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by Matthew Jennings
Table of Contents
Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
Mr. Smith was recently appointed as superintendent of his school district. In an effort to orient himself to the district, he made it a point to have informal conversations with faculty and with members of the community. Through these conversations, Mr. Smith found that Mrs. Greene, one of the district's eight elementary school principals, was consistently described as an outstanding leader. Curious, he decided to pay her a visit.
As fate would have it, Mr. Smith arrived at Mrs. Greene's school just as she was about to start her faculty meeting. He decided to wait for her to finish so that they could have their conversation afterwards. When he took a seat, he was immediately surprised at the room arrangement: instead of the traditional rows of chairs facing front, there were tables with four chairs at each. He thought to himself that this was an invitation to trouble—teachers would be just like the kids and talk to each other the whole time Mrs. Greene was talking. He also noticed there were refreshments on a table near the side of the room. He wondered if they were celebrating something special. In the front of the room was a poster titled “Faculty Meeting Ground Rules.” These rules seemed like an interesting idea. He wanted to see if the staff members would follow them throughout the course of the meeting.
A few minutes after students were dismissed, staff members began to arrive at the meeting. Mr. Smith was struck by how many teachers arrived before the meeting started with smiles on their faces. After allowing a few minutes for staff to get refreshments and engage in informal conversation, Mrs. Greene started the meeting by quickly reviewing the agenda. Next, she asked staff members to engage in what she called a “staff building” activity; then to engage in “team building” activities at each table; and finally to engage in a combination of small- and large-group activities related to the use of technology in achieving math and reading goals.
Mr. Smith was struck by the nature of the conversations at the meeting: everyone appeared to be actively listening and passionately sharing ideas while remaining focused on the topic under discussion. Mr. Smith had never seen anything like this; it struck him that the meeting resembled some of the better classroom lessons he'd observed as a principal.
When the meeting was over, Mr. Smith met with Mrs. Greene. After revealing how dreadful many of the meetings he'd both led and attended had been, he wanted to know how she had managed to create such a productive and stimulating experience. Her answer was so simple that it surprised him. She said that she ran her faculty meetings like she had run her classrooms: she laid the foundation for success in the beginning of the year, then planned each meeting as carefully as she did her lessons as a teacher.
Either prior to or at the beginning of the school year, you must
Meetings shouldn't simply serve as forums for transmitting information to staff; this should be done via memo, weekly bulletin, or e-mail prior to each meeting. Instead, meetings should fulfill the following three purposes:
You should communicate the above three meeting goals to staff members in a memo before the school year starts. Here's an example:
To: All school staff
From: Mr. Jennings
Subject: School faculty meetings
Although they may not have always seemed so in the past, faculty meetings are valuable opportunities for our professional learning community. These meetings are among the few times our entire staff is together. In order to make our meeting time valuable, I have decided to institute the following changes:
All information that can be shared in writing prior to the meeting will be included in the weekly staff bulletin. Staff members are responsible for reading this bulletin and seeking clarification when necessary.
Instead of information transmission, our faculty meetings will now emphasize relationship building, professional development, and problem solving and decision making.
If we do not have an activity that meets the criteria in #2 above, we will not have a faculty meeting.
I realize this new format may make some of you uncomfortable. To let go of the way we always do things and try something new requires us to take a risk. The long-term benefits of this change will be worth it for us as a staff and our students. If you have any questions, please stop by and see me.
Clearly articulated and agreed-upon norms contribute to an atmosphere of trust, which is itself essential for successful collaboration. At the first faculty meeting of the year, you should facilitate the collaborative development of such norms, which will be based on the values, expectations, and past experiences of staff members. The following activity can help you to accomplish this task.
Step 1. Begin by facilitating a discussion of group norms. Example: “We have all been part of a team. In any team there are certain rules or expectations for how we will behave. What were some of the rules or expectations on teams on which you've served? What are some of the behaviors, both positive and negative, that you have experienced on a team?” Record the responses on a T-chart.
Step 2. Discuss the messages that the behaviors listed on the T-chart send to other team members.
Step 3. Discuss the value of having a set of basic agreements for faculty meetings. After reviewing a sample of possible agreements, have staff members add more to the list. Continue adding possible agreements until nobody can think of any more. Sample agreements could include the following:
Step 4. Have staff members divide a piece of paper into two columns. Inform staff members that they each have 100 points, which they must divide among all the agreements listed. (The more points, the more valuable the agreement.) Once staff members have all completed the task individually, ask them to share their scores in groups of three or four and complete the activity once more. When everyone is finished, collect and tally the second set of scores. The top three to five choices will then constitute the group's agreements for faculty meetings.
It is often necessary to remind staff members of the established agreements, either verbally at the beginning of a staff meeting or in the form of a poster prominently displayed in the meeting room.
Base teams are long-term, heterogeneous groups to which staff members are assigned. The major purposes of these base groups are as follows:
Base teams should have between two and five staff members, with four being optimal because it allows for pair work. You can assign members at random, or choose to include a mix of grades, subject areas, or experience levels on each team. Either way, teams should be relatively heterogeneous and represent more than one grade level or subject area. (To keep things fresh, be sure to disband the teams and form new ones after every six to ten meetings.) At a minimum, teams will meet at the beginning of each meeting to celebrate a teaching success from the previous week, and at the end of each meeting to summarize the proceedings.
Any group will function more effectively if members know each other's responsibilities. The following are the three most common roles at faculty meetings:
Whether these roles are permanent or rotate is up to you. Permanent assignments have the advantage of consistency and of helping staff members develop role-specific skills over time. Rotating assignments have the advantage of promoting equal responsibility among all staff members for all roles.
A meeting agenda provides staff members with a guide to the proceedings and encourages them to focus on upcoming tasks. Without an agenda, staff members may have trouble discerning the meeting's purpose.
When teachers help shape the agenda, they gain an increased sense of ownership for the meeting. Be sure to set a deadline by which teachers must provide topics in advance. When submitting items, teachers should include their names, the topics they wish to address, and the resources and approximate amount of time that they will require.
A quality meeting agenda should include the following:
Figure 1.1 shows a sample meeting agenda. Although not strictly necessary, it is often helpful to share a rough draft of the agenda with staff representatives prior to distributing it, for proofreading and feedback. Whenever possible, staff members should receive the agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting.
Columbia School Faculty Meeting
Purpose: To celebrate our current successes implementing cooperative learning and to identify areas requiring additional assistance or training
Required Attendees: All teachers
Optional Attendees: Student teachers and paraprofessional staff
Date: October 8 Time: 3:45 – 4:30 Location: Team Room 2A
Required Materials: Cooperative learning journal, pen or pencil
Advance Preparation: Please read the small-group discussion questions below and reflect on your answers.
Recorder: Jane S. Timekeeper: Ralph R.
Base teams meeting (5 minutes)
Small-group discussion of the following questions: (20 minutes)
Large-group sharing of small-group responses (15 minutes)
Participants will contribute more to and get more out of meetings if the physical setting is comfortable and conducive to achieving the meeting's objectives. Here are a few guidelines to consider in this respect.
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