Refocusing the Conversation

A few days ago, my colleagues and I finished the second of two days of opening faculty meetings. I don’t mind sharing that planning several days of meetings, whether those at beginning or end of the year, creates a bit of anxiety for me. After all, I know there is a lot of eye rolling when faculty come back to school at the end of a long summer to sit in a few days of meetings. Before I was the one charged with organizing these meetings, I recall participating in some eye rolling!

Too often, faculty feel like the primary agenda of these meetings is to exhaust people before we welcome students back to campus. Information overload and handouts are a staple of this meeting type, rather than the inspiration and professional development opportunities needed to start the year in the best possible way. It is interesting then, to think about how teachers often start our classes. Syllabi are prepared and explained in detail. Late policies, homework expectations, and academic honesty are discussed. Essentially, many of our students endure a comparable experience in each of their five to seven courses! Where is the inspiration or opportunity to piqué their interest from day one? More on that later…

I say this as syllabus and policy explainer…at least until this year. After joining Twitter this summer, I became aware of the #1st5days hashtag and conversation. Inspired by what I read related to starting the year differently, I oriented our opening meetings around the following principles:

1.) Set the tone for the year.

As in years past, I built in an opportunity at the start of the first day of meetings to speak to the faculty about my thoughts on the year ahead. Given that we are in the midst of implementing an ambitious and exciting strategic plan, I wanted my remarks to speak to the nature of the changes happening on campus, and to set the tone for the year ahead. Having recently learned about and become a fan of the app HaikuDeck, I used the following deck to help me speak from the heart and set a positive tone (http://www.haikudeck.com/p/PYZgqTAJa9/opening-faculty-meeting-2012-13). I wanted to be upfront that to be successful as a school community, we needed to ask big questions about time and requirements, while gathering input from everyone.

2.) Less is more.

With only two days of meetings and many demands on faculty time to start the year, I purposefully tried to do fewer things.  This had the benefit that people left the meetings less exhausted (although still working to get their “sea legs”) because there were fewer transitions between topics. Additionally, doing fewer things allowed for greater depth of exploration and conversation. Essentially, we had a morning and afternoon session on either side of lunch. However, doing so came with the cost of not being able to cover certain things. So be it. I wouldn’t have changed this aspect of our meetings.

3.) Focus on how we educate and work with students. 

Each of the sessions had direct relevance to how we work with students. From surfacing strategies related to learning differences to a community building exercise related to unearned privilege to a presentation on teaching strategies and mind brain education to small group discussion and sharing of assessments, I felt like everything we did related to working with students. The policy and announcements were kept to a minimum, only 20 minutes or so over the course of two days.

With these principles in mind, I think we started off the year thinking and talking about students. We refocused the conversation and out our attention where it belongs.

And for my next trick, I’ll be trying to mirror a similar approach as I start my class. Sounds like my next post…

 

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