In advance of opening campus for another school year, school administrators across the nation are analyzing school data, tweeking their master schedules, and preparing for meetings with their teachers. Because effective instruction is the most predictive variable impacting student achievement, time with teachers is especially critical. Teachers are the most valuable resource our schools possess. It’s the school administrator’s job to stoke and direct the passion for teaching and learning, that resides within them.
The vehicle school leaders have for communicating, focusing, and connecting their staff is traditionally the regular staff meeting. For most teachers, this avenue is predictable and stale. I want to offer ideas that may take teachers by surprise, while accomplishing important goals.
- Be mission-driven. One clear role of the educational leader is to cast an inspirational picture of what our schools and classrooms can look like. It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out. But it needs to be crystal clear and inviting. Our teachers are already intrinsically motivated to make a difference for students. They need to hear how this is going to take place and why their efforts matter specifically. The best leaders are able to communicate this pressing mission in memorable ways, early in the year.
- Dedicate a portion of the time to creating community. Our staff will operate more effectively and with higher levels of satisfaction, if they feel connected to their colleagues. Without the space, time and prodding to connect with one another, too many of our teachers will end up feeling like they are working on an island. In these efforts, we are only limited by creative potential. Whether it be an after school trip to the roller coaster or more brief in-meeting activities, our job is to facilitate numerous opportunities for our staff to connect. I am aware of one administrative team that fund-raises throughout the year to pay for a swanky (semi-working) weekend at a high-end hotel. Their staff comes back from the weekend energized, and having interacted with all other staff.
- Be clear about the time frame, purpose, and expectations for teacher participation. Many strategies that work with students also work with adult learners. This is one of them. We all want to know what we are getting ourselves into. Structure communicated through meeting agendas, clearly explained purposes. Teachers like to know what to expect. So they may, even subconsciously, appreciate a ‘heads up’ that, “half of the meeting will involve training in a whole group. The other half of the meeting will require idea generation in smaller groups.”
- Let staff draw conclusions from data. You already looked at the data. You already know your student’s strengths and weaknesses. You may already even have plans for addressing the gaps in student performance. Hold back. Present the data to your staff. Then let them draw conclusions. This maneuver communicates what you believe about your staff: They are sharp. They know students well. And they want to see gains in student achievement.
- Allow for teacher choice. As educators, we believe that differentiated instruction is critical to pushing all students forward. Why don’t we employ the same philosophy, when it comes to moving teachers forward? Perhaps we should consider offering four teacher trainings every Monday of the month, requiring attendance to at least one session. Teachers have a sense of the areas that will improve their practice. If they choose to be there, their levels of engagement while at the training will be higher. Additionally, we need to acknowledge that the master teacher, with more than ten years of experience, has different needs than the first year teacher. It’s time to think differently about the 1X month staff meeting.
Teachers and time are our most valuable assets. Let’s use both of them well!
Image by Historias Visuales via Flickr.