Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Back to School Meetings...Inspiring or Procedural?

It is time to go back to school, which means staff meetings. Are these exciting or procedural? Inspirational, or a long list of things to do?

A few years ago, the staff meetings I prepared were ridiculously long. I greatly apologize to any teacher who has sat through them. I would spend two weeks preparing the presentation, incorporating inspirational videos and quotes, filling in policies and procedures where I could. I would make copies of sign-off sheets, sign-up sheets, and schedules galore. While I tried to excite and inspire my staff, I mostly covered the housekeeping and required sign-offs, taking nearly 2-3 hours of their time on the first staff day.

I didn’t know any differently. I just created what I used to sit through as a teacher. However, that is no excuse. Just because that is the method of the past, doesn't mean it is best today, right? And, time is precious. Do I want my teachers preparing for their students or listening to me? That is not a hard question to answer.

So, I had to make a change. On the first days of school, teachers want and need to be in their classrooms getting ready for the start of school.  Their first impression with students and parents is just as important as the first staff meeting’s first impression. In addition, this is valuable time to continue the collaborative processes with colleagues in their teams.

Ultimately, I needed to make better use of the time during the first staff days, however, we still want to meet as a staff to bring together our vision and drive for the new school year.

So, how can we maximize time, cover all we need to cover with policies, procedures, and vision, and still inspire and create excitement for the upcoming school year?

Flip it.

I have seen teachers use this method, and the results are outstanding. Not only are students engaged, asking questions, and getting the help they need, but the use of time can be more effective and efficient.

And so, for the past couple of years, I have been trying to use the time with my staff differently, allocating more time on discussion and reflection, building our vision together, thus spending less time on procedures and policies.

Today, I flip all policy and procedural information at the beginning of the year, making videos and Google Forms for sign-offs. The videos are beautifully integrated into the Google Form, making it easy for teachers to watch and complete. I screencast staff handbook information as well, plus some important reminders as we start school. I load everything in Google Classroom and give teachers a month to complete it all, taking care of all those required duties and expectations. It is not lost in email, but always in a location that is easy to find.

Even more than that, within one of the forms, I provide a space for questions. If a staff member has a question, they can type it there privately, and I will respond privately to them by either stopping by their classroom or emailing the answer.

I have found so many advantages of flipping information for my staff, not only using this strategy at the beginning of the school year, but I use it throughout the year to front-load discussion meetings, send housekeeping information out each month, and create how-to videos when we start something new. It has saved time for all, but more importantly, it has transformed our staff meetings into collaborative discussions.

This switch was about a change in culture, not about a cool tool. I used a strategy to better make use of the time we have as a staff, intentionally making time for what is truly important - our collective growth to be our best for our students.

While it was a change at first, now this is deeply embedded in the culture of our school. I have watched this strategy transform our classrooms as well, with information delivered via video to our students, so they can watch it multiple times, so more time is spent on creating, making, building, and doing, and less on sitting and listening to a teacher. This is so exciting to see!

We are making better use of our time - inside and outside the classroom - to grow and learn together, young and old. One simple act has transformed our school, and I know more simple acts like this will continue to do so.

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