Although meetings are a context for collaboration, they are not collaboration itself. It is totally possible for collaboration to exist without meetings, and it is also totally possible for meetings to exist without collaboration.
True collaboration becomes part of a school culture when educators are inclined to be collaborative. Not because they have been told to collaborate, but because they can see the value in it for learning.
This inclination to be collaborative involves a number of habits. Here’s my take on what 7 of them might be…
- Friendliness – Highly collaborative educators are basically friendly. They enjoy chatting with people, and this opens up a myriad of possibilities to enrich learning. Because they are friendly, other teachers like hanging out with them and this makes it much easier to work together. Pretty simple really.
- Being curious – Highly collaborative educators are naturally curious, always asking questions and always interested in what is going around them. This curiosity is infectious and invites other teachers and students to get involved. Curious people are more likely to stick their head into other classrooms, more likely to probe in order to find out what people really mean and more likely to take an interest in what other people think. They are learners and are highly aware of how much there is to learn from their colleagues, students and community.*
- Looking and listening for connections – Highly collaborative educators want to be collaborative and are, consciously or subconsciously, alert and actively seeking out connections and relationships with ideas, knowledge, talents, skills, thoughts, places and people. Because of this natural connectivity inclination, highly collaborative people become more receptive to coincidence, serendipity and good fortune that can make learning rich, complex and real.
- Continuing the thinking – Highly collaborative educators don’t switch their brains off when they leave the school campus and back on again when they arrive the next day. They’re still thinking late into the night, jotting down notes, sharing ideas on social media, reading blogs, contacting other educators and collaborating with a wide variety of networks. In addition, they generally like to share what they’ve learned with their colleagues over coffee the next day and don’t feel ashamed about “talking shop”!
- Putting learning first – Highly collaborative educators automatically generate more work for themselves by putting learning first, they can’t help themselves! When you put learning first, you remain open to all possibilities and are always keen to explore them further to see if they will have an impact on learning, and these possibilities frequently involve collaborating with other people.
- Making time – Highly collaborative educators do not allow themselves to use time as an excuse not to collaborate. If there’s an idea they want to share with a colleague, they make the time to talk to them. If someone needs or wants to talk with them, they make time to listen generously. If an idea demands more time to become fully developed, they make the time to work on it. Most importantly, they don’t wait to be told what time they can collaborate, they just do it instinctively.
- Making thinking visible – Highly collaborative people invite others to join them by putting their thinking “out there”. They are honest about what they think, they make crazy suggestions, they verbalise possibilities, they expose their vulnerabilities, they take public notes and draw visuals in meetings, they offer to help, they leave their doors open (or remove them), they stick post-its on the wall, they display quotes, they write, they share. Far from being about attention-seeking or self-promotion, these tendencies are all about looking for like minds, allies and the desire to be better educators.
Would you add more to this list?
Thanks to Chye de Ryckel for asking the question that prompted me to write this blog post!
*Thanks to Alison Francis for adding more to the Being curious habit.
Artwork: Totem Pole by Ken Vieth
As a previous Grade 5 Coordinator, I know that one of the biggest responsibilities is leading planning meetings. So much pre-planning goes into this process. Having to think about the best way to approach, angle and guide this process is challenging, yet also exciting! While I have a clear plan on how the learning could go, it is my role to provoke the thinking so we can shape our understanding together.
The most successful way to bring great thinking to the table is to create the opportunity for it. This happens in the way of running a retreat – a retreat for planning, a retreat for ideas to emerge. We have always done this as part of the PYP Exhibition unit. The team has always walked away from these retreats making concrete and meaningful connections and a shared vision on how to drive the Exhibition unit together. We get so much from running this and the protocols of thinking that come with it, to drill down to the core of our ideas and understanding.
But, why only for the Exhibition unit?
In my new role, I have a much wider responsibility to ensure that 7 teams are planning relevant, significant, meaningful and challenging units. At our school, we write ‘reports’ at the end of each unit. The trap that we were falling into each and every time was that when we arrived at the beginning of a new unit, teachers were ill-prepared and making things up on the fly. This is called reality – our reality. Having our 40 minute planning meetings were simply not cutting it. This is because teachers had finishing up on writing reports, following through with assessments to gauge student’s understanding of the unit along with all the other practicalities and formalities of day to day teaching. This simply was causing teachers more stress and angst and ultimately, students were suffering as a result.
To this end, we have now introduced 1/2 day planning retreats for each team. These retreats happen 2 weeks before the next unit commences. This gives teachers time to think about the learning, engage in conversations early and get energized about possibilities and ideas.
What does this look like?
It really is pretty simple. For one whole week and 2 days for the following week, each grade level will have planning time. Cover is arranged for their classes and we are able to dive into those deep conversations that simply can’t happen in a 40 minute time frame. By the time teachers settled into the 40 minute planning meeting, teachers knew that students were about to walk through those doors again and any momentum worth running with is lost. It is this piecemeal approach that was getting in the way of designing the best provocations and ideas around the central idea.
The impact – what are are teachers saying?
Teachers now seek me out when the next planning retreat is and get in early to pick an ideal day for them. They feel more confident about that first week as things have been thought through. They can focus on writing their reports (well and thoughtfully and honestly) knowing that there is clarity, vision and understanding on how to move the learning forward for the up and coming unit.
Students are the clear benefactors in this process. Teachers are more focused. And as for me, I get to spend more time in classes, to see the planning transfer and transpire into the taught curriculum. Nothing better when a plan comes together!
The small cost in organizing ‘cover’ for teachers is well worth the investment. Give it a go!
A more positive post….. and feeling so much better because of it.
Sam and I ran a Time and Space workshop at Mt. Scopus last month and we shared that anything good we have ever done has come out of a negative situation. We were always able to turn things around to make it work for us. This is another example of turning it around…
We all know meetings are part of any workplace. And there is a place for meetings as they are important – that’s if they are done the right way.
We have a morning briefing every morning. Time: 1 hr and 15 min a week, not including 5 minutes either side. This is just for morning briefing, not including all the other countless meetings.
Today, the Administration were off campus on school-related business and I was asked to ‘run’ the morning briefing. I have been sensing the tension and frustration regarding these meetings as they are seen as dead time.
Time to value time.
I opened the meeting up by stating how important the morning is to prepare, greet students and ease into the day. The morning time sets the pace and tone for the rest of the day. I asked if there were any announcements; however, if anyone wished to share something, it had to have two or more of the following:
- Affect 50% or more of the people in the room;
- Impact teaching and/or learning;
- Be something that would make the day run more smoothly;
- Be something that we really needed to know.
No one had anything to say. Meeting was closed after 60 seconds which meant we have 14 minutes to just get on with it.
Teachers were in their rooms setting up for the day, as they should. Teachers were greeting and acknowledging kids as they came to class, as they should. Teachers were putting pieces of student work up on display, as they should. This is how precious mornings really are. We get to all the things that we missed the day before or prepare for the first lesson or that meeting in period Two.
I was able to catch up with the Year 3 Teachers and talk about real teaching and learning during this 14 minute window we had ‘dug out’ for ourselves. Everyone’s energy had shifted because our time was freed to do the things that are important. By valuing how we use time we were able to create the space to talk and share.
We need to keep asking ourselves – “Why are we doing this?”
As a school we are going to look at the effectiveness of the morning briefings. A good leadership team will listen, a great one will do something about it. This leadership team is willing to address these meetings. POSITIVE.
If we can’t explain the purpose and it doesn’t make sense – change it. Focus on the things that deserve your attention, time and energy. Your teachers will not only respect you, but follow you!
I was speaking to Kevin Bartlett recently. Kevin is the Director of International School Brussels and one of the leading educational innovators behind the creation of the PYP. We were talking about leadership and he said:
“If leadership is not improving learning, there is no leadership.”
This made me think of the many hundreds of things that take up our time in education and I altered Kevin’s statement a bit to become:
“If our time is not being used to improve learning, we might be wasting it.”
Have a look at your working week, your school calendar, your meeting agenda. Are some things on there that will not improve learning? If so, do you need to do them?
Go on. Scrap ’em!!! Take back that time, you need it.
Here are the PowerPoint slides that I used when wrapping up the three Language Arts meetings about our beliefs and values. I wanted to try and make sure you left feeling as though you had been part of something purposeful, and something that will be sustained.
I have recently been doing a lot of thinking about how we use time in schools, and I have come to the sobering conclusion that we don’t use time – we abuse time.
One way that we abuse time is meetings. Many times, in my 7 years of teaching, I have attended meetings that have blatantly abused the time of everybody in the room. I believe that anyone proposing to hold a meeting should go through the following thought-process:
I am about to take time away from people.
Do I really need to take time away from people?
Are there alternative, more “time-smart” methods of doing what I hoped to do in a meeting?
If I do need to hold a meeting, how will I make sure the time I take away from people is time well-spent?
I think this simple process would help, what do you think? Do you know any schools that are trying to do something along these lines?