I am sure every educator looks forward to staff meetings, right? Frequently, this is not the case. Many times, staff meetings become housekeeping lists, presentations on topics, and there is little interaction among teachers. Trust me, I’m guilty of leading this kind of staff meeting, and not just once, but for many years.
After intense reflection, I have decided it is time to change the outlook of staff meetings. I want them to be positive, collaborative learning communities, where ideas are shared and staff walks away energized. I want my staff to look forward to coming together, not dreading the topic or the format.
So, the staff meeting focus is now one of instruction, professional learning and sharing, and conversation, centered around topics to help move our school to the next level. As a lead learner in my building, it is important for me to facilitate the meeting, offering opportunities for discussion and idea-sharing.
The staff meeting focus is now one of instruction, professional learning and sharing.
If the meeting’s focus now changes, when do I share housekeeping items and other to-do tasks? I flip this information, sending it through Weekly Notes, my weekly email to staff with positive encouragement and the tasks at hand. I create a Month at a Glance, sharing a screencast presentation with upcoming events and tasks for the month. I screencast other quick information and send it to my staff so that they can watch this information on their own time and as many times as they would like.
With housekeeping tasks out of the way, staff meetings are no longer meetings, but collaboration opportunities, bringing together teachers to generate conversation and sharing an various school improvement and curriculum/instruction topics. And this is where great tech tools come in to play.
There are great tech tools that can help facilitate and draw in powerful conversation and collaboration among staff. Modeling use with staff can help promote its use in classrooms as well.
Here are are six I have used and truly enjoy in our staff conversations.
Kahoot is a free, interactive gaming tool to use not just with students, but with staff as well. Anyone can make a Kahoot game with multiple choice questions. “Players” use devices to join the game and choose their answers. The game ticks down the seconds for each question, and adding to the competitive spirit, Kahoot displays the leader scoreboard after each question.
I have played Kahoot games where it was simply a light-hearted list of questions for laughs, bringing together the group, opening up discussion. For instance, for our administrative retreat, we opened with a superhero quiz, sparking our discussion on celebrating our schools through social media. I have also made and played Kahoot games where the questions were introductions to the topics to be discussed in the meeting, such as when our staff was analyzing our strengths and the team wanted a fun way to get feedback. Kahoot is a fun tool, and a must for any meeting facilitator to try.
2. Poll Everywhere
I have used Poll Everywhere in many staff meetings. I have always used the free version, and it works well for meetings with under 25 participants. With a quick poll, any facilitator can gauge the know-how of the group, as well as the feelings toward a particular topic. Staff can use their cell phones or any other device to give their response, and it is completely anonymous.
There are many kinds of polls that can be used, with questions ranging from multiple choice to open response. The fun comes in how those responses are displayed. I can use a bar graph, word clusters, or even form wordles with the responses from my staff, displayed in real time. During a staff collaboration as we were writing our literacy promise to our students, we used the wordle version in Poll Everywhere to determine the most frequently used words in our individual statements. It is a powerful visual for staff, especially when we discuss more opinionated topics.
3. Today’s Meet
This is one of my favorites to use during staff meetings. Educators are talkers, and we are also multi-taskers! Today’s Meet is a free backchannel to use for any meeting. It is easy to use as well, and I always encourage my staff to share insights, kudos, and resources through our Today’s Meet backchannel in many collaborations. It is a quick way to encourage that discussion behind the scenes, or share resources as others discuss the topic. For my staff, it is a great first step into the social media backchannel concept.
While not used as much as I had planned, Padlet is another interactive web tool, allowing users to post thoughts, comments, resources, videos, and pictures. I created a Padlet wall for my staff, password protected to encourage initial sharing of ideas, so they could post relevant resources and ideas they come across as they work through curriculum and instruction pieces. It is simple to use, but any leader must facilitate the time for sharing more, as is the case with our current Padlet wall. For our staff, it is yet another way to share, and the more modes we have to collaborate, the more open our school will be to share.
I have known about Livebinders for a while, as they are a 3-ring binder in a virtual world. The tabs on the screen are the tabs we would find in our binders sitting on shelves in our classrooms. All the subtabs are the great resources and websites we sort under those topics. I have always used Livebinders as a resource, but never created one until recently. With an end-goal in mind, we started a Livebinder with the intention of creating a warehouse of intervention resources, and I was the owner of that Livebinder initially. What we didn’t realize is that we could collaborate on the same Livebinder, all contributing to the creation of this warehouse. Now, Livebinder is yet another vehicle the staff is using to pool resources together, sharing what they find, contributing to the creation of our own great resource.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Google as a vital tool for my staff to collaborate and learn together. We are now a Google Apps for Education school district, and it has literally transformed the way we collaborate. We use Google Drive to share documents and lesson plans, collaborate on spreadsheets of data, and collaborate on agendas for other meetings. We have built folders together as a school, preparing for our accreditation reports, sharing artifacts and evidence within the folder, all with a few clicks. It is exciting to see a group of teachers, working together on the same document, discussing it as they add to it, all taking an equal part in the creation of the plan. It is equally exciting to see this kind of collaboration then move into the classroom with students, watching how they too use this tool to build content together.
Tech tools are wonderful, but it is always important to keep in mind WHY we use them. In this case, tech tools become a vehicle for collaboration and sharing among staff during common times they meet. In order to move staff meetings away from housekeeping lists or presentations, we must create collaborative professional learning communities to bring people together with a shared purpose and direction. By facilitating those opportunities using amazing tech tools, we not only give teachers time and formats to share, but they also learn about the tools they can take into their classroom to use with their students. Building a school culture of collaboration and sharing takes our schools to a higher level, and one to showcase as prime examples of the amazing work our educators do every day.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, peddhapati.