I was recently at a Professional Learning meeting with the great team @ParraMarist and spent the day with other teachers talking about learning and teaching in our schools. Some of the conversation shifted off in the breaks to how things were done regarding communication structures in our schools. It was interesting to note some of the similarities as well as differences in how great schools are constantly looking at refining their processes of communication to staff and leaders.
Some short whole staff briefing about core events in the life of the school either at the start or end of the week. When I asked one teacher why the end of the week because my schools had always done their briefings at the start of the week ( ie. Monday) I was told this allowed their school to not only deal with the organisational side (calendar events coming up next week) but gave time to celebrate and share teacher and classroom success THIS week! A nice shift from operational to strategic items without many possibly realising. This certainly helps getting short conversations around teaching by teachers with other teachers in a short meeting format on the agenda in a simple communication format. I liked the simplicity of the format. Not to say that couldn’t happen on a Monday but ask any teacher let alone worker the obvious difference in the staff room between a Monday and a Friday and Friday becomes a great natural day to celebrate other things too like birthdays, anniversaries, etc for the week all before the weekend.
Embedding Staff Professional Learning Time.
I also heard great ideas about this one. Many schools struggle with whole staff gatherings. Either some can’t see the point of 100 teachers in one meeting or how to structure communication in smaller groups. Scrap the staff meeting concept entirely and rethink how things need to get done. One school took a whole staff day to do compliance training for First Aid while another did this across the year in smaller groups thus freeing up more time to focus on core business of building growth and capacity of teachers which struggles to get enough time as it is.
The best was timetabled PD. One 60 minute period a week for all staff built into their weekly timetable. The good thing about a timetable is it is guaranteed to come around every week or 10 days depending on your TT structure. The other good thing was it was done in isolation but in a small group or team structure meeting. This allows for REAL work to be done on the curriculum when you bring a group together who have their teaching classes in common. Teachers who complain about never having enough time to program, this approach fixes this one but also embeds learning and growth for teachers and learning from each other.
Other things can be added to this structure like sharing PD, talking about assessment tasks, integrating course content across KLA areas, analysing NAPLAN or data tools to better inform practice, giving each feedback and the list goes on. Professional readings, analysing student samples of work and provoking a conversation about this, feedback on leaning walks or lesson observations etc etc.
It became clear as I reflected on my major learnings from the day that:
- Building team approach to learning is a crucial and strategic ingredient for a whole school transforming to GREAT because it requires leadership, planning and at the end of a day structural ingredients crucial for success;
- The LEADERS are crucial and require more than ONE. Great leaders build leadership in others so when you visit a school and you see multiples of people speak to you and they are all impressive leaders/teachers then the change management process has worked. This can only assist communication because in time some of your best teachers TRANSFORM into your outstanding members of your leadership team.
- Professional Development is KEY. I have already mentioned this one but it appears the GREAT schools have quickly/already worked this one out. Put all other nice distractions in schools like sport, excursions, speech days, external exams and competitions etc behind EMBEDDED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TIME FOR teachers. When your school does everything else but then struggles to find time for colloboration then you know teachers are going struggle to find time to learn and do everything that GREAT schools require.
- Once you have PD time and the LEADERS in place then a big part of the battle is over because the structure is in place to build the culture and the communication and feedback mechanisms to become a GREAT school for the students.
Some schools and teachers think you need great kids, really bright, high achievers to become outstanding but at the end of the day my experience and journey in the schools I visit for my own growth and leadership is the exact opposite. GREAT schools begin with leaders who have a vision to push the boundaries and place learning front and centre of everything at the core for each student.
Let me use the example of DATA in schools. This sometimes gets a bad wrap especially around testing or NAPLAN time of the year. In reality all leaders know DATA is crucial when it forms part of a conversation around tracking student growth. But where in the school day do you factor time in for teachers to have a conversation about data? On a Monday afternoon for 30 minutes once year? In a faculty meeting once a term? In a leadership meeting as one bullet point on an overcrowded agenda?
It then follows that GREAT teachers is the next crucial ingredient for success. This makes the argument for schools embedding ongoing weekly time for teacher communcication because ultimately this time is an investment in GROWTH and building GREAT teachers!