Too often the meetings that educators attend feel purposeless and unproductive.
With that perennial problem in mind, I asked Lois Easton to suggest a remedy, which she did in the form of a “Design Team.”
Here’s what Lois had to say:
Done with meetings that are torturous in the first place and lead to nothing? Disappointed in professional learning that robs resources (time, energy, and usually, money) and lead to no substantive change?
These gatherings of educational professionals may seem purposeless—and may, indeed, be purposeless in the sense that purposes are unspecified or unclear. Or, these gatherings may be minimally motivating.
In either case, there’s no action, and there are no results and, once again—reflecting onwasted resources—educators become cynical about meetings and professional learning.
Even if they are motivating, meetings and professional learning may lead to little or no action simply because no one has seriously thought about the support and accountability required to making change. It’s almost as if no one really expects that these processes will lead to action which leads to results.
One solution to this dilemma is the Design Team.
You can call it anything you want, but this team of people inside the group labors before,during, and after the meeting or professional learning to consider purposes, desired action, support, and accountability. These are people who, themselves, are engaged in making the changes—in their classrooms, schools, and districts.
The philosophy is that those affected by—and effecting—the change should have some say in how the change is made, how to support it, and how to be sure that the change is making a difference for student learning.
The Design Team:
• Meets before the meeting or professional learning to determine the need for a meeting or professional learning. Though they may work with a facilitator from within or outside the organization, the Design Team has a huge say in what happens.
• Collects and analyzes data before they begin planning, using the question, “What leads us to want a meeting or professional learning?”
• Circulates the results of their data discussions with their colleagues: “Here are the dataresults. Are these data important? For instance: Is it okay for 20% of our students not to graduate? Is it okay for 4th graders to dislike reading? Is it okay for girls to steer clear of math? Should we do something about these data? What do you recommend?”
• Requests feedback and use responses to modify their work. They continue to use this feedback cycle throughout the work (ideally throughout a school year or more).
• Drafts outcomes—what people will know and be able to do as a result of the meeting or professional learning—as well as overall purposes. They request feedback, even if only thumbs-up or down on the outcomes.
• Continues to request and get feedback—and adjust accordingly—on everything else they do before the meeting or professional learning.
• Considers the support that educators will need to make changes as a result of the meeting or professional learning. The Design Team advocates for appropriate resources for the work. It also identifies indicators for change at all levels. The team thinks about how the whole organization will know that the outcomes have been achieved.
Who serves on the Design Team?
1. The role should be voluntary. Anyone impacted by the contemplated change should have a chance to participate on the Design Team. Although it’s tempting to invite representatives from grade levels or subject areas to participate, don’t. Representatives tend to do what they are asked to do—that is, represent their factions. They may not see the “whole school” or the “whole district” as they deliberate. Invite everyone to participate.
2. To achieve continuity, ask members to serve a minimum time period (perhaps 3 months). Allow new members any time, as long as they will serve the requisite number of months.
3. Acknowledge that each time a new member joins the Design Team, the team is a new team and new members need orientation. This is not all bad; new members help continuing members deepen their understanding of the work. As they explain it, continuing members become clearer about what they are doing—or not. If not,new members give the Design Team a chance to repurpose or re-plan what they are doing.
4. Keep the team as large as it is, naturally—if it is too bulky, have meetings for all team members so they can all keep the “big picture” in mind, and then smaller action team meetings to get the work done.
5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Even if there is no doubt about an strategy or outcomes, run it by the whole group (everyone else in the school, for example). Keep things transparent.
6. Consider providing released time for Design Team members so they can meet.
During the meeting or professional learning, the Design Team provides a way for afacilitator or convener to keep tabs on what’s working and what’s not and to make adjustments.
After the meeting or professional learning (that is, if we can consider professional learning “over”), the Design Team monitors the indicators of change and the outcomes, reporting to everyone how the change is proceeding.
Design Teams—when well designed themselves—ensure that meetings and professional learning are carefully considered and consequential.
This post is adapted from Lois Easton’s book, Professional learning communities by design: Putting the learning back into PLCs, published by Corwin Press andLearning Forward.