Standing up in front of adults can feel like THIS.
I will dedicate a series of posts on an educational practice as ubiquitous (and unquestioned) as homework: the Faculty Meeting. What is their purpose? How do we assess their effectiveness? Why do so many teachers (and, secretly, many administrators) hate them?
Why the needless suffering when we can choose to make them something better?
Scenario: You’ve landed from outer space smack dab in the middle of a faculty meeting on Earth. You don’t speak the language. You don’t understand what this particular group of organisms does or why. So what inferences do you draw from your observations? My guess is you would pay attention to who is talking and to how people are physically situated. Hey, there’s someone standing up and saying a lot of things; meanwhile, there’s a lot of other people sitting and not saying much at all – unless it’s a conversation with someone sitting near them. So that person talking must be important; yeah, I mean, for them to be standing and speaking while all these other folks sit quietly must mean that person has some special significance. Maybe this is some kind of special ceremony, something pregnant with meaning.
Well, we all know who (most typically) that standing/talking person is: your friendly neighborhood site administrator. After all, we all know the administrator has inherited the Faculty Meeting scepter – it’s been passed down through the generations just like in royalty. It is their sacred duty to (hopefully) plan them and carry them out. This is just how things are done. Our friend the Alien busily scribbles notes and starts making some conjectures/inferences. It’s fun to explore strange, new realms!
So it’s interesting to feel myself – one of those talking (sometimes standing) special people (in the eyes of the alien) – confront this archetype and attempt to (slowly) unwind it. The administrative team (myself and the principal) plans and facilitates every staff meeting – some traditions just don’t blink at the fact that it’s 2015! One way we’re trying to shift this is by asking teachers to stand up and talk – about a teaching practice, about a learning experience they had, about student work…Nothing formal, nothing requiring an accompanying digital presentation or resources packet.
Interestingly, getting teachers to do this isn’t all that easy. Asking can turn into begging. After a certain number of all-call invitations with no takers, we eventually have to ask someone personally – something that might also be seen as the dreaded “shoulder tap,” the administrator playing favorites. Yeah that’s a nice, precipitous, jagged-edged paradox to tiptoe along…
At a recent staff meeting two teachers shared strategies to support English language learners. One of them offered these thoughts via email on the experience (I asked for her permission to share):
“…thank you for acknowledging the discomfort around sharing in front of all disciplines of colleagues. I hated it! Not that I wouldn’t do it again, but it definitely rates as one of the least favorite activities of my work day. I am not a teacher of teachers. If a colleague is interested, I’m happy to share. The notion of having us take turns sharing at staff meetings is probably a good one. I’m just letting you know that some of us are less comfortable in the teaching of teachers than others are. Your openness and pursuit of the future is good for us, just uncomfortable.”
Her message was a powerful reminder to not take things for granted. Teachers talk in front of big groups of people every day for a living – but those people are kids. My job as a site administrator has me talking to adults all the time, from staff meetings to the crowds of parents that show up for evening events. Talking to groups of adults is different, and it took me a while to feel like I was on solid ground in front of them. I can remember what it felt like to step in front of staff as a newly arrived assistant principal:
Okay maybe a slight exaggeration.
Consider what it takes for one of the most acclaimed singers in Australia to get up on stage:
Faculty meetings are in serious need of a major lifestyle change to ensure the arteries stay unclogged, otherwise they’ll become another DOA statistic. Should we do like some schools and discontinue them for good, or hire a personal trainer to burn off that dangerous belly fat?