I have spent a lot of time thinking, reading and talking about how to improve professional development and meeting structures. The early focus was in considering how to make meetings meaningful and productive, where everyone’s input was essential. Since that time I have endeavoured to develop structures and models that ensure that all required time together, whether that be professional learning of the entire staff or small team meetings, be essential to all those involved.
Last year, as Deputy with oversight of curriculum and PD, I knew that not only did I want to rethink the structures that support our student learning (stay tuned post to come), but I also wanted to rethink the structures that define our staff learning. Fortunately, I work in a school where the leadership team are open to approaching things differently.
This led me to think about what needs our previous formats fulfilled and whether they reflect the significant changes in the way we collaborate as professionals today. My conclusion was that in a transparent and open environment, where ongoing communication, feedback and input is fostered, the formal meeting procedures are not necessary.
Our meeting structures were very typical of most schools. Our whole staff meetings were structured by an agenda and run by a chair, with minutes taken. The agenda was dominated by the delivery of information with intermittent opportunities for staff to provide input. Predominantly the information was relevant to most but not all, sometimes, only relevant to a few. Staff were generally accepting and compliant of being talked at, however, this was completely in contradiction to the discourse we aspired to promote in classrooms. Our school’s vision is driven by developing creative, vibrant and resilient learners guided by knowledgeable, innovative and passionate staff. These meetings were certainly none of these things as a standard.
I may be being extremely critical here because having recently sat in a very traditional and boring meeting run by an external facilitator outside of education, I know that as a school we have come a long way in our structures that relate to PD and meetings. Continuous development and growth can go unnoticed, and I know that others who come into our structures are surprised by the way we facilitate staff collaboration.
Nevertheless, by the first term break of last year, I was already frustrated by the manner in which we were continuing to conduct our meetings and professional development, and ultimately I am the one responsible.So hand in hand with the opportunity to shake up our teaching timetable structure came the opportunity to shake up how we come together and collaborate as staff.
My experience in schools has been staff meetings and professional development occurring at the end of the day. Personally, as a participant in PD or meetings, the end of the day was always a challenge. I had a growing pile of emails and marking, not to mention I was fatigued from a day of work. If I learnt a strategy or approach in a PD session I had no opportunity to put it into action immediately as my teaching day had ended. My energy was low and I was less likely to contribute as energetically or spend any time reflecting on how the PD was relevant to my practice. As a facilitator of PD or convener of meetings, I was always conscious that others involved potentially felt similar. I would try to streamline the meeting structure as much as possible, not to keep people longer than necessary, and I would try and facilitate PD that was meaningful and interactive with a range of success.
So what did I do about it?
Initially, I looked at what we had historically used meetings for and I asked questions about the purpose of these meetings.
- Can the information be communicated in a different way?
- Is the information necessary for all stakeholders?
- Do staff have the opportunity to contribute and how is that possible with over 80 people involved?
- How long do meetings need to be?
- What happens when critical information needs to be shared but doesn’t align with meeting days?
This resulted in 5 aspects that I wanted to drive the structure of meetings.
- More personalised, only those who are invested or required need attend
- When it can be communicated in a memo or email, then so be it
- Keep gatherings short and targeted so that there is no time to waffle or waste time – so short that people can stand during the meeting
- Utilise the morning when staff are alert & can immediately act, or put strategies/learning into practice
- Allow flexibility for staff to schedule time for their own collaboration with peers
As a firm believer in the power of language, I also knew that in changing any structure, I had to think about how the terms we used would inform a change in approach. I considered how language often dictates our expectations. If we have only experienced meetings in traditional ways, then we tend to expect the same. So “huddles” became the word I used to describe how the new approach could work. Huddles for me implied short urgent periods of time when teams come together to share critical information or make collaborative decisions that are relevant to everyone in the huddle (my basketball background influence).
Whole staff after school meetings were eliminated.
Morning Huddles were introduced: a maximum of 30 minutes starting at 8:30am and scheduled via our Learner Management System (Daymap) so that all staff can see scheduled times on their teaching calendar. Huddles could be used for whole staff quick touch base, teaching teams, year level teams, quick PD, PLC’s, professional practice, committee and action group planning – pretty much anything that means bringing a group together to collaborate.
Three weeks in, there has been a range of positive feedback from staff. No after school long, drawn out meetings has meant that staff are free to utilise their afternoons to work in their teaching teams to plan and design or even to go home!
This time last year, whole staff were scheduled to have spent up to 480 minutes together in whole staff or Learning Area meetings. This year staff have spent up to 390 minutes in required sessions which have mostly been Professional Development. So already in the first three weeks of school, staff have gained an hour and a half more to utilise for their benefit.
What have I noticed?
I have seen more staff choosing to use their afternoons to catch up with their peers to program and design learning and I have seen five optional Professional Development Huddles offered (in just 3 weeks) in the morning with fantastic staff buy-in. These have included Google Apps, designing and using flexible learning spaces and strategies to facilitate responsible behaviours. Previously optional sessions run at lunch times, before or after school would attract minimal staff, which is always discouraging.
Time will tell if these structural changes facilitate the professional practice we aspire to achieve, but so far so good!
As part of the #SAVMP George Couros has asked that we share how we ensure the learning we do goes viral. I believe through sharing our skills, our learning and our experiences we grow ourselves and those around us. I am always willing to give my time to share my own experiences and I truly value those that invest their time in me, whether that be one to one, a small or a larger group or even via the connected web and social media.
This term, in my own attempt to meet the diverse needs of our 70 odd staff, I facilitated two whole school PD sessions as part of a team working towards building strategies for better classroom practice and utilising technology. I chose to target Formative Assessment, as this follows from previous work we have been doing as part of our Differentiation Project, is something we know we can definitely improve and will impact student success and the promotion of growth mindset.
I began each session with a short introduction to the concept and provided staff with several options to choose from, each focussed on simple takeaways that teachers could implement in their classrooms. Fortunately I had a great group of people willing to give their time and expertise to lead workshops and share their examples and resources.
The first session included these workshops:
Peer critique: Staff gave examples how they promote useful peer critique based on the idea that feedback must be kind, useful and specific. Staff shared how they using GoogleDoc comments and Blog comments can facilitate and model peer critique for students.
Journals and portfolios as reflection tools: Staff shared how blogging can be used as journals, port folios and reflective spaces. Examples were also showcased for how to develop portfolios for the Arts.
Quizzes and surveys: Staff showcased PPTs for Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Jeopardy and explored how simple fun quizzes and games can provide valuable insight into student understanding and misconceptions that can be corrected in “Just in Time” lessons. Plenaries were also exampled as ways of revealing student attitudes, reflections and understanding.
Each workshop was led by at least two teachers who utilise these strategies in their own classes. They provided examples and templates for staff to develop right there and then to use in their classrooms.
Staff feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive. The only criticism was that they wanted an opportunity to access the alternative workshops as well. As a result, we facilitated a similar session 3 weeks later, giving the same options but also adding a few differentiated strategies to include for their planning (RAFTs and Choice Boards).
Some workshops catered for up to 15 participants whilst others only had 5 or so. What was most appreciated by staff was that they had choice, they were not being dictated to but instead shared with.
I know I learn better when I figure things out for myself. I could easily copy a template from someone, or have them set up my blog. I could ask someone to develop HTML for me so I can embed the things I want. Truth is, I value these things so I want to figure it out for myself, then I know I will “get it”.
It’s all about what I value. I’m a fairly practical person, I like getting hands on and my mother always expected my sister and I to partake in all activities that my brother did, not based on gender. I mow my lawns (though I despise it), I’ve renovated bathrooms, laid floors both tiled and timber, plaster boarded walls, hung doors, knocked down structures, paved and done many other physical jobs. I am motivated by the challenge, trying something new and of course seeing the end result.
Now tell me anything about a car, and you lose me. I am extremely capable of changing a tyre, oil, coolant etc. but never have I learnt to do any of these tasks and to tell you the truth, I have no intention of learning. These tasks do not interest me one little bit. I could watch someone show me a dozen times and I still don’t think it would sink in, because I have no wish to develop these skills at all!
This brings me to student learning and staff PD. If we are asking students and staff to learn skills they see no purpose in, how do we expect them to engage and persevere when it gets hard? We can develop grit in our students and it may already exist in staff, but if we are asking them to learn or engage in something they never intend to use, aren’t we just wasting our time?
So this is my challenge, just as I work hard at meeting the needs of my students and finding ways to connect their learning to make it meaningful. I want to ensure that I provide opportunities for staff to see the “why” we need to develop certain skills and allow them to take ownership by choosing their own ways of improving their classroom practice.
I am completely guilty of having different expectations of adult learners than I do for my students. I would never expect my students to sit through a presentation with me standing and talking for 20, 30, even 40 minutes! Why is it that I am surprised when adults zone out, check their phones, emails or chat to the person next to them? I differentiate my classroom, I lead a differentiation project, yet I’ve at times treated staff like they chose to come hear me speak, when in actual fact they were forced to!