And the Teachers Respond! (A FedEx Day Follow Up)

Square peg in a round hole with hanner

Tired of the Square Peg Problem?

Last month, I presented to teachers the idea of pursuing specific interests that would improve our school. The offer included coverage for their classes for a day (or more, if that is what it takes) to do the research and explore their ideas.

While it is my hope that teachers are still developing their ideas (and I continue to remind them of this opportunity…if even to brainstorm ideas with me in order to craft a proposal), a few teachers have already come forward with some very interesting ideas. Here is a summary of each one (so that you can see where the conversation is moving):

I. Collaborative Meeting Design

One of the projects addresses the problem of grade leave meeting inefficiency. Specifically targeting teacher collaborative meetings, the leader of this FedEx plan has researched various meeting styles to explore better ways for us to gather productively. She has come across the Collaborative Meeting Design (CMD) methodology and has learned that another school in Houston utilizes this system. She will go and shadow a few of their meetings to learn about the system and reflect on its value compared to our current meeting environment. Should she determine CMD to be the right fit, her next goal will be to develop a training tool that the rest of us can review in order to utilize the system next year.

II. Paideia Seminar

A second problem identified by a teacher is that of empowering students to lead conversations in general class discussions (that is, beyond a presentation or prepared project). One of the programs I utilized in my previous school was the Paideia Seminar. (Simply put, Paideia means “education” in English). Built on a pedagogical paradigm from Paideia.org, the Paideia Seminar is similar to the Harkness model, but centers on wondrous, disruptive thought. The Seminar isn’t a dialogue about current content; instead, it focuses on a standalone primary source, creating analytical conversation about this source, and formulating questions that align the Seminar conversation to current content in the classroom. This process is galvanized by reflective writing at the end of the conversation. It’s quite innovative (or extremely classical in nature, depending on your point of view), and very easily incorporated into a school in search of ways to improve student-led discussion.

Needless to say, I have been pushing for someone to find ways to incorporate this model into a classroom system. A teacher has stepped forward and asked for training in this model! She will work with me over the remaining school days (reading texts, studying teaching materials) and then we will think about the intentional design of Seminars throughout the coming fall.

III. Improving Our Professional Learning Committees

Once a month, our school gathers after the day is over to have small professional discussions. This past fall, our discussions have targeted the concept of assessment and how we can ask our students to demonstrate, via new and dynamic methods, their approach to mastery in the small- and large-scale units presented throughout the school year.

The problem identified in this FedEx plan is that the PLC conversation has stymied a bit and teachers are looking for ways to refresh the conversation. In this teacher’s mind, faculty members should take more ownership of the PLC discussion and be able to demonstrate results in the classroom and throughout the school program. He has offered to research and design a new “PLC Model” that will enhance the innovative thought and accountability in future school years. Though we have not met yet, I imagine this teacher to be quite creative in the retooling of the PLC program.

A whole lotta thinking going on here!

I am so proud of those teachers who are diving into the deep end with FedEx Day ideas. As these problems develop into action plans and those plans take effect, I will follow up with more documentation. Thanks for reading…should you have two cents (or 200) on one or all of these subjects, do not hesitate to comment and share so that I can pass the thoughts on to the teachers working on each plan.

Innovation Day, Inbound!

Eyes Front

Tomorrow my school will have an inservice day for all the faculty and staff. I am super excited to see the possibilities unfold as we begin to look forward towards 2017-2018. In the administrative world, the master calendar for next year is all but solidified in concrete, and the various open spaces in our faculty teams have been identified. Solutions begin to appear daily, and the image of the coming school year is more than a mirage off in the distance. At the same time, however, the leadership team has been evaluating our various philosophies regarding the way we do business and targeting those pieces that need retooling. From schedules to the names of courses, everything gets a first look so that we can be sure that we are doing things with the learner in mind.

You can probably tell that this time of year is my favorite, as opportunity meets action. While we have no need to reinvent the wheel, it is my job to talk to faculty and leadership with the purpose of brainstorming ways to ensure that this wheel is screwed on tightly and well greased.

But for some, particularly students (insert “7th graders” here), this time of year can seem to drag on until Spring Break. People often find the phrase “more of the same” repugnant; I believe that there is always an opportunity to rebuild or redesign a program to make it better for our students and the learning in the classroom. So, in an effort to jazz things up a bit, I am instituting my first FedEx/Innovation Day program for the faculty.

Creative Juices Oozing

I learned about the FedEx day model a few years ago, but it just resurfaced as a logical thought this past month as I read through this Connected Principals blogpost by Chris Wejr. I was pleasantly surprised to find it; the timing could not be more ideal! For those of you new to the idea, a FedEx day allows an individual to pursue an innovative thought without the impediment of the regular grind getting in the way. In other words, someone covers your job while you pursue an idea that would benefit both you and your place of work. The goal of a FedEx day serves one’s heart and (in this case) one’s school as a teacher innovator creates an action plan that would bring a new idea to life. This isn’t a replacement program that simply changes the way we do our current curriculum; FedEx day is a game-changing, disruptive thought that could make us greater as an institution while demonstrating teacher mastery. I have already challenged teachers to start thinking about how they could utilize a FedEx day in a previous division meeting. It is my hope that tomorrow serves as the beginning of a time when our great minds can walk through open doors.

This isn’t a replacement program that simply changes the