I want to thank those that have been reading my blogs and sending messages. I love your support and how you have introduced my ideas to others. I appreciate you.
Way back in 1938, John Dewey wrote in Experience and Education, ‘We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience’. This is one of the reasons why I have been writing my ‘Interesting Ideas’ blog each week. Since retiring, and moving to new chapters in my life I have been thinking back to the leadership opportunities that were provided for me and how I have watched others grow into amazing leaders themselves. My hope is that you find these ‘ideas’ ‘interesting’ and give some of them a try. I welcome any comments or feedback.
This week, I want to discuss staff meetings.
How are your staff meetings? Truly. Ever participated in a great one? Bet there are a few where you wish you could have that time back! As a leader consider every staff meeting as an opportunity.
Our meetings were never left to chance and planning for them started long in advance of the actual date. If you are limited in the number of times you can bring everyone together to hear, see and experience the same messaging, why would you not elevate the importance of this gathering? Too many of us have experienced awful staff meetings, that served little purpose and only made withdrawals from the pool of positive cultural experiences you have been trying to build with your staff. Every staff meeting says something about your climate and culture. Use them as a way to multiply the positive aspects you wish to see in your school.
My goal each time was simple. The time we are going to spend together must add to our shared understanding of the important work we do together and/or build on our relationships we have within our group. At the end of the meeting, if the people don’t have a deeper understanding of the work, purpose, rationale, or school mission and/or don’t have a deeper appreciation of the great people they are working with, then you have wasted their time. In fact, a meeting that does not do at least one of these (purpose/relationships) may actually do more harm than good. Too often we have meetings where at the end we have less understanding about what we need to do, more confusion and we are not liking the people all that much either.
The staff will never believe in their collective capacity unless you give them opportunities to share with one another. You cannot complain about staff working in isolation if you never provide opportunities for them to be together. You cannot complain about them not getting along if you simply throw them together and expect them to get along.
Our staff meetings are professional learning meetings. We are going to learn together. We are going to have fun together. We are going to learn to appreciate each other.
Get all the ‘paper work’ out of the staff meeting and find a way to provide this passive information to the staff in another way. There are ways that staff can be held accountable for required content, especially if you find creative ways to provide them time outside of the staff meeting to read, review etc. Make staff meetings about learning together, building relationships by having lots of interactions and put all your announcements, due dates etc in some other format.
Set up a shared document early in the year that organizes the staff learning meeting agenda by month. Encourage your staff to add their ideas that they would like to share, the amount of time they would like and the suggested month they would like to present. Praise your staff and nudge them to get involved. As you walk through the school and notice great things happening in your school ask the staff member to share with others at the next meeting. Encourage! How does it feel to have someone notice your good work and acknowledge that it should be shared with others? Some staff have said no thank you, but with a bit of coaxing almost all have come around.
The week heading into the staff learning meeting we would create a ‘conference schedule’ and it had all the options that were going to be available at the meeting the following week. Each meeting staff had conference choices throughout the building.
We would always start together in a central gathering spot and this was for two main reasons. Those presenting could do a quick 30 second elevator speech about their topic and from a management stand point it made sure everyone was there on time. If you start with the conferences in different locations, you may notice people not beginning on time, but having to come to a gathering spot where you are located helped with this accountability. Very infrequently if we had any face to face announcements they could be done at this time.
There might be 5 different choices for the first half hour, then three choices for the next quick 15 minutes and ending with another choice of 15 minutes. It might require a bit of organization going into the week to coordinate the lengths of sessions (15, 20, 30) but short and sweet were often the best use of our time. Also, presenters could share their classroom and knowledge twice, so more of their colleagues could attend. Often our staff put in so much work it was nice that they were able to present their ideas and materials more than once during a meeting. Members of the grade teams were encouraged to divide and conquer In order to go to as many different presentations as possible.
Some sessions were done by master teachers. Some were done by beginning teachers trying things out and wanting to get some feedback. Some were used to share a resource or technology tool. The spread of the content was impressive and it was not uncommon to hear someone try something the next day and report back to the presenter. This social persuasion is powerful, peer pressure can be a positive thing if done in the proper manner. It is important to note that as the administrator you want to be aware of the content and what is being shared. Having staff share without being aware of the messaging or content is a recipe for a major clean up after and a bit of front end work allows you to have great conversations with staff about what they wish to share.
More about the workshops. The English Language Learner Team presenting almost every month, as well as the special education resource teachers. These session were not large overwhelming content but instead a few strategies for things they had noticed in classrooms that they really wanted to highlight to benefit students. They were aiming for strategies that could be utilized the next day. We had classroom teachers present about community building, Significant 72 or their program. When the calendar indicated we were getting close to a reporting period we had open space where teachers could go and have a facilitated discussion on reporting. Think of the leadership training you can provide by having your aspiring leaders being asked to facilitate difficult conversations. They are coached ahead of time, given a protocol to follow but they need opportunities like this.
