Keep That Conversation Going! Create a Staff Backchannel

Have you ever sat in a staff meeting, thinking about the topic and wanting to jump up and share, but felt you couldn’t because it wasn’t the time or place to do so? Have you ever jotted down a great statement during a meeting or staff collaboration session, wanting to remember it because it struck a chord with you? Have you ever listened to a colleague share an idea and thought of a great resource you have related to that strategy, but you didn’t have the chance to share it?

And let’s be honest. We, as educators, can be a tough crowd sometimes during meetings, collaboration times, and in learning sessions. We are talkative, just like our students, and it is hard for anyone to sit for a long period of time without wanting to share an idea or think of a great tool to use. 

This is where backchannels come in!

A backchannel is a “place” where the conversation can happen during a meeting or inservice. It is a digital conversation happening in the background, often times found through a Twitter hashtag.  When I attend conferences nowadays, I always ask if there is a hashtag available to share. Most larger conferences advertise their hashtag well in advance, using it to share resources, speakers, advice, and information. This hashtag becomes a popular voice for the conference participants, as they tweet great quotes, insights, resources, and blog posts. During a keynote address, attendees furiously jot down quotes, sharing their “aha” moments, statements that resonate with them and they wish to share with their followers. Session presenters push out their handouts and advertise their session through this hashtag. And, many times, the attendees tweet resources they use or have recently found. It is where I can connect with passionate educators. The network of connections with inspirational educators fuels the conference, enhancing and sometimes becoming the most prominent tool of learning. Along with this, if I cannot attend a particular conference in person, I follow the stream from home, still learning with those who are there.

So, I thought to myself, “Why can’t we have a STAFF backchannel to use during our own meetings and professional learning?” 

Therefore, at the beginning of the school year, I decided to create a staff backchannel for my staff. I enjoyed the conversations I had with my staff before and after meetings and professional learning opportunities, but I knew there was much more to the conversation going on behind the scenes. I know there are great ideas floating around the building, and so creating a backchannel for them to share throughout the entire building was an important step to growing our collaborative efforts.

Last summer when I created my Google site for educators, my goal was to build a place where resources and ideas could be shared. Building links to a backchannel was an easy solution. I wanted this backchannel to be a safe place for sharing, since many of my staff has not had much experience with sharing on these collaborative platforms, so I customized permissions on particular tabs, designed for my staff to use regularly. 

website tabs

First, I have found Padlet an easy way to post and share ideas. I linked one tab on my Google site to a Staff Sharing Padlet, and password-protected the Padlet so only my staff could access the page. Here, they post ideas, links, and videos. I have demonstrated how to use Padlet with my staff, giving them the special password to this page, and a few have been brave and shared wonderful resources.

Then, I wanted to see the conversation blossom, so I used TodaysMeet to do the job. TodaysMeet is one of the easiest platforms to set up for conversation. I created a room in a matter of seconds, making sure the length of time for the room was set at “one year”, and then used the link in my Google site. Done! My staff now has a place for continual conversation.

After demonstrating how to use TodaysMeet at the beginning of one of our collaboration meetings, my staff was encouraged to jump on the backchannel during meetings. It is here that questions have been posed, and links to resources have been shared. While it is not used as often as I would eventually like for it to be visited, our staff backchannel has brought up good questions and offered insight that typically wouldn’t have been shared beyond a few colleagues. 

Stepping out of your comfort zone is never easy, but to try something new and bring others on board with you is quite rewarding. The conversation about education and the many topics we can discuss on a daily basis are important – it is through these conversations that we learn and grow. Our schools house passionate educators, who on a daily basis, do amazing work for our students. They have great insight and resources, but to share those, we must create safe, collaborative environments to promote a community of sharing. This culture of sharing takes time, and yet is a powerful building block for an effective school.

Let the conversation continue, as it is this community of sharing and leaning on each other’s expertise which will ultimately help our students grow to their fullest potential.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Waag Society.

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