process. We have done some online surveys though, including one this very week.
- Be willing to ask an expert, even if that expert happens to be a first year teacher. At our school I think there is recognition of the fact that some of the teachers have expertise in areas the admin does not - for example some of our teachers are very proficient using IWBs. I would imagine our admin would be open to this suggestion.
The final post I read this week about meetings was this summary of the 17th August #edchat entitled Are Staff Meetings Salvageable? I love going to meetings where I feel we are engaged in professional dialogue and professional development aimed at improving teaching and learning. Sometimes, however, like the author of this blog post I feel very jaded about unproductive meetings:
It is a staff effort to kill a professional meeting. To do it you must have certain ingredients in place such as whispered conversations, lack of agenda, limited follow through, and overall stressful teaching days. I do not think that any staff sets out to arrive here, but once at this dead-end destination, those staff meetings can be hard to resuscitate.
This week I was walking through the halls with a book I was taking back to the school library - Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future. I was stopped by a colleague who told me how he'd loved reading that book and how he missed the sort of professional dialogue he used to have in meetings in the early days of his teaching. I told him that, along with our librarian, my plan this year was to set up a professional reading group. He was very enthusiastic about this, despite the fact that this will mean one more meeting for him.
In the #edchat discussion this week it was clear that many, many teachers around the world see staff meetings as unproductive add-ons to their very busy days. Many called for these meetings to be more focused on professional development and the sharing and celebration of work that was already going on in our schools. There was discussion about the tokenism that is attached to staff meetings - where teachers are asked for input, but in reality decisions have already been made and the discussions are, in these cases, irrelevant.
Is there another way forward? Rliberni's Blog suggests
We must take ownership of the meetings and create the type of environment we would like to be taught in. We ask our students to do this ,so why is it as adults that we do not hold ourselves accountable? Whether it be a back channel, a protocol or simply renewed energy; keep in mind that you are the controller of a staff meeting as far as that your energy for that meeting is replicated and mirrored by those sitting around you.
Having read all that, you can imagine I was quite daunted to actually have to go to one of our other campuses and lead a meeting myself. I tried to take some of these ideas on board, so that the meeting, about technology, was very focused, celebrated the good work being done by teachers and gave the participants a choice. I started with a question that I hoped all would be able to answer by the end of the meeting: What is Web 2.0 .... and how can I use it with my students? I did have a presentation (using Prezi) but it was mostly links to projects students had created last year. I showed examples of VoiceThread, Bitstrips, XtraNormal, TimeToast, xTimeline, ZimmerTwins and Google Earth projects students had done and then gave the teachers a choice of one of these they would like to explore further. I had originally thought of running through a few of these and showing teachers how to set them up, but I thought that most of the student examples were self-explanatory, and in any case I thought they would learn a lot just from playing and discovering for themselves. Although I think this approach was a bit unorthodox (I think they had been expecting a "how to" session), it did seem to work. One of the teachers made a Prezi about autism that he decided he would use the following day in a presentation of his own, and several teachers made comic strips in Bitstrips and animations using ZimmerTwins.
I hope the fact that they were able to do this, mostly figuring out how to use these tools themselves and with only minimal help from me, has inspired them to try others. I'm hoping that when I go back this week for the collaborative planning meetings, they will let me know that they want to use these tools with their students.
Photo Credit: Hanover: colorful chair parade by Juergen Kurlvink