Posts Tagged 'faculty meetings'

Ch. 4: Learning the basics

ba·sics noun
/ˈbāsik/
the essential facts or principles of a subject or skill

In my August 1968 new-teacher orientation I learned that the suburban Detroit high school in which I would soon begin teaching enrolled more than 2,000 students with a faculty and staff of over a 100, which meant there would be more people in the school than in the Western Michigan village where I grew up.

I remember feeling intimated by the seeming poise and confidence of new and veteran teachers alike.

And I felt frightened knowing that the psychology course I would be teaching was limited to seniors, which meant that as a 21 year-old I would be more like an older brother than a teacher to my students who would be just 3 or 4 years younger than me.

Like new teachers everywhere my career began with the day-to-day and hour-to-hour challenges of managing students, planning and teaching lessons, preparing tests, and working with colleagues who were new to me.

In addition, like families and society in general, school faculties, including my own, were often divided into opposing corners by diverging views about the pressing social and educational issues of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Most of what I recall about the first year or two of teaching are in images or shards of memory:

• I remember the pride and sense of ownership I felt in “my” classroom, one I was fortunate to have because many new teachers had to “float” among classrooms throughout the day.

• I remember that when confronted with what were relatively minor behavior problems (students talking rather than listening to me or others) I had only two basic strategies in my behavior-management repertoire—reprimanding students, and when that didn’t work, reprimanding them in a louder voice. Fortunately, one of the two was almost always sufficient. And, fortunately, I became more adept through trial and error and by observing colleagues with whom I would soon be team teaching.

• I remember “running off” tests on “mimeo machines,” and that paper for those machines was rationed by a secretary as were other classroom supplies like notepads and pens. Those tests were typed on manual typewriters whose errors had to be corrected with razor blades which erased the mistakes.

• I remember the perennial problem of students smoking in bathrooms and around the outside of the school. I also remember the problem of teachers smoking. The latter problem was resolved when one of the two teacher workrooms was designated as non-smoking. For whatever reasons, though, most teachers, including non-smokers, congregated in the smoking room, perhaps because many non-smokers seemed to prefer the company of smokers.

• I remember that the psychology course I taught had a textbook, but no syllabus. That meant week by week, and even hour by hour, I was required to invent the curriculum based on what I remembered from my college classes, adapting it to student interests and current events.

• I remember that because a good share of my own education through university required memorization, at which I was not particularly good, I often did not have a deep understanding of the content I was teaching. As a result, I was challenged and frustrated whenever students asked me to explain something in a different way or to provide an example, or worse yet, several examples.

Not only was I a poor memorizer, I was not a particularly disciplined or successful student until I neared the end of high school. As a result, I tended to gravitate toward students who were struggling with school as I had and who were sometimes held in low regard by other teachers.

• I remember that I often thought the best part of the school day was the quiet before students arrived and after they left, which was perhaps the first obvious sign of my introversion.

• I remember department and school faculty meetings. Both seemed to have more than their share of complaints about decisions made by school or system administrators, with a great deal of time given to what seemed like trivial, but emotionally-charged, issues.

How and when did you learn the “basics” of teaching?

[This post is one in a series from a memoir titled, “It Might Have Been Otherwise.”]

Designing productive and energizing meetings

For many educators meetings are an unwelcome but inevitable part of their workdays. 

When skillfully facilitated, however, meetings are an essential means of accomplishing important goals and creating strong, collaborative relationships. 

This post from February 2013 offers suggestions for faculty meetings that are also applicable to many other types of meetings.

Four essential ingredients of successful faculty meetings

Successful faculty meetings contribute to the momentum of the continuous improvement of teaching, learning, and relationships within the school community.

They add value by deepening understanding, spreading effective practices, and building relationships.

On the other hand, poorly planned and facilitated meetings deplete energy and can bring innovation to a standstill.

In my experience, successful meetings have four essential ingredients:

1. Celebration of one another and of accomplishments within the school community. While it is certainly appropriate to note student accomplishments, it’s also important to draw attention to the accomplishments and strengths of the adult members of the school community. To that end faculty meetings can routinely begin with a few minutes of recognition and celebration. Such rituals can deepen relationships and energize the school community.

2. Professional learning focused on the school’s most important goals. The kind of professional learning I have in mind would occur as staff members analyze various types of evidence regarding student learning, explore professional literature, and share effective practices. It would seldom include what we think of as training or presentations.

3. Thoughtful deliberation regarding significant challenges and decisions that the school community faces. Because these conversations would be structured through the use of protocols or other small and large group activities, they would be focused and deep.

4. “Next action thinking.” Momentum would be maintained because meetings would always conclude with clarity about individual and collective responsibilities. As a result, there would be no confusion about who will do what, by when, and to what standard.

Administrivia, of course, would be eliminated or minimized. Administrative items would be distributed through email with clear explanations about what is expected from staff members.

Question: In your experience what are the ingredients of productive and energizing faculty meetings? What things have I missed?

How checklists can improve teaching and leadership

Even under the best of circumstances good teaching is an incredibly complex task which can appear almost effortless to the casual observer.

The intellectual, emotional, interpersonal, and even physical demands of teaching cannot, however, be underestimated.

Therefore, a “fundamental” of leadership is that teachers and principals use whatever tools are at hand to manage those demands. 

Checklists are just such a tool that when effectively used enable teachers to focus their cognitive abilities on the unexpected moment-to-moment changes in the classroom that make teaching an improvisational art.

That is why I’m bringing back an essay from April 2013 on the subject of checklists that also happens to be my most-viewed post.

The power and uses of checklists for teachers and administrators

Checklists are a simple but powerful way to improve individual and group performance. They are declarations of standards that ensure that important tasks are completed.

By routinizing certain procedures, checklists ensure that higher-order mental processes are available for complex, non-routine events, which is why they are regularly used by surgeons and airplane pilots, as well as by those engaged in other demanding occupations.

Physician Atul Gawande makes the case for checklists in his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. (An earlier post elaborates on the educational implications of this book and others by Gawande.)

While good checklists are precise, Gawande notes, “They do not try to spell out everything – a checklist cannot fly a plane. Instead, they provide reminders of only the most critical and important steps – the ones that even the highly skilled professionals using them could miss. Good checklists are, above all, practical.”

Checklists, Gawande adds, “… can help experts remember how to manage a complex process… They can make priorities clear and prompt people to function better as a team.” 

To illustrate the ways in which checklists can improve group functioning, Gawande explains how they can level hierarchy and distribute power in ways that can save patients’ lives when they require surgical team members to introduce themselves before surgery and to state their roles and unique perspectives regarding the procedure. 

Checklists have a number of important applications in school settings:

• Checklists could be used by teachers in preparing lessons, like this checklist for project-based learning.

• Checklists could be used by principals and teacher leaders in preparing for faculty or team meetings based on the ingredients of successful faculty meetings that I offered in this post.

• Checklists could be used to increase influence using the elements contained in the SUCCESS acronym as a guide (see my previous post).

• Checklists could be used in developing both long-range and short-term professional learning plans for schools and school systems. Here are a few things that might be included on such checklists:

___ Focuses on priority areas of student learning based on various sources of evidence, including but not limited to standardized tests;

___ Addresses core tasks of teaching such as the development of engaging student work and using assessments to promote learning;

___ Engages all teachers in learning, not just volunteers;

___ Occurs virtually every day as a routine part of teachers’ collaborative work on high-functioning teams—PLCs, grade level, department, or other structures;

___ Assesses effects of professional learning based on changes in instructional practices and improvements in student learning. 

The acronym CREATE could be used to help planners remember those ingredients: Core tasks of teaching, Results for students, Every day, All teachers, Team-based learning, Evidence-based decision making. 

What additional uses do you see for checklists in educational settings?

Four essential ingredients of successful faculty meetings

Dennis Sparks

Successful faculty meetings contribute to the momentum of the continuous improvement of teaching, learning, and relationships within the school community.

They add value by deepening understanding, spreading effective practices, and building relationships.

On the other hand, poorly planned and facilitated meetings deplete energy and can bring innovation to a standstill.

In my experience, successful meetings have four essential ingredients:

1. Celebration of one another and of accomplishments within the school community. While it is certainly appropriate to note student accomplishments, it’s also important to draw attention to the accomplishments and strengths of the adult members of the school community. To that end faculty meetings can routinely begin with a few minutes of recognition and celebration. Such rituals can deepen relationships and energize the school community.

2. Professional learning focused on the school’s most important goals. The kind of professional learning I have in mind would occur as staff members analyzed various types of evidence regarding student learning, explored professional literature, and shared effective practices. It would seldom include what we think of as training or presentations.

3. Thoughtful deliberation regarding significant challenges and decisions that the school community faces. Because these conversations would be structured through the use of protocols or other small and large group activities, they would be focused and deep.

4. Next action thinking.”  Momentum would be maintained because meetings would always conclude with clarity about individual and collective responsibilities. As a result, there would be no confusion about who will do what, by when, and to what standard.

Administrivia, of course, would be eliminated or minimized. Administrative items would be distributed through email with clear explanations about what is expected from staff members.

Question: In your experience what are the ingredients of productive and energizing faculty meetings? What things have I missed?


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,622 other followers

Archives

Categories

Recent Twitter Posts