Provoke A Year of Learning on Day One (Moment One)

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We eagerly (nervously) anticipate those first moments…

The school year has begun for some of us; others of us are approaching the day when we reconvene as a staff. The combination of people that gather for this Day One experience is virtually always different year to year (this year, my school has seen the departure of the 5th grade teachers who taught here for eight years due to overcrowding at the elementary site). Yet the feelings that we all carry with us into our Day One meeting/gathering are virtually always the same: anxiety at the long list of to-do’s, excitement (and anxiety) at the prospect of meeting our new students, fatigue (earlier wake up than the summer standard, perhaps), numbness (as an alternative to anxiety), joy in seeing our colleagues anew…Usually there is one question that everyone (quietly) shares (including the people planning it):

Will our Day One meeting be a productive use of time with the roiling wave of the school year approaching so quickly?

One thing is certain: all of us have countless things to attend to as we gear up for the school year – we could easily fill the hours engaged in our individual or small team preparations. We also know that “Teacher Work Day” is a misnomer; most teachers are reporting for the new year well before the official work calendar begins. All that being said, coming together to launch a new school year is vitally important in so many ways; a deep sense of community and collective purpose does not happen by accident – it happens because we make the time and space for it.

I would also like to replace the word productive (over-used in my opinion – often a semantic knee-jerk reaction to anything that goes outside the boundaries of our discrete job descriptions) with provocative. Rather than always seeing a meeting as the vehicle for attaining a set goal (productive), what if the driving purpose of a Day One experience were to cause someone to consider an entirely new set of possibilities (provocative)? Which of these two outcomes do we want our students to experience on their first of class with us?

First experiences can be memorable; the memory then generates a momentum that prompts us forward – or serves as a barrier that we may decide to never cross.

This post is a blog version of a draft Day One Google doc; ideas that will slowly take shape into an agenda for our first gathering of the year. I appreciate school leaders like Michael Podraza who uses his blog as a space to share his faculty agendas – rather than these experiences being limited to a set group of people, why not share these experiences in the same way so many teachers share lesson plans?

Outcome: Welcome new faculty and reconnect as a Cougar community

Agenda ideas: Imagine our school is a restaurant kitchen – how does that inform our view of how we work together? Show this clip of (#1 restaurant in the world) Noma chef Rene Redzepi, who offers this insight: “It’s a business where you work so much for very little money that it needs to be very inspiring, it needs to be very cool. It needs to be family. It needs to be a tight team.” Read this terrific post from Pam Hernandez as a bonus!

Outcome: Make our learning process transparent to each other and our community

Agenda ideas:

  • Create a blog post of our day together to archive for our own reference and share with local/global communities. Here’s one from our all-district PD day last spring.
  • Bust out the iPad cart and have everyone create a quick presentation using Adobe Slate to answer the questions: What drives me as a learner? What types of learning experiences do I find most powerful? What are new things I am eager to learn this year? Great material to share with our students on their Day One!
  • Set up a green screen and have staff create one-minute “promos” for their vision for teaching and learning. One great example of this comes from Michael Niehoff and staff at Minarets High School. Dr. Brad Gustafson also sets the bar when it comes to creative, engaging uses of green screen technology – for adults and students:

Outcome: Continue developing our understanding of Growth Mindset as a vehicle for student success

Agenda ideas: 

  • Ramsey Musallam‘s TED talk lays out three rules to spark learning: Curiosity comes first. Embrace the Mess. Practice Reflection. (Actually, these are terrific outcomes for ALL faculty meetings!). Jen Kloczko‘s post featuring this video is another great example of a school leader publicly reflecting on the learning framework for the whole school.

Outcome: Utilize reflection as a way to improve our meeting experience

Agenda ideas: Last year we concluded many of our meetings with time to provide feedback – though I think that we should do this after every meeting. I think it is equally important to give students time to reflect and provide feedback at the conclusion of every class period. Too often we rush out of one class (or meeting) to move on to the next thing without thinking about what went well and what could improve. It’s like having a great workout and then not cooling down – the body doesn’t reap the full benefits of the work put in!

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Outcome (Aspiration): Make every meeting feel like this:

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Agenda: I think having experiences together away from campus is incredibly healthy – yet not something we do often, if ever. One of these days we are going to take the 20 minute drive over the hill and have a Day One experience out at Muir Beach (where I took this picture). So, if you can’t leave campus, what about holding a meeting somewhere different on campus? How often do we find ourselves seated in the same room, in the same chair, for a meeting? No wonder they all run together in our memory.

We’re in the midst of a big renovation this summer, so finding new spaces (indoor, outdoor) in which to hold our meetings will be an outcome easily met!

To be continued…I would also love to hear your ideas.

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