As the weekend comes to a close, I sit here reflecting on the past few days, fully appreciating the professional development I was able to participate in. In just three days, I was able to learn about anxiety with Dr. Lynn Miller, ask myself if I am a multiplier with Liz Wiseman, improve my social media and blogging skills with Grant Frend, question how we use awards with Chris Wejr, focus on Mental Health in Kids with Keli Anderson, and shift my thinking around instructional technology with David Warlick. I was also able to experience something new by participating in pro-d that I did not attend as I made an attempt to ‘lurk and learn’, joining in Twitter conversations with my colleagues at the CPVPA Conference in Whistler as they explored networked leadership with George Couros. A shift has occurred and professional development no longer feels like something that happens on designated days, but rather a way of learning on a continuous basis, connecting and sharing with others.
After three great days, I have new knowledge, a greater professional network, and inspiring ideas. However, as I reflect on the weekend, what I am most cognizant of is the feeling I have inside… I feel connected, inspired, full of new ideas, and excited to try new things when I return to school on Monday. As I enjoy the positive energy that comes with these feelings, I stop and asked myself, “Is this the way teachers feel when they leave staff meetings?” Unfortunately I know the answer. I asked myself another hard question. “Do we design staff meetings the same way we design great lessons?” And again, I know the answer is no. If we believe we are a community of professional learners, then perhaps we need make our best effort to model great teaching with our staff.
As I brainstorm what makes a fabulous meeting, I have put together a list of ideas and questions that I hope will help lay the foundation. To organize my thoughts, I have come up with ‘The 5 F’s for Fabulous Meetings’.
Let’s wake up our brains. In so many meetings we offer coffee and pastries. The coffee dehydrates us and the carbohydrates put us to sleep. We know from our understanding of Brain Compatible Learning that we learn best when we are hydrated and consume brain compatible foods such as almonds, berries, whole grains, and protein rich foods. (I would add broccoli to the list because of its super-food qualities but I’m pretty sure a meeting has never gotten better by adding broccoli). Let’s mix up the menu so we are ready to learn.
I am a firm believer that we are not learning when we are not having fun. When we are interested and engaged we want to learn more. Find ways to build laughter into a meeting. Laughter is contagious, spreads happiness and reduces stress. Not only does it boost energy levels, it relaxes us, brings focus, and leaves people wanting more.
Use icebreakers, games and group activities to build teamwork. Create an environment where staff appreciate one another and have an opportunity to learn from each other’s strengths. Find ways to connect as a staff so that everyone feels like they are part of the school. Start with 50/50 draws where the profit is donated to a scholarship fund for your school.
In the workshop I attended on mental health, the McCreary Centre confirmed that a student’s connectedness to school is the 2nd most important factor in developing resiliency (after family connectedness). I would assume the same is true for adults, and connectedness to a career would likely be one of the most influential factors to adult mental health. Make sure meetings allow for staff to get to know each other to build cohesiveness. Happy teachers = happy kids.
No one wants to have their time wasted. Start meetings on time. If possible, end early. Most people prefer meetings that end a little early to those that start late.
Staff meetings are typically run at the end of the school day. This means that from a marketing perspective themain competitor is free time where teachers have the autonomy to choose whether they run extra-curricular teams, assess student work, connect with colleagues or leave work to attend to personal and family commitments. In other words, we have some stiff competition. We need to keep this in mind and make sure that we create meetings that are meaningful, learning focused and efficient.
Plan the agenda like you would plan a great lesson. Ask yourself what the learning outcomes are for the meeting. Have a great beginning, collaborative time to learn together and a great ending.
Expect staff to be focused as well. We expect students to actively engage. Expect the same from staff. I once participated in an icebreaker where we were asked to write down everything that was going through our mind for two minutes (grocery list, things to do, etc). We were then asked to fold up our lists and put them in our back pockets and to clear our mind of those competing thoughts until the meeting ended. As educators, let’s promote a learning environment where we are mindful learners.
Do we plan meetings the same way we would have ten years ago? Are we embracing new ways of learning? Bryn Williams, Vice Principal of Centennial Secondary recently tweeted “What if we allowed for twitter streaming during a staff meeting to collect data…. Now that would change the conversation around phones in schools.”
Are we modeling learning as we prepare for meetings? David Warlick, keynote speaker for the BCPVPA conference began his presentation with a quick YouTube clip on the Berlin Lights Festival. He shared with us that this was something he had learned in the past 24 hours. To model learning, he never prepares a presentation without learning something new in the process.
We also know that learning does not always take place within four walls. Movement and learning are connected so why do we often have all our meetings in the same room, with the same physical set up? Let’s get moving! Move the chairs, change up the room, or build movement into the agenda… Perhaps incorporate walking, breakout rooms, or even some outdoor learning. At our school we have approximately 70 teachers. We also have approximately 70 seats on our two school buses. I wonder what we could learn together if we saw the community as our classroom.
If we hope to continually improve, then we need to collect feedback on both the content and the delivery of meetings. Our district has recently purchased Thoughtstream as an online data collection tool. Perhaps we can ask some great questions about our staff meetings to find out what our staff like, what they would change and what they hope to accomplish during our meetings together.
How can we collect evidence of the learning? Let’s use collaborative time for staff to accomplish together what they cannot do apart. Have groups report out and make sure this information is made available to staff. Perhaps we should end staff meetings with exit slips or other feedback tools to discover what worked, what didn’t, and what questions we may need to explore.
I’m looking forward to our next staff meeting, eager to implement some new ideas. I’m hopeful that our staff will leave the meeting with the same positive energy I experienced after attending the BCPVPA conference. Let’s hope they leave with some new F words on their mind…. Food, Fun, Focus, Forward Thinking & Feedback.
I absolutely welcome your comments and ideas. Share what makes a fabulous meeting. Let’s build a collection of great ideas!