Winter 2020

Making Magic Happen at Staff Meetings

What We Saw

I see you at the staff meeting secretly marking. I hear you saying, “this all could have been said in an email.” I feel your exhaustion from a day of supporting students and know that you have an evening of assessing their work and contacting parents. Sensing all of this inspired a new way of doing staff meetings at our school.

What Research Says

We knew we wanted to invite change and innovation in the way we were doing staff meetings, but before deciding on how to do that, we
began looking at the existing research. There is a lot of research out there, but the ideas below are what resonated most with us.

What We Tried

Staff Meetings have become a time to explore topics of professional interest. These include: going gradeless, the thinking classroom, integrating technology effectively into the classroom, collaborative problem solving (CPS), teaching critical thinking, supporting mental health in the classroom, and others. Lead teachers facilitate each learning group – it’s teachers leading teachers. Groups meet during staff meeting time. This provides the opportunity for educators to collaborate, brainstorm, wonder, question and plan. In fact, teachers have asked for more time to continue their journey, so time is now also carved out during PD days.

Through this model, we have noticed some wonderful things. Teachers emerge as leaders and mentors. Within groups, there are some
teachers who are more knowledgeable about the topic and they are able to inform the group and support other teachers’ professional development. Teachers are collaborating. Within groups, teachers are talking and contributing more than in a staff meeting or formal PD day because they all have a common interest. Teachers are co-planning. As teachers plan how they would implement their new learning into the classroom, they are talking with each other. This results in cross-curricular integration. Teachers lean on each other. Between staff meetings, teachers email each other to get feedback, they observe each other trying out innovative ideas and they continue the conversation at the lunch table.

What The Key Components Are

We believe that there are 7 key components that lead to a successful staff meeting model.

  1. Purposeful. Students need to be put at the forefront. The purpose of the group needs to support student engagement, learning, achievement or relationships.
  2. Collaborative. You need people working in a team. Someone cannot pursue their own individual topic, because it detracts from the ability to see a different perspective.
  3. Personalized. There needs to be a variety of groups for educators to choose from, so that they can explore something that is of professional interest. The topics need to be staff generated so that everyone can see themselves in the learning.
  4. Goal-oriented. There needs to be a specific goal that the group wants to attain by the end of a specific time period. If it’s too broad and lengthy, it’s impossible to reach the goal making the process frustrating. Internal accountability is built into each group – the group is transparent and non-judgemental.
  5. Inquiry-based. Rather than the administrator or lead teacher deciding on the goal and direction of the group, the group needs to collaborate to identify what their learning journey will be. They need to explore their own answers.
  6. Safe Environment. Educators need to feel comfortable to share their success and failures with each other, without fear of judgement. Each challenge is seen as an opportunity to explore answers to the question, “What can we do next?”
  7. Learner-centered. Each individual educator in a group needs to be responsible for the learning and journey therefore, they can move at their own pace. Everyone learns differently and each educator needs to feel free to learn as they want to. 

In the end, administrators need to be comfortable with giving up control of the learning and the notion of “one size fits all” PD. Educators are professionals and know where their interests lie and where their needs are. As leaders, we need to create a culture that deeply values teacher-learning, and support educators through differentiating the learning. When we create a model that encompasses the 7 key components discussed above and when we trust our teachers to engage in their learning, the magic will happen! 

What The Impact Is

When we asked teachers about the impact of their learning, they shared the following:

  • The “try, fail, learn, try again to attain success” motto was adopted.
    This demonstrates teachers adopting a growth mindset modelling it for their students.
  • Teachers became adopters of multiple opportunities for assessment prior to evaluation leading to increased student engagement and greater productivity in the students’ learning.
    This demonstrates the implementation of the assessment and evaluation process leading to increased student achievement.
  • Learning groups had new questions emerge that prompted a desire to continue learning.
    This demonstrates the creation of a collaborative learning community so that we’re working to engage today’s 21st century learners.

When we reflect on the impact, we saw the following:

  • Increased interest in learning and professional development.
  • Teachers were more enthusiastic about the process when we initiated it again this year.
  • Change in how we teach, how we evaluate, how we connect, how we learn.

The impact is that teachers engaged in learning that led them to explore, in an authentic way, concepts like growth mindset, aspects of Growing Success , assessment and evaluation, critical thinking, the power of relationships as developed through collaborative problem solving in its relational context and teaching in today’s 21st century classroom. Because teachers were passionate about what they were exploring, it led to sustained, job-embedded professional development. It led to change. 

By Dr. Sunaina Sharma and Rebecca Newcombe

Decker, Ryan. “No. 198/ A mile wide, an inch deep.” Ryan Decker (blog), 8 Feb. 2018.
Fullan, Michael, and Joanne Quinn. Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems, 2016. Print.
Katz, Steven, and Lisa A. Dack. Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform Professional Practice. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Corwin, 2013. Print.
Pink, Daniel H. “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”. YouTube, 1 Apr. 2010.
Spencer, John, and A J. Juliani. Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. , 2017. Print.

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