Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Owning" Staff Meetings

I have been to a lot of meetings in my career.  Some of them have been good:  they were well run, followed an agenda, gave authentic opportunities for multi-directional interaction, had a finite finish point, and left off with plans for future action.  Others have been not so good:  they seemed aimless, were dominated by a few speakers, provided little chance for dialogue, and gave excessive amounts of information that could have been communicated asynchronously for people to read at their leisure.  Try as I might have to come out of those sorts of meetings with a positive attitude, often times I struggled mightily to find any redeemable bits that I could take back to my own learning situation.

As a result, I have made a commitment to our staff to change our staff meetings now and in the future.  I had to think about how I wanted to approach this, and to do so, I brought our School Improvement Leader and one of our new Vice Principals (who has endured some of my staff meetings in the past) to help design an activity not to figure out how to make staff meetings more engaging, but rather to create an inquiry activity that would allow our staff collaborate together to collectively come up with ideas on how to increase staff engagement.  There were a few reasons for us to do it this way:
  • We want to continue to have or staff learn different techniques to effectively engage their students in class discussions
  • We want to continue to expose our staff to collaborative technologies that maximize engagement and interactions between participants
  • We want to get authentic staff input
  • We really don't know the answers to the questions that we were asking our staff about making effective staff meetings for our staff.
As the Principal, there are certain things that I need to have in a staff meeting.  But I want to make sure that our staff is an integral part of each of these elements so that they find our staff meetings meaningful and worthwhile.  In our staff meetings, I want
  1. A mechanism for disseminating information that can be read rather than taking time to read/announce items to the whole staff.  We created a Google Doc for SMINFO (Staff Meeting Info) that the staff can contribute to at their leisure.  I collate this just prior to the meeting and distribute it electronically for people to read on their own time.
  2. As a school of more than 1300 students with a relatively large faculty and two campuses, I want our staff to have a sense of community when they come to our staff meetings.  We bring food in, and have some time at the start of the meeting for us to socialize.
  3. With many external interests and a diverse collection of teams and clubs at our school, I want the staff to have a chance to socialize and share good news. Each year, we ask a staff member to be "Good News Girl" or "Good News Guy", and they poll the staff on a monthly basis for positive things that are going on around the campus.
  4. I want the staff to pass along good practices and new ideas that they are trying in their classrooms.  This month, one of our tech leaders discussed her use of Remind 101 to send homework and assignment notices to students and parents.
  5. I want to make sure that we have extensive blocks of time for us to reflect upon student achievement and improve our practices in teaching, learning, engagement and assessment.  With our Department Coordinators and Learning Coach, we will look at our next 9 staff meetings as an opportunity to create a staff development thread for continual teaching and learning growth.  This will be done through the lens our collaboratively developed dynamic School Improvement Plan blog.

But I have also recognized that our staff (and I would venture to guess the staffs of many schools) wants the opportunity to have an open forum to discuss day-to-day issues and solve problems that people are having around the school.  In the past, I have been reluctant to have these sorts of discussions.  In meetings that I have been to in past schools where issues are brought up in 'Town Hall' fashion, often times the discussions can get long-winded, be dominated by a vocal few, turn finger-pointy, and be unproductive.  But I know they are important conversations, and we needed to find a way to have our staff have their stamp on this part of the meeting that we are currently calling "Collegial Conversations".

For our activity, we came up with was a collaborative Google Document that asked three basic questions:
  1. How will we select and/or identify the topic for the Collegial Conversations portion of each staff meeting?
  2. How will we end the conversation?  What types of exit strategies do we need to have in place?
  3. How do we ensure that we leave each staff meeting on a positive note?   
It is always exciting to watch the staff collaborate in real time.  With laptops at each table, our staff was able to have their ideas from small group discussions recorded and projected on to a large screen so that other groups could build on those thoughts.  

In the end, we got some additional clarity on where we need to go with staff meetings for the future.  And while we still have a long way to go, we were able to give a voice to each of our staff members, to have them be active participants in both face-to-face and virtual discussions, to have them utilize technology to collaborate, and to take ownership over the opportunity to learn as a group in our monthly staff meetings.  

Overall, by providing ways to have our staff 'own' the elements of staff meetings, we believe we can make a more productive and engaging environment for all of us!