Forward thinking leaders cannot afford to ‘cut and paste’ previous year’s agendas, and expect their staff to be prepared and engaged. Absent intentional and creative approaches to engaging staff, administrators might look up and see staff members sneaking looks at their phones, nodding compliantly with glazed eyes, or ruminating about the end of their summer fun.
I believe all school leaders want time with their staff to be practical, inspirational, and connecting. Too often, however, they are not experienced this way by teachers. Instead, consider these ideas when planning your staff meetings for the upcoming year:
Leave out communication that can be emailed. Much of the business that we bring into staff meetings can be communicated and received more efficiently through emails, memos, and individual conversations. Despite this fact, teacher staff meetings are too often flooded with reminders about textbook checkouts and copy room protocol. While structures, procedures and upcoming school events are important, we are trading in critical minutes and deflating a group of primed-for-PD educators.
Think about time in small chunks. We know that young students have trouble focusing over long periods of time. We might need to be reminded that adults have surprisingly short attention spans too. According to this Fobres article: “The average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now.” This reality has to impact the way we approach and conduct staff meetings. We should view speaking portions of our meetings as Ted Talks. They are focused, visually supported, scripted yet naturally delivered, and inspirational. Beyond a strong beginning, we should strive to break up the time by using different voices, facilitating structured teacher interaction, and even consider multiple learning environments. In the end, leaders have a responsibility to tailor learning experiences to the limitations of their learners. Adults, like young people, need extended time to be broken up.
Model effective instructional strategies.
It is one thing for a developing teacher to hear about effective instructional strategies. It is quite another thing for them to experience the ease of learning, from the perspective of a student, as an effective instructional strategy is employed. We know, from research on adult learning, that individuals will remember only 20% of what they hear. They will remember 50% of what they see and hear. And the percentage increases as they experience it. If our goal is that teachers ‘try on’ new or powerful modes of instruction, it’s important that we give them multiple vantage points and numerous opportunities.
Elicit laughter. The administrative team may need to dream up a running skit. The principal may need to recruit a computer savvy teacher to Photoshop teacher heads onto other folks bodies. Or maybe a ludicrous email, sent by a cranky neighbor could be read aloud. Whatever it takes, eliciting regular laughter will go a long way towards reinforcing the idea that your school is an exceptional place to work. Good things happen for kids when teachers believe this.
Feed them. I’m not suggesting that all staff meetings be catered by farm-to-table local restaurants as means of gaining whole staff favor. Instead, I urge administrators to consider that food is one easy avenue to meet a pressing need of the hurried teacher and to help them focus on content of professional development. A cooler full of Popsicles at the end of a hot day of teaching can say, “I care.” Trail mix and chilled bottled water can do the trick. And an occasional post-meeting splurge- maybe a taco cart- would have tens of teachers doing cartwheels.
Photo Angelica Portales via Flickr