Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Faster Is Not Always Better

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called "Inclusive Staff Meetings" - a description of how we were deliberately going slowly in our efforts to create meaningful, and engaging staff meetings that encouraged risk-taking through a safe and collegial environment.  From that post:

"...we worked again in small groups on a Google Doc called "Staff Meeting Commitment Brainstorming" in which our entire staff worked together to draft ideas for commitments to make our faculty meetings safe for all of us.  A number of faculty members had never worked simultaneously and collaboratively on a digital document such as this in such a large group, and it was amazing to see every staff member engaged in meaningful dialogue with their peers...

Early in my career, in the interests of not wanting to 'take too much time on this stuff', I would have taken all of the information myself and tried to sort, classify, paraphrase, and make inferences in a process to pare down the information we had gathered into palatable chunks for the staff. At that point, I would have moved the commitments in a direction that I felt we needed to go, truncated the whole exercise, and moved on.  Without malice and in the interests of time, I would have inadvertently hi-jacked the process.

Like any school, we have hundreds of years of experience on our staff.  Our Coordinators are highly motivated, creative problem-seekers and solvers that are tremendously invested in their students, their classrooms, and their colleagues.  So regardless of how long the process takes, we will involve our entire staff in making a set of commitments that will allow everyone to be a contributing, engaged and valued staff member during our faculty meetings.  The information that we collected will come to our Coordinators, who will help to design an exercise with all of the feedback we collected that
  • requires the engagement of each staff member 
  • models the use of higher order critical thinking skills for our staff (interpretation, prediction, selection, synthesis, etc) in an exercise they can adapt and apply to their classes 
  • leads to the implementation of a tangible product (such as the chart from our Social Justice class) that is reflective of each of our voices, and subsequently guides us for all of our future staff meetings
  • has them touch a piece of technology so that the exercise can be as efficient and replicated/archived (in our Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox, which we just created yesterday!) for future use in classrooms or collaborative meetings."
As a result of our work at that initial staff meeting, our Coordinator Group put together just such an activity--the 10 Dot Gallery Walk--which allowed our staff to interact with each other around the ideas for staff meetings that we had collected.  As a group, our staff were able to prioritize the suggestions and ideas in front of them for creating the norms of an inclusive staff meeting.  It looked like this:

The engagement of the staff in this activity was notable--people were asking each other for clarification, looking for similar threads on other sheets, and truly being thoughtful in the placement of their 'priority dots'.  And in the end, we got a product that gave us a distinct visual in terms of where the priorities of our staff truly were.  

But that wasn't enough.  

In order to continue to make this process authentic, we needed to take these priorities and craft them into a concise and easily articulated list of commitments that reflected the views of the group.  Again, it would be quick and easy for me to just put these into words that I thought represented the views of the group, but that would not be in the spirit of the activity (nor would it be terribly accurate).  So, as a Coordinator Group with representatives from each department, we began to sort and collect similar terms that were the highest priority for staff (denoted by the dots) and find themes.  The group came up with three temporal themes for staff meetings--Pre-Meeting, During the Meeting, and After the Meeting. Then, I became the scribe, the group became 10 'muses', and we thought with our mouths, debated, wordsmith-ed, re-wrote, and teased out 10 commitments.  They look like this: 

Pre- Meeting
  • we will submit items to the agenda, read the agenda and supporting documents prior to the staff meeting
  • we will attend the meeting and be engaged and involved
  • we will clear purpose and agenda to each staff meeting
  • we will have food for the meeting

During the Meeting
  • we will maintain a light, positive tone with a spirit of collegiality
  • we will come to the meeting with an open mind and consider new ideas and points of view
  • we will have the parameters of the decision-making process will be clearly articulated prior to the discussion
  • we will respect that there may be a need for additional time/input about a decision
  • we will use a variety of creative solutions (ie. anonymous votes, small group forums) to ensure each staff member has a voice

After the Meeting

  • we will trust in our collegial decision-making process
  • We will honor the decision made at the meeting and move forward!

But we are not done yet!  At our November staff meeting, each member of the group will present one of these commitments to the staff and talk them through how we got to that particular commitment from the original, gallery-walk document.  Once we have done this for each of the bullets above, we will ask the entire staff for any further refinements that need to be made.  At the December staff meeting, we will unveil our commitments to each other so that staff meetings actually honor the vision that we have collectively articulated.

From the outside, what we have done here might seem like a long and arduous process.  I guess I could have just made up some commitments and said this is what I want, what I expect.  Or I could have grabbed a list of norms from a book or article, and had us modify them to work for us.  That would have been much faster.

But this is not a race.  With something as important as how we will work together in a large group setting, faster is not always better.

I think it has been time well spent.  The product that we are creating is authentic and representative of each of us:  through the tasks that we have done, we have been required to participate in the process, we modeled and used higher-order thinking skills, we are implementing a tangible product, and we have even touched a technology that we can use in our classes in the process.

Sounds a lot like what we set out to do in the first place, and I look forward to the final product.  I am very proud of our teachers for working through this--congratulations to our staff!

- cross-posted in the Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox


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  2. Two thumbs up on this Cale! Will so many meetings filling our work days, it's important to have a set of norms to follow. I most appreciate meetings that provide opportunities to learn something new. What do you think the "muses" would look like for virtual meetings? I will be taking this to my meeting tomorrow - thank you. (sorry about the double comment)


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