In the second last week of term I met with all the staff in my team. The premise was a “Professional Practice” meeting but the intent was to develop a better understanding of our passions, interests, concerns and how we can utilise these to develop ideas for improvement.
I would consider our team a fairly tight team. Whilst we are only in our infancy as a faculty but we have taken time to be more than just workmates and I think there is a genuine sense of appreciation for the team that is developing.
I try to make it a priority to provide a voice for everyone in our team regardless of labelled positions. Our two support staff (SSO’s) are distinguished because they are referred to by their first names (as opposed to our teachers who prefer titles Ms/Mrs) but I try to consistently send a message that we are all equally valued. I always include SSO’s in our staff Professional Development and thus it was essential that they too have an opportunity to express themselves via a professional conversation.
For each professional meeting I constructed questions under the headings; Vision, Classroom Practice, Innovation, Support and Future Aspirations. I shared the Google Doc with each member of my team and we agreed on times to meet.
Whilst I did not have an expectation for each team member to prepare written responses to these questions, they each made notes of some sort and we addressed each point to guide the conversation. Each of my team reflected that they had not previously been involved in such a consultation and were unsure as to how to prepare. Some chose to discuss the questions with each other whilst others chose to reflect independently.
Many of the questions provided an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the year so far and the positive impact we are having on our students. Further questions allowed for an expression of personality and passions whilst yet others provoked current concerns or misunderstandings. (You can see the Google Doc for teachers here and the SSO one here – minus staff names)
Some of our conversations were in line with discussions we have engaged in previously, however there were several surprises! Questions that provoked the most revealing dialogue included:
What are you passionate about? How is this represented in your classroom?
What do you want to be remembered for your time at Wirreanda?
These two questions provided a chance for us to construct ideas for a shared vision and what we want to achieve. It also highlighted things that staff did NOT want to be remembered for. Working with students with disabilities means we are often required to complete personal care support. One of my staff confided that she did not want to be remembered exclusively as the person who provided care support, but as someone who was integral in the establishment of our faculty and who was valuable in supporting student learning. I think my mouth must have fallen open at this point. I can’t express how much I value this individual and the positive impact she has on our learning environment. To ever think that she would be remembered for this alone would break my heart. This moment was extremely powerful for me. It made me more aware that I would need to ensure her contributions to our learning culture far outweighed any functional acts we perform when working with students with disabilities.
There were several other moments like this throughout my conversations. Had there not been a strategic opportunity to an open conversation to raise these ideas, I would have been non the wiser.
What ideally do your students look like at yr 12 graduation? (skills, understandings, relationships)
Is there something you are currently doing that you are not sure is serving a purpose?
These questions brought about discussion based on how we can make experiences for our students more relevant and personalised. It meant we could reflect on what was really important and what was just “stuff” we thought we were “supposed” to do. Again this revealed some great insights to our different ideas and how we can bring them together to develop a shared understanding. It also meant we could identify ways I could support my team and what help we would need to access beyond our physical walls.
This is the first time I have structured professional conversations like this and I felt it was extremely beneficial. It was valuable in identifying ways we can grow as a team and ways I can improve in supporting each member in their personal development. It enabled me to gain insight into how staff see themselves and how they feel their skills and ideas are utilised. It also highlighted some gaps in communication with each other and I saw immediate changes in the classroom as a result of this. My commitment now is to respond to this new insight by implementing strategies and changes and maintaining a positive, constructive dialogue with our vision for students at the centre.
We will have another “formal” reflection opportunity at the end of the year where I hope to develop the questions further. I would love to hear of practices/structures/ideas other teams have for reflecting and facilitating professional conversations.