Staff Meetings Should Be Differentiated Too!



Occasionally, I have the opportunity to go to a conference and every time I am reminded why I like them. Conferences allow you to personalize your professional development by providing lots of choice. As educators, we are taught/reminded/told of the importance of meeting the needs of all our learners (advanced, struggling, language learners, unmotivated, etc.) and one of the best ways to do this is to differentiate our lessons. We all know the “cookie-cutter,” “one size fits all” lesson design is not effective at reaching all student nor is it effective at helping students master the 4C’s. Conferences, differentiate to their “students” (the participants) and provide lots of options, each session, because they know it is the best way to make the conference as meaningful as possible for everyone. School sites, however, struggle with this idea.

Why is it that we believe in differentiation when it comes to students but when we hold staff meetings and other PD we resort to “one size fits all?” Somehow, we believe that the professional learning and growth of adults is different than it is for children? I would argue that all educators have experienced, at least once, going to a meeting where they either mastered the task in the first five minutes, left still unsure of what they were supposed to do, or felt the hour was very productive and learned a lot. Our students have the same reaction when they experience a “one size fits all” lesson because it can’t reach everyone. Our staff meetings and PD should be differentiated too!

Here are some ways that we can differentiate staff meetings/PD:

  1. Let’s start to give options for educators. Provide the resources for all the sessions but hold two or more topics during the meeting time and let participants choose which is more pertinent to them.
  2. Have teachers run staff meetings. Just like the value we see with students teaching students, why not have teachers teaching teachers.
  3. Send out a “pre-assessment” of what will be covered at the meeting. If the educator “mastered” the task, either have the next step for them at the meeting or let them use that meeting time for something else they need to work on.
  4. Ask for feedback! Let your participants help guide the development of the PD from which they are supposed to benefit. While there are lots of things to help make us better educators, a glimpse into what participants believe they need will help make the PD more purposeful.
  5. Always strive for good teaching. Staff meetings and PD are like class lessons, model effective teaching strategies during these meetings. If it not something we should see happen in a classroom it also doesn’t belong in the staff meeting.

All educators want to get better at their craft and they know that professional development is a great resource. Let’s make those mandatory meetings and trainings not feel mandatory. Taking a spin from Dave Burgess’ quote from Teach Like a Pirate: if staff meetings were optional, would you be speaking to an empty room?

More Engaging Classrooms – It should be all of our New Year’s Resolution

Having successful schools where all students can achieve is not a new idea and has been the focus of all stakeholders for decades. We are told American students are not keeping up with their international peers; we pass new Federal and state laws to increase accountability and access for all students; we purchase new reading programs, new textbooks, and new technology in order to provide students with up-to-date educational resources and yet, we still are claiming that our students are not performing at the level they should be. The previously mentioned actions are all valid and do play a role in student success; however, we struggle to tackle one of most obvious areas that affect student performance, student engagement.

If you were to walk into a typical middle or high school and look into the classrooms, what would you see? For most, the answer would be desks in straight rows facing the “Front” of the classroom (just like the picture above). The American classroom hasn’t changed much since the growth of public education in the 19th Century. Students are expected to sit in rows, facing the same direction, paying attention to the teacher writing important facts on the board at the “Front” of the room. Have we ever thought what the implied message is with this furniture arrangement? Students are expected to be listeners, note takers, and passive learners while the teacher is talking, asking questions, moving around, and working with the content. Essentially, the student experience in a typical American classroom is like a 15 year old sitting in the passenger seat, watching his parent drive the car, sharing all the rules of the road and safety tips, before then taking the driver’s test at the DMV despite ever having the opportunity to drive.

Teachers need to get out of the driver seat and allow the students to take the wheel. For too long, teachers have been the “Sage on the Stage” instead of the “Guide on the Side.” The future world in which we are suppose to prepare our students for expects them to be independent critical thinkers, collaborators, and creative problem solvers. The only way we can do that is if we provide those opportunities in the classroom. Think about your furniture arrangement and the the message it is telling students; are they going to be doing most of the work or you?

There are easy steps to start the process of creating a more engaging classroom:

  1. Don’t have rows! Create tables, circle up all your desks, arrange them in a way that says you will be expected to work with others.
  2. Eliminate the “Front” of the classroom. This is harder because infrastructure can create barriers but, the “Front” implies that is where the important things are happening and it shouldn’t always be at the whiteboard or projector screen. The “Front” should be where the students are; on their computers, on the poster they are making, in the hallway when they are creating their skit, etc.
  3. Ditch That Textbook! Like Matt Miller says, get away from the one size fits all, prescribed mentality of teaching. The textbook is one of many resources students can use and they should be using a variety of resources.
  4. Make every day new, exciting, and purposeful. If you had to experience the same, boring thing for 180 days would you? Do you think your students want to either?
  5. Create an environment that helps students develop a love of learning. Learning doesn’t stop when you finish high school or college. Learning is about discovery and using it to problem solve or create new opportunities.

Food for Thought: When you Google image search “Learning in School” or “Learning in High School” are the images that appear typical of what you see in your school?


Welcome to Teach for Tomorrow!

Since starting my career as an educator, I have been immersed in the power of professional learning networks (PLNs). From beginning teacher support programs to Masters programs to Twitter and site cohorts; the collective knowledge we have in this profession is infinite and continues to shape my philosophy and work as an educator. However, never did I think that I would start a blog! I have to give a huge shout out to Matt Miller, author of Ditch that Textbook and education influencer extraordinaire, for his call to action to engage in the conversation via blogging. As a side note, go and buy his book Ditch that Textbook, it’s amazing!

Coming from a family of educators, I have grown up hearing and learning about the trials and successes of this profession. When I entered this profession in 2010, however, I noticed that not much had changed since when I was a student and arguably since my parents were students. How is it that we are graduating students “ready for the challenges they will face in the world” when they are getting the same educational experience of decades past? The world is VASTLY different from how it was when I was in high school and I graduated in 2005! At the high school where I work, also my alma mater, almost every student has a smartphone and we have 3:1 student to computer ratio. Economically, the world is dependent on technology and the soft skills that textbooks cannot teach yet, as a system, we haven’t changed the way our classrooms are to reflect the changes outside the classroom.

Of course, there are thousands of amazing teachers and administrators doing amazing things. It is these folks that have inspired me to grow, rethink, and create new ways of approaching education. It is my hope to use this space as a place to highlight these innovators as well as challenge the status quo.

“We live in the 21st Century. If we continue to teach like we did in the 1950s, we are not doing the job we are entrusted to do.”