Rethinking Staff Meetings

Posted: August 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

For the past three school years I worked for a principal who took away staff meetings and changed how she communicated with the staff. I asked her if she could write about reasoning for this for me to share on my blog. I want to thank Wendy for taking the time during her busy schedule to write and share her thoughts.

The following is a guest post written by Wendy Moore (@wlbmoore), Principal of Emporia Middle School in Emporia, Kansas.

I have never been one that LOVES meetings.  As a teacher, I dreaded Tuesday afternoons primarily because that meant it was time for a FACULTY MEETING! These meetings were always the same. My principal would stand in front and deliver a mile long list of reminders and requests to the staff. Rarely was there interaction among the group; it was a stand and deliver performance. The meetings usually lasted 45 minutes each, and we had one EVERY Tuesday after school.

In my sixth year of teaching, I experienced Tuesday afternoons in a very different way. My principal at the time added a twist to the Tuesday afternoon meeting: professional sharing and learning. Each week she identified staff to share great things that she had seen or observed. She also used that time as another opportunity to enrich the skills of the staff through professional learning.

When I became a building principal in 2005, I took my previous experiences and morphed them into my own structure of communicating necessary “nuts and bolts” information, as well as finding additional time for collaboration and professional learning. I also was working in a district that valued collaboration. Our staff has 2.5 hours each week outside of the school day designated for professional collaboration. As a principal, I can “schedule” two hours of that time each week. I value that time and honor it for my staff, but I also realize there are faculty meeting topics that must be shared. To balance these things, I use two primary tools to communicate with staff: Weekly Words and Faculty Focus.

Weekly Words

The concept of the Weekly Words is very simple. This is a document that includes important reminders and topics that staff need to know to be successful during the week or upcoming weeks. I have a template that I have developed over the years that I have shared with my secretary. She and I work collaboratively on this shared document (Thank goodness for Google Docs!) throughout the week to create the document that is shared with staff on Friday afternoons. My template includes the following components:

  • Weekly calendar of events: My secretary is in charge of this piece. She includes my weekly calendar and the weekly calendar of scheduled events for our school and district. Staff then know where I’m at throughout the week and also have knowledge of community events as well.
  • Upcoming events: My secretary includes upcoming dates to give staff a longer outlook on events that are coming soon to our school.
  • Curriculum and Instruction: This section is used to communicate information that comes from our Teaching and Learning department or to communicate information about building initiatives. I include items such as testing schedules, walk-through “look-for”, weekly AVID strategies to include in lessons or amazing things I saw in my travels around the building that week.
  • Nuts and Bolts: This is the section that is dedicated to faculty meeting announcements. This section includes general information about district topics, building committee announcements, or any other non-curriculum related announcements. My secretary helps me add content to this section as well.
  • Things I Have Been Reading: This is a section that I added last year. I am reader and I believe it is important that my staff sees this modeled for them. This is where I share links to things I have read that I think staff would enjoy hearing more about. I also use this section as a way to plant seeds in the minds of my staff for things that may be coming to our building soon. My content comes from my Twitter feed, Feedly, and Zite. I also share information that I’m reading from any professional book I’m reading at the time.

Weekly Words works well for me and for my staff. I explain this structure and routine to my staff early on so they understand that reading it each week is expected. The expectation is that they refer to the Weekly Words often and rely on it for their information. This tool has helped to keep staff informed and reduces the number of emails that are sent out from the office. Weekly Words allows me to use our collaboration time for my next structure: Faculty Focus.

Faculty Focus

As I shared before, my school district has made collaboration a priority by dedicating  2.5 hours each week for this purpose. My district has also made professional learning a priority by scheduling professional learning days throughout the school year. Even though there are scheduled days in our calendar for this purpose, my belief is that professional learning is an ongoing process. It should be job-embedded as much as possible and it should be followed up through coaching and ongoing feedback. That becomes difficult to do when scheduled days are dropped in randomly throughout the school year.  I use one of the 2 hour blocks each month for Faculty Focus, or professional learning.

Faculty Focus has become even more important in the school where I’m now the principal. I’m in a 6-8 middle school with 80 certified staff and 30 classified staff members. The size of the building and the staff makes it easy to hide and become isolated from one another. Faculty Focus is a monthly opportunity to come together as a staff to celebrate one another and learning together.

Our monthly Faculty Focus follows this simple format:

    • FOOD: Each month a grade level or department is responsible for providing a breakfast snack for the group. Everyone looks forward to the social time and the great food that people bring.
    • Good things: Each gathering begins with this routine that we learned through our Capturing Kids Hearts training. Five minutes is dedicated to exploring the great things that are happening in the lives of our staff. These few minutes help to build connections and strengthen relationships in the group. Each month I learn new things about the staff that I spend my days with each month.
    • Recognition of staff members: We have a staff and student celebration committee at our school that plans celebrations and activities throughout the school year. One thing this group does is recognize a certified staff member and a classified staff member each month. All staff are asked to write two affirmations (or nominations) to be included in the drawing. These affirmations are your ticket into the door on Faculty Focus days. The committee draws two names and these folks are celebrated for a few minutes in front of the group. All affirmations that were entered are then distributed to those that received them. This is just one more way our staff has worked to connect and celebrate each other.
    • Professional learning time: This time is dedicated to presenting and modeling new strategies or content that supports our building plan and district initiatives. Facilitators can be our instructional coaches, the assistant principals, other staff members or me. We are working hard to differentiate the learning through readiness, process and/or products. Each session ends with an “assignment” that asks staff to implement the new learning in their classrooms. These assignments become our “look-fors” during walk-throughs and also lead to discussion of student  work in future Faculty Focus meetings.
    • Launch:  This occurs at the very end of our Faculty Focus time. The purpose of this time is to inspire and encourage staff to keep the focus on why we do what we do each and every day: STUDENTS.  It may include an exit ticket where we ask staff to commit to their new learning. Sometimes we share a funny video, an inspirational quote, or just a heartfelt thanks to send the staff out to face their day. The important thing about a launch is to end and send your staff on their way!

Both of these routines take time in my days to ensure they are planned appropriately and are worthwhile to the staff. I rely on my instructional coaches and my assistants for input. I also collaborate with the building leadership team to ensure we are meeting the needs of their instructional teams. My experience over the last ten years as an administrator is that the time I spend doing this pays off in the long run. I am able to communicate information in a timely manner, while providing professional learning in an ongoing manner to my staff.

Taking care of the adults in our school community is my priority so that they can, in turn, take care of the students who enter our doors.  What ways do you do this in your school community?

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