by Amy Arbogash
There are often no more dreaded words in a teacher’s vocabulary than those. The time we all get together to hear the principal talk about due dates, important initiatives, and the increasing workload on our plate. The place where teachers show up with papers to grade, emails to send, and conversations to catch up on. The one thing sure to not be tackled is the true task of schools – changing a teacher’s practice and improving student learning.
So if staff meetings tend to be ineffective, boring, and repetitive, why do we continue to run them the way they have always been run?
What if teachers could go to staff meetings and be actively collaborating? What if teachers looked forward to going to staff meetings? What if teachers could leave a staff meeting having been fully engaged for its entire duration? What if staff meetings were the place to learn, innovate, and transform teaching practices?
Our schools, and education in general, are being met with transformative times. Teachers’ roles and the demand to meet the needs of all aspects of student and school life are increasing each year. Teachers are finding the need to learn new methods of teaching, including ones utilizing technology. But with change and transformation comes the need for time. Time has become an elusive resource among the educational community, and any way that we can gain time we must use to our advantage.
Working as a technology integration specialist in a middle school that is going through a digital transformation required me and my administration to look differently at the time our staff spends together. The drastic change in learning in a 1:1 classroom has been met with the need for our teachers to have time to not only learn the devices, but also write lessons, research tools, and learn new teaching methods. In order to gain the time we so desperately needed and use it more efficiently and effectively, we started flipping our staff meetings.
The teaching method of flipping classes is not new to teachers. This concept has been around for awhile, giving teachers the ability to pull informational sit-and-get out of their class time so students spend more time being active, collaborative, and creative in the classroom. So we thought why not use that same concept with teachers?
Three years ago I began working with my administration to flip our staff meetings. We record a screencast that includes all the information from the traditional staff meeting plus any staff meeting prep work and send out to the teachers the week before the meeting. Teachers watch the screencast prior to the staff meeting and get all the information they need. This way when we gather together, the teachers are able to spend their time collaborating with colleagues on things they truly need for their classroom. This active collaboration time has revolutionized teaching and learning in our classrooms. By changing the way we deliver our staff meetings, we were able to gain 25 hours of time. Using these 25 hours over the last three years, we have effectively implemented Google Apps for Education, Schoology, 1:1 classroom iPads, flipped and blended learning, SAMR, self-pacing, Twitter, and even our new school safety program.
The idea of flipping staff meetings is so flexible, it allows you to use the extra time you gain for virtually any initiative your district or school has. But one of the best aspects of being able to flip meetings is giving freedom, choice, and leadership opportunities to the teachers themselves. They gain a voice in a place where traditionally the agenda and floor was dominated by administration. Teachers actually like our staff meetings, often choosing to stay after the meeting is over to continue work or conversations. They are engaged, not just some of the time, but all of the time. Staff meetings are meaningful, helpful, productive, and relevant. They have become the place to learn, collaborate, create, and innovate.
Now I know what you are thinking. If staff meetings are so wonderfully innovative, why don’t more schools do them? Any time I have shared our work on flipping staff meetings, concerns have been raised about the challenges related to flipping staff meetings. We have also encountered these challenges, but believe working through them is worth it.
Here are some common challenges and ways we have worked to overcome them.
5 Challenges We Overcame Moving To A Flipped Staff Meeting
#1: It’s too much work.
It is a lot of work, but it’s meaningful, important work.
Like teaching and learning are transforming, so is the role of the administrator from a manager to an instructional leader. Teachers need this type of leadership now more than ever. But the good news is the principal doesn’t have to do it alone. Develop a leadership team. Teachers want to lead. Your capacity will expand with those on your team who can help to implement your ideas, and improve as a team in the process.
#2: “What will we do during the staff meeting?”
We too struggled with this in the beginning. Twenty five hours is a lot of time! Spend some time with your leadership team figuring out what is important to your school and developing a vision.
Are there initiatives that need to be implemented? Are there things teachers need to learn? What do the teachers want and/or need? Our need was in technology, but yours might be literacy or 21st Century Skills or data. Once you have your vision and topics, find ways to include collaboration, active learning, creation, and teacher leaders. The important thing about flipping staff meetings is to do things during the meeting that teachers can’t do alone. Avoid lecture at all costs.
#3: The staff won’t like it, do the work, will push back, etc.
Change is difficult.
Changing the way you do staff meetings is going to be a mindset shift for everyone. Attending a traditional staff meeting, although boring, tends to be pretty easy. You just have to sit there. And now teachers will not only have to be active during the staff meeting, but also watch a screencast prior to the meeting. My advice is to trust the process. Once everyone realizes the benefits of flipping staff meetings, people’s mindset will begin to change.
#4: “What we have always done works.”
Has it really?
Often we believe that what we do in staff meetings is helpful and beneficial for teachers, but that just isn’t the case. Ask teachers their honest opinion about staff meetings, and you don’t usually get positive answers. Ask any administrator who a staff meeting actually benefits, and if they are honest with themselves, they would say the principal–or no one at all. It makes sense to center staff meetings around, well–the staff. Administration needs to become a model and advocate for teaching and learning. Staff meetings need to change from being stagnant sit-and-get to active, collaborative, innovative work, just like we expect classrooms to be.
#5: “My principal isn’t interested in flipping staff meetings.”
This is the most difficult of all the challenges. I am very lucky to have two principals who believe in the benefits of flipping staff meetings and have stuck with it in order to see those benefits over and over again. Many principals see the above challenges and take the easy way out. So how do you convince a principal to change?
Teachers need to step up and be leaders. Bring up the idea at a committee meeting. Talk to the principal directly about initiatives teachers need time to work on. Offer your help and expertise. Talk to other teachers about the idea and form a team. Find a way to bring about change. Wherever you see an opening to advocate for the time flipping staff meetings gives you, take it. And when your principal gives it a try, be their cheerleader and positive voice in your school.
To flip or not to flip shouldn’t be the question. Instead ask yourself what you can do with all the time gained through flipping staff meetings. Time is a precious commodity that is limited. You can never get it back. It’s never too late to start using time more effectively and efficiently. Give it a try. Flip your staff meetings and watch your school transform before your very eyes.
5 Challenges We Overcame Moving To A Flipped Staff Meeting