Not too long ago, I attended the best meeting ever. Odd proclamation, you say? Hear me out.
As the Innovative Teaching Coach, I work with the MHS LITE (Leaders in Innovative Technology in Education) and the MHS ISLT (Innovative Student Leadership Team) – we really like our acronyms. One chilly winter morning, I had a meeting with my LITEs and my ISLTs in one of our conference rooms. The goal of the meeting was to assess and revise our classroom management with technology training. Now, anyone who conducts training will tell you that there seems to be a negative stigma attached to professional development pertaining to classroom management, whether one-on-one training or whole group. Walking into the meeting, I expected reluctance from both LITEs and ILSTs in discussing this issue due to its connotation. So naturally, I did what any southerner would do and brought baked goods for everyone. Little did I know that while the “lovin’ from the oven” fare was delicious, it was not needed at all.
Once the meeting commenced, it seemed as though dialogue and questioning happened naturally. I stated the purpose of the meeting and both teachers and students began to give fantastic feedback about uses of technology in classroom and methods of promoting classroom management strategies that would increase engagement and learning while also quelling off-task behavior.
Watching this amazing collaboration occur between two different sets of stakeholders, I couldn’t help but wonder what made this particular meeting so productive and worthwhile? I then began looking at how everyone was placed. We were all seated in office chairs around a large table, facing each other. The teachers were seated amongst the students; neither students or teachers were huddled to one side. Additionally, each person in attendance listened to the person talking. No one was texting, emailing or working on some other task. Voices were at a regular level and choice of words were honest and authentic. When the meeting was over, each person left with something new to think about and many commented, both students and teachers alike, that this was a really great meeting!
After everyone had left I reflected on the aspects that made the meeting so great and I immediately emailed my team to let them know what had happened.
So, why the blog? As an Innovative Teaching Coach, part of my job is to work with teachers to promote a collaborative, creative learning environment that promotes 21st century learning. While we cannot purchase office chairs and move large conference tables into each classroom, what can we do right here, right now that promotes a collaborative environment?
Layout: What does your classroom look like? Are all desks focused on the “sage on stage” or are students able to interact with each other? How can you position students so that they can both work with each other AND interact with you, the learning facilitator?
Culture: What kind of culture is promoted in your classroom? Are high expectations set? Are goals and norms consistently adhered to? Do students feel that they can create and explore with their learning? Is each person’s voice respected? Do students feel that the content addresses their needs versus the content addressing what has alway been done? Is the classroom even conducive to establishing cultural norms?
While it’s easy to write off re-creating “the best meeting ever” in our classrooms by blaming behavior, I’m sure, upon further review, that a solution can be found. So many times in education I have both cultivated and witnessed this type of classroom environment containing many kinds of students. Time and time again, high expectations were set and adhered to, even when it was hard to keep them upheld. (Why do upcoming school holidays seem to bring an onset of off task behavior? Are high expectations still being adhered to or are student just that excited? Combination of both?)
Moreover, trends can be recognized in how the expectations are adhered to. If the high expectation is upheld, the culture, layout, mutual respect, and most importantly, engaging learning, are all symptoms of such standards.
My hope in this blog is that an idea is sparked to try something new…just one small change. Teachers sit with students during discussion or circle the desks in a room instead of rows. Promote collaborative learning because that is what our students face in a tomorrow we do not exactly fully grasp today. Margaret Heffernan once said, “A fantastic model of collaboration: thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers.” What does your “best meeting ever/best day of learning ever” look like? I’m sure an echo chamber does not come to mind.