Power Up! / The Responsive Staff Meeting - ASCD
Skip to main content
ascd logo

December 1, 2014

Power Up! / The Responsive Staff Meeting

If I die, I hope it's during a staff meeting because the transition to death would be so subtle."author unknown

Power Up! / The Responsive Staff Meeting- thumbnail

Can school leaders use interactive technologies to make staff meetings and professional development presentations feel less deadly dull?

In his Free Technology for Teachers blog, Richard Byrne gives the following reasons for enhancing classroom discussions by using technology to create a back channel—an online discussion that accompanies the face-to-face one, simultaneously or as an online continuation of the discussion:

  • The back channel gives shy students a place to ask questions and contribute to conversations.

  • Students who process information by asking questions can ask an unlimited number of questions without dominating the classroom conversation.

  • Comments in the back channel help us gauge students' interest in and prior knowledge of a topic.

  • Looking at comments as the discussion or activity unfolds lets us gauge the activity's effectiveness in real time.

  • The back channel extends conversations beyond the classroom hour or school day. 1

Try substituting teacher for student and meeting for classroom in Byrne's list and you'll see how encouraging teachers to interact—with the content and one another—through technology during meetings or inservice trainings can enliven them.

Three Reasons to Invite Technology

Many teachers embrace the use of technology to promote discussion, engagement, and real-time assessment in the classroom. Yet turning to technology in staff meetings, inservice trainings, and other gatherings of adults is often ignored or even viewed negatively. Leaders seem to think that when e-mail and other "distractions" are available, staff members, like kids, won't be capable of paying attention.

Technology should be not only allowed, but also encouraged in meetings and workshops for adults for three reasons:

1. We can model technology use.

School leaders can demonstrate the device management techniques that we expect teachers in 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device programs to master. We can model how to communicate expectations to students. ("Please put your device in listening mode." "Share good websites you find.") Meeting goers can practice working collaboratively on documents, communicating respectfully in the back channel, and engaging in other responsive activities.

Teachers teach the way they learn best. If they get a chance to experience learning through effective digital tools and online interactions, they're more likely to try such practices in their classrooms.

2. We can create meaningful meetings.

Devices let leaders create interactive meetings rather than reading aloud from PowerPoint slides. Here are some tech tools exemplary teachers leverage to make classes more engaging. Consider how you might use these tools to promote interaction in faculty meetings, all-staff presentations, and inservice sessions.

  • Response systems. With such systems, a leader or trainer poses a question to the group; each participant answers on an individual device (preserving anonymity); and results are immediately tabulated and displayed to the entire group as a bar graph, chart, comment list, or other format. Some systems use dedicated devices with interactive whiteboards, and some have teachers use personal devices (like laptops or smartphones) and software applications with web-based feedback tools—such as Socrative, Poll Everywhere, Google Forms, and GoSoapBox.

  • Cloud-based tools for collaboration. Imagine if, during inservice presentations, teachers spent time exchanging feedback on lesson plans connected to the strategy just presented. Or imagine if, during faculty meetings, they collaborated in small groups on a master scheduling document—which was then saved to the school's network. Google Apps for Education, Microsoft 365, and Zoho, among other products, are effective ways to share work and provide comments online. These tools let people share at a variety of levels—view, comment, edit, or chat.

  • Online tools to meet—and brainstorm. Nifty tools like Padlet, MindMup, and TodaysMeet enable a group of people to share plans and ideas online in real time. Padlet offers advantages over paper-based brainstorming: Users can add photos and graphics to their "sticky notes," electronic "walls" can be saved for later viewing, and the notes can be easily sorted and categorized.

  • Built-in cameras and microphones. Many schools choose tablet computers rather than laptops because they have built-in rear-facing cameras and microphones. When kids record their own actions during learning activities, these devices become formative assessment tools of the highest order. Adults can use them for formative assessment of their teaching, too. Record a lesson or an interaction with a student, and then view it with peers (or share the recording online) for comments, feedback, and discussion.

  • Web-based creation software. When you do need to present a chunk of information, make your presentation look professional and awesome. Animoto, Prezi, Wordle, VoiceThread and a multitude of infographic creators like Creately make doing so relatively simple. Some, like VoiceThread, enable users to comment online within the presentation.

In professional development exercises, we might give participating teachers a quick tutorial on, say, Prezi, then have them communicate their ideas and demonstrate their learning to the group with pictures and sounds as well as words.

3. We can hold paperless meetings.

Instantly modifiable and full of links to further information, online documents are more current, more useful, and easier to find again when needed. Our district uses Google Docs to create and share agendas, schedules, and informational materials pertinent to meetings. Rather than printing documents out, participants bring a device to meetings and refer to documents online. We provide updated information for participants online after meetings. Plus, this sends an environmental message.

Getting Real

We school leaders must be the change we want to see in our school, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi. We have to model good technology use in all human interactions—including classes, meetings, and professional development events.

Technology use can even help us differentiate instruction for adult learners. If schools use content and course management systems like Moodle, teachers can assess their own skills and place themselves in the right professional development course or session. When online courses or activities at a variety of skill levels are available, nobody gets bored or frustrated.

Do we really think teachers will try to integrate technology into their classrooms when encouraged to do so by an administrator who only uses paper handouts and lectures at meetings? Get real.

End Notes

1 Byrne, R. (2013, June 13). 5 Benefits of using backchannels in the classroom [blog post]. Retrieved from Free Technology for Teachers and <LINK URL="http://www.freetech4teachers.com/2013/06/5-benefits-of-using-backchannels-in.html">www.freetech4teachers.com/2013/06/5-benefits-of-using-backchannels-in.html</LINK>

Want to add your own highlights and notes for this article to access later?