Friday, April 17, 2015

Faculty Meetings - Learning By Doing

Several weeks ago, a team of Sa-Hali teachers and myself went to San Diego to visit High Tech High.  A few weeks prior to the trip, we received a series of Next Level of Work plans from our Instructional Rounds observers in February that indicated that we needed to design and implement tasks that required resilience for our students.  A trip to a school that utilizes Project-Based Learning fit perfectly into our Next Level of Work, and as a result, we determined that we had four areas of focus for our trip to San Diego.  We wanted to follow up on our May Professional Development day that we had with High Tech High teachers Chris Wakefield and Anthony Conwright; to find projects and inspiration for projects that we could bring back to our setting; to observe Presentations of Learning, and; to ask as many questions as we could on behalf of our staff.

As I said in my previous post, it was hard to describe our experience at HTH.  Personally, one of the things I am trying to get better at avoiding is helping our staff avoid the dreaded "wet dog" syndrome: I know that my staff tends to cringe when I go away to a conference or PD session, because I tend to come home, stand in the middle of a faculty meeting, and "shake off" the new ideas like a Labrador Retriever coming out of a lake.  Not to mention, I could imagine little worse than simply sitting and listening to a group who had just returned from a trip to San Diego wax poetically about all the great things about a school other than our own.  Ugh.

With this thought in mind. I approached our HTH Exploratory Team with my usual "shortest question possible" (the idea I steal over and over again from the TED talk which has had a tremendous influence on me--Dan Meyer's 'Math Class Needs a Makeover').  My short question was "How do we help our staff experience what we observed at High Tech High?".  I have found that when you involve a group of people with the mindset of  "How would I learn this best?" around a short question, they tend to come up with tremendous ideas--and again, I was not disappointed.

Three of main themes that we observed at HTH were:
  • a relaxed, can-do, and collaborative environment attitude where educators help one another  
  • peer-editing and iteration based in 'warm' and 'cool' feedback
  • a selfless, 'service to others' mentality
  • everything with purpose
But how could we re-create these themes at a faculty meeting?  A couple of things fell in to place for us: first of all, our team of teachers that went to HTH were champing at the bit to get started on some projects in their classes, and secondly, we were in the process of co-developing our school improvement plan.  As a result, the faculty activities that we came up with for the April Staff Meeting (after Good News and a few logistics) came to look like this:

Part One:  
  • Each of HTH Exploratory Team member got 1-2 minutes to speak about their experience at HTH, with a picture-heavy slide show (co-developed with another school here in our district) up in the background to provide some visuals and help us describe what we saw
  • Three of the team members presented their ideas for projects to be completed between now and the end of the year.  Their projects were:
    • Students creating a collaborative kinetic sculpture to demonstrate the concepts of Physics 11 and 12.
    • Creating/redesigning a library space where 'everyone wants to go'.
    • Creating travel blog posts about the Maghreb region, a French-speaking region of Northern Africa in order to be able to apply and get a job at to travel the world and write blog posts.
  • The three project leaders asked the staff to be a part of a Project Tuning Protocol so that they could get new ideas and help to make their projects even better.
  • The three other team members (and myself) facilitated the Project Tune (listen in on one of the discussions here)
  • The staff members self-organized into three collaborative groups according to the project they felt they were interested in and/or would have something to contribute and 'tune' project for their colleague.
  • Each group reflected on the process of "Project Tuning".
Part Two:
Peer-editing our School Improvement Plan
In each activity, I saw rich dialogue.  I saw people laughing, smiling, and working hard.  I saw people digging in and really trying to give critical feedback to their peers through the project tune and the peer-editing because people needed the feedback.  I saw frustration, and people trying to figure our the best way to articulate their thoughts to each other, and to the potential student and community audiences that will be participating in the projects and viewing our School Improvement Plan. I also saw a couple of people that were sitting back at different points and taking everything in, and that too was good: people have different ways of processing, and we need to honor that.  However, because each staff member knew that they had a task to accomplish for someone else, each staff member got involved.

By doing this activity, our faculty members 
  • got to work with each other in a relaxed, non-threatening manner
  • did two different styles of peer-editing through the project tune and through the SIP analysis
  • helped each other and did peer-editing with a purpose--they did it because they wanted to help their colleagues -- people needed their feedback in the form of a second set of eyes.  
  • got to do a great deal of "Learning Beyond The Content" (my next post--stay tuned).
While I would have loved to have taken our entire staff to High Tech High in San Diego, it was just not possible.  And although we will continue to send exploratory teams to California as we travel the PBL journey that we have embarked upon, we need to keep our entire faculty engaged and involved along the way.  By determining the most important pieces that we observed and developing activities that would help our faculty experience what we observed in the spirit of "learning by doing", I hope we whet people's appetites even more for Project-Based Learning!

I would like to acknowledge the work of Jordan Backman, Susanne Blohm, Jen Cacaci, Tanya Cail, Cecile McVittie, and Kirk Smith, our HTH Exploratory Team.  The leadership they continue to show about PBL has been truly inspirational.

*cross posted at The Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox