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?