Monday, March 26, 2012

Staff Meeting Blues

As BC school administrators and teachers consider what will happen in the wake of Bill 22 and the better part of a year in "Phase 1" job action, it's time to take a closer look at the eventual return to staff meetings.

One of the most common quips heard during job action was "it's been real nice not having to go to staff meetings." That's dreadful -- if the meetings are that bad, why have them?

If your school staff is excited to return to the meeting table, then you really have cause to celebrate. But if you're with most schools and you are looking for ways to make staff meetings more effective, purposeful, engaging and generally less mind-numbing, you may want to read on for resources and challenges to your thinking.

Professional tools for administrators
This staff meeting assessment tool is from the Pacific Slope Consortium (critical thinking initiative, local/BC focus). It is intended to provoke some thought around what's working, what's not, and what's next. The discussion questions focus on the effort that takes place before a staff meeting begins.

First chance for new start
The stakes are high for the first get-together after job action. Local teachers have formally expressed their reticence to engage in email communications and professional development that is directed by administration, so the attention to detail at staff meetings is one of the most significant short-term actions an administrator can take towards positive patterns and intentions towards staff development. The "post-Bill 22" landscape may seem to have a chilly climate, but administrators are encouraged to see this as an opportunity to model a collaborative vision for their schools or even to make a fresh start on school culture.

Administrators have had ten months to plan for the "next" staff meeting; teachers will want to know what their team has prepared. Will we sort out how decisions are made? Revisit plans and projects that have been put on hold? How is the agenda set? How much "learning" or staff development can we expect, how much is just information, how will we be involved and valued? When we are unsure about process, do we establish some norms, use Robert's Rules, or make it up as we go along? Who gets left out when the process is in doubt? What value is placed on inclusion, on rigorous discourse? How much time should elapse between the introduction of an idea, a proposed action, and a staff decision? How unique is our experience at staff meetings? What other "elephants in the room" will we acknowledge and address? Each staff has a glut of questions and expectations, built up over months if not years, many of which they are reluctant to express.

Context for staff meeting success
As with most school-wide endeavours, the whole staff should own the success or failure of staff meetings, but the meeting at its most basic level is a chance for administration to involve staff in a collective effort for improvement of student learning and stakeholder satisfaction. The principal or his/her designate has a captive audience, sets the scope & tone of the meeting and usually the agenda. With that in mind, here some resources for

1. Developing a positive school improvement culture:

2. Exploring ideas on fixing staff meetings:

3. Professional growth plans with a focus on dynamic standards and staff development:

4. Factors affecting staff motivation: (see claims 4-6)

New Expectations
The BCED plan highlights innovation, accountability, collaboration, flexibility, and use of technology. BCPSEA, the government's negotiator, aims to give more oversight for these things to administrators, so teachers are naturally wondering what this look like and whether their administrators will lead with something creative, accountable, collaborative, flexible, and digitally adept. At the same time, the current contract mediation raises issues of where the locus of control resides on job suitability, professional autonomy, and class/composition issues. Staff are looking for some concise and thoughtful reflections on how their administrators will approach these issues in their school context. Will these items come up at your next staff meeting? How important is the "reassurance" factor? What kind of meeting do you envision when the status quo has been dissociated? What are your other staff meeting issues or goals? How do you plan to take them on, either as leaders or as a whole? If you have the time -- administrators, teachers, or others -- I'm interested in your responses; please leave a comment below.


Tara Olivetree said...

Why would teachers want to collaborate with administrators when they actively sought the removal of class size limits in 2002 and they have remained totally silent in the wake of Bill 22? I am waiting for a single administrator to speak up about Bill 22.

Sarah Holland said...

Fascinating article - will have to see about passing on.

And I would assume that teachers would want to collaborate with administrators to make schools work, no?

Thielmann said...

Excellent question, and one of the main reasons I posted these thoughts on staff meetings. Administrators need to know that their staffs have high expectations, regardless of whether they are met -- the ball is their court. Management (and the gov't) need to know what we would like to see in a functional relationship, need to know that teachers have no shortage of solutions whenever they are ready to talk. Same with Bill 22 and advocacy. Same with pro-d and professional growth plans. Same with web presence and thoughtful communications.

There are perhaps some schools where staff meetings meet high standards for creativity, inclusion, and collaboration, but this does not appear to be the norm, especially now. School culture will be in toxic shock everywhere as a result of Bill 22, so it's a great time to remind all educators what a healthy relationship could look like. Any administrator that takes the time to conduct the assessment will quickly realize that some kind of response to what Bill 22 means to teachers is necessary in order to rebuild some trust.

Thielmann said...

You are welcome to share it. Teachers are less likely to want to collaborate with administration now than in any time since I have been a teacher, but that doesn't mean we can't hold a light up to what we do and articulate some positive ideals around what a functional relationship could look like.

In the past, the barriers to that relationship involved a number of factors including school culture, history, personalities, vision, and skill-sets among admin and teachers. Now, Bill 22 has added a political barrier -- the staff meeting is a microcosm of how teachers and the Ministry of Education interact; the admin team are bound to carry out a Ministry mandate, in some sense they asked for the mandate. So, all of the issues in Bill 22 come to bear on the staff meeting -- constitutional rights, professional autonomy, evaluation, suitability, class composition, etc.

Thielmann said...

I must admit I'm also tired of seeing gaping issues and unresolved problems in our education system, and (even when prompted) getting very little offered in terms of solutions by management-based leadership. If that means that I have to volunteer this aspect of leadership, I'm o.k. with that. My experience has usually been that when a leadership vacuum exists (or curricular, philosophic, organizational, technological), I get to build, behold, and be accountable to my own non-coercive vision, or the freely-derived vision built by colleagues that I trust, even my whole staff at times. Administration can't really complain -- the results are awesome (re teaching & learning) and the work is pedagogically sound, creative, intelligent and contagious. I don't see that changing anytime soon unless the gov't figures out a way to fill those vacuums with cooperative gains on the management side!