In this past year we have had sessions on:
Community members came in and spoke about days of significance that our students and their families would be observing. Every year we had conversations and presentations close to Ramadan. We had sessions on topics such as Halloween, Christmas and other long held school practices that needed to be examined and discussed for classrooms in 2021. Mental health and well-being. Equity. The health curriculum. Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy. Indigenous Education. Discriminatory and Harmful Language. Technology Enhanced Learning. Mathematics.
Often our board of education would provide professional development in a train the trainer model. When we put out the request to see who might be interested we would receive way more interest than spots available. People began to understand that if you went to a system training you would return and be asked to help run a staff learning session during our monthly meetings. Staff that were away for a day on professional development knew they were coming back to share. Going to the staff development their focus was different, knowing they had this responsibility. I would love to present to an audience where everyone knows they have the responsibility to go back and share with others. Captive audience for sure.
I will speak about it more in an upcoming blog but as an administrator what do you do with your teacher’s annual learning plans? In the province of Ontario, teachers are asked to create a document outlining their personal plan of growth for the school year. Administrators, do you use these? Do you read them and respond? Think about the data you can gather from these that can then be used for your staff learning meetings. These documents can provide you with the content. Not only can you find individuals that can assist others that want to learn about particular topics but knowing your staff you can match up needs with expertise. Someone wants to know more about readers/writers workshop, someone wants to improve their website, someone wants to add more hands on activities in mathematics/science. One person may request it, and you find the person that is doing it. When the ‘expert’ shares the topic that you have asked them to present because they are living it, many staff will attend their session because these are universal needs and not just for one person. Some of our final meetings of the year were sessions run by people who made great changes in their program and we wanted to celebrate and share their learning with others. Celebrate the successes.
I set aside funds each year in our staff development budget for books and resources. If any staff were interested in a resource and let me know I would purchase the resource for them. I would purchase two copies in fact. One copy would go to the staff member and the other copy would be placed in the professional resources section of the library. Do you have a professional resources section for staff in the library? Who decides what is purchased for the collection? Do staff use the resources that are there? Ours do! They use the resources because their colleagues have selected them. Inside the front cover of the library copy of the book is a book plate with the staff member’s name because they are the ‘expert’ for this book. They have their own copy, they wanted their own copy AND they did a presentation at a staff learning meeting letting others know about this great resource that is now available to all of them in our professional section of our library. That’s a good deal. A new resource for a presentation on the resource. I’ll make that deal every time. You will collect great books, you will have wonderful presentations and two things will happen. You have increased the staff’s knowledge/commitment to the work you are doing in the school by sharing with them a current resource and you have invested in your people. A win/win.
One of my favourite ideas was to go on a field trip. The first session after the beginning gathering might be going on a ‘field trip’. This is when I would take the entire staff to a location in the school and we would stand in the spot to have a look. Do you know there are places in your school where some of your staff have never travelled? Do your kindergarten teachers even step out of the kindergarten area? Do your senior teachers ever move down to a primary classroom? Have your teachers seen some of the amazing specialty rooms you have in the building?
Of course this is all set up with the teacher that works in this location, they know we are coming. When we get there I ask everyone just to stand silently and look around. They can move a bit if they wish but I want them to look at how this teacher has created their learning environment, how it works for students and to think about any questions they may have. And then we do the same three steps..
- share with us one thing you noticed that is really impressive in your mind and why = a comment, no response, but the person gets their bucket filled
- ask the person something about the room, why they have done something, or the purpose = a question, that requires a response and others learn from the response
- and finally, the person themselves shares with everyone else a challenge, or dilemma they have in their room, or with their materials etc = a comment that others can now assist with
Not only do you start to see great practices start to blend into other locations of the school, but you see solutions to common road blocks being solved collectively. One of the most heartwarming was a new teacher commenting that she is slowly adding to her personal classroom library resources that are appropriate for the reading levels in her room by going to book sales and yard sales. By the end of the week donations from experienced staff in the building, that still had materials they were no longer using due to a different assignment, came pouring in.
Most times when staff members encounter difficulties, they are not coming to you as the administrator first. They may come to you in time. They may come to you if you have a relationship with them built over time, but most times your staff are going to each other, and that’s what you want. Staff learning meetings allow you to highlight the great practices in your school that you want replicated. Give everyone the opportunity to see that the expertise is in the building. Your school building is full of hard working, dedicated and caring individuals
I love the work that the central office team does. The curriculum and program departments, special education departments etc all do fabulous work and they are specialists, but they ‘live’ outside your building. If every time you have a ‘bump’ in the road, and sometimes, you must go outside your building, but the support can not come quick enough. Staff need to know they work in a building where the support, care and knowledge is just across or down the hall.
Have trust in your teachers that they have the capacity to know/share/care and explain. Hand over the meetings to them. Put your staff meetings on paper/electronic. And use every opportunity you can to have staff ‘learning’ meetings. The change in school culture will be the immediate.
Remember, we are better because we have deeper understanding of our work and we have a deeper understanding of each other. Every time we get together that is our mission. Staff learning meetings accomplish both these goals.