Sunday, March 15, 2015

Setting the table for delicious staff meetings

Staff meetings. Staff gatherings. Whatever they are called in your school, you may hear a collective groan at the thought of another boring meeting filled with laundry lists of dates and details to be added to your plate. In my second year as an elementary principal I've thought about this a lot. If there's one thing we don't have enough of as educators, it's time. And not a minute should be wasted. Especially not in blah and unproductive meetings. Earlier this year, my friend and amazing elementary principal Adam Welcome shared this video with me and mentioned that he had shared it at his staff meeting earlier that week. Just watch.


You might be wondering why Adam shared this at his staff meeting-- I was, too. He shared that he uses a lot of videos that aren't "educational" to inspire his staff. I don't know the exact context of this video in his meeting, but it definitely got me thinking. Around that same time I read a blog post by Michael Podraza with his take on a Faculty Meeting Recipe . You can read his post for all of the details, but in a nutshell the big ideas include watching a video or reading a text using some type of discussion protocol and thinking about what the key takeaways you're looking for out of the meeting. What's not stated directly in the post, but was a BIG a-ha for me was that meetings should be just PD. I have always tried to plan engaging meetings, but I could do better. Meetings are definitely not a time for one administrator to talk and for teachers to passively listen. Not a time for things that can be shared via email. Staff meetings should be focused on learning, filled with reflection, conversation, sharing, and even celebration. Inspired by Adam's video and Michael's recipe, I began thinking and planning along with Caroline Hines, our amazing social-emotional counselor. As the only elementary administrator, it sometimes gets lonely and I am so fortunate to have such an inspiring colleague to plan and dream with.

One of the challenges with staff meetings is the time limit. It's not always possible to go from start to finish in under an hour. I began to reframe my thinking around our once a month whole staff meetings. What if instead of a series of disconnected meetings we engaged in a thoughtful year-long conversation? What if teachers sharing their learning WAS the meeting?

Our year-long focus as a school this year has been looking at school-wide culture and expectations, and how building relationships can lead to a more positive school culture. With this in mind, we created a recipe for our meeting in January using Michael's recipe as inspiration. We started the meeting by watching this video and reflecting individually in our writer's notebooks:

Then we watched the Small Plates video shared by Adam and followed with this question:

I've really made an effort this year to provide time for teachers to reflect individually without sharing--with time and space to be quiet. Not everything needs to be a conversation in a meeting. So, we always bring our writer's notebooks to staff meetings, and use them mostly for quick writes. 

During this meeting, the theme was voices from the outside, and in small groups teacher's read and discussed different articles or blog posts around the idea of management and building relationships. The three we analyzed included: 
Classroom Management… or Should it be Mismanagement? by Katharine Sokolowski , Five Rules We Impose on Students That Would Make Adults Revolt by Pernille Ripp , and some articles and documents about Restorative Practices & Love and Logic . We used the save the last word for me protocol shared by Michael in his recipe. You can view our meeting presentation here.

In that January meeting, we were only able to begin the conversation, and it continued into our next meeting where teachers then created a presentation together that would ultimately be shared with our entire staff. In the meetings since then, groups have taken turns leading the meeting and sharing their learning. Our final presentation will be shared tomorrow, and you can view all of their presentations here.

We're still continuing the conversation, and it's the middle of March. Even though we've only met once a month since that first meeting in January, we've been able to continue that thread throughout each meeting. Thinking about his topic together will continue throughout the rest of this year, and maybe even into next year. The presentations by teachers and the discussions that followed have been incredible.

My takeaways? Staff meetings should not be something teachers should have to endure, but rather an opportunity to learn together and lead together. The thing I love the most about this idea of a recipe for staff meetings is that it is a structure that allows for shared leadership to develop in a school. What if we all share in leading learning at our school? What are the small or big ways teachers can lead in your school? Eric Saibel recently blogged about teachers as leaders in a recent post about making over staff meetings if you are looking for even more inspiration!

Thinking back to those little kids at that fabulous restaurant, I think there is a lot we can apply to create a smorgasbord of tasty learning at our meetings-- like a multi-course meal.

Start with a small dish, an appetizer. What video, quote, or article can you find that can inspire your staff or give them something to think about? To write about?

Main dish
The entree. Where's the beef? What will participants be DOING? Get them communicating, collaborating, thinking critically, and creating around a big idea. This is what we want students to be doing in the classroom--learning with adults should be the same. Set your meeting on fire!

Time for dessert! What will be the icing on the cake? How can teachers share or celebrate to finish out your meeting on a sweet note?

Finally, don't forget the shopping list. Create a shared list of resources that everyone can add to and pull from. That way, planning the next meeting can be as easy as following this recipe and shopping for the right ingredients! Bon appetit!

1 comment:

  1. I wish I had a time machine, so that I could come out of retirement just for the opportunity to work for Jennifer Kloczko at the Star Academy. Of course, I would need a Delorean as well for the rather long commute. But it would be worth it to work for an administrator of her caliber--always forward-thinking and with student needs placed first. Jennifer knows that teaching is an art that begins with heart. A heart that is nourished by commitment to constant learning, love of children, and joy. As it is, I will have to content myself with having Jennifer as a friend and mentor!