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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Transform Your Staff Meetings, Engage Your Faculty

Terry Heick

founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.
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Time for another staff meeting. Need an idea for something that engages teachers? Shakes things up a bit? Starts the year off right?

Lessee. Maybe you can group teachers in some cool way -- by their birth month or favorite Jimmy Buffet song. Maybe you could play an inspiring video from YouTube, streaming it from your phone to seem all high-tech and whiz bang.

Maybe use an ironic or inspiring quote as a writing prompt and discussion point. Maybe add a pile of candy in the middle of the table and see what goes first, their attention or the Jolly Ranchers.

You could play music -- break the ice by letting them watch you whip, whip, then watch you nae, nae. You could even encourage teachers to get up and move around the room -- maybe modeling a literacy strategy like a vocab stir or some kind of gallery walk that uses their phones.

Or you could do a Hawaiian shirt day. So fun! All the shirts with palm trees and sunsets! So much thematic unity!

If the above doesn't change the culture in your building -- and thus your staff meetings in parallel -- you may need to think more ambitiously. You may need to actually get at the roots of what makes staff meetings so unbearable.

Meaningful Impact

Problem: Faculty meetings don't help anyone.
Solution: Ask teachers what they need.

It may not be true that meetings are useless -- they're good to keep the gears of the school twisting -- but rarely do they meaningfully impact the learning and lives of students. Think about your average staff meeting and what happens -- the work and the lasting impact of that work. How much of it changes lives?

There are undoubtedly school and district policies that dictate much of what happens in staff meetings: how often you meet, how long you meet, and so on. But if you're able to start with the kinds of things that teachers actually need, rather than what the school or district needs, engagement should improve -- eventually. If not, check for pulses.

Some schools have adopted workshop- and PD-style staff meetings, but teachers can still often lack any sort of input or control, which doesn't solve the problem of them being school- and district-centered instead of teaching- and learning-centered.

Genius, Not Endurance

Problem: Faculty meetings focus on minutiae and "housekeeping items."
Solution: Prioritize those ideas that most meaningfully impact students, then use social media for the rest.

A key theme in staff meetings is data -- events, priorities, scheduling issues, general feedback, etc. Having everybody in one room allows information to be exchanged, enabling a lot of "housekeeping items" to be checked off. It can also promote collegial interaction and allow for group work within grade levels, teams, departments, or even intraschool and interdistrict functions. But so can the internet. Social media, closed Edmodo, Facebook, Google+ communities, and more can provide online hubs to exchange the kind of information that's usually exchanged at school staff meetings. Flip your staff meeting.

Then for the in-person bit, establish mission-critical goals like improving literacy, communicating with communities, or expanding student-centered programs. After this, break down how to achieve those goals, and do things that engage the genius in (rather than the endurance of) your teachers.

Innovation

Problem: Faculty meetings are often held after long days.
Solution: Don’t hold them after long days.

Again, this one depends on local rules, regulations, policy, and other matters of bureaucracy likely beyond your control. While some districts have calendar-embedded PD or partial instruction days where students aren't in the building so that teachers can get stuff done, this is different than the weekly staff meeting.

So why not pitch a different approach to the superintendent? Suggest something that teachers won't dread, and doesn't depend on their attendance, compliance, and fatigue, but rather on their expertise, craft, and professionalism. This will likely look different from one school to the next. Decide what works for you, package it, pitch it, and make the decision to innovate it in an easy fashion for those above you. Innovate!

Sharing Out

Problem: Faculty meetings often lack compelling interaction.
Solution: Help educators interact compellingly.

One idea is to consider technology. The days of rolling in the TV cart or pulling down the projector screen to get pulses racing are over. So have them BYOD and pick their favorite app to record snippets from their classroom, share within their table, and then stream to an Apple TV or Chromecast-equipped screen that the whole staff can see. Then maybe cobble together the best bits and release it to YouTube, parents, or the local community to show a weekly glimpse into your school.

Change Now!

Engagement isn't magic, but after years and years of sit-and-get, many teachers are justifiably bored with it all. Administrators are bored as well. Yet somehow, we continue beating our collective heads against the same stack of bricks. If teachers are meeting to do work that they see as meaningful with people that they respect, the engagement won't be a concern.

How does your school keep its staff members engaged in the teamwork required for a vibrant educational environment? Please tell us about it in the comments below.

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Tools and strategies to bring out your best as a teacher.

Terry Heick

founder/director at teachthought. humanist. technologist. futurist. macro thinker extraordinaire.

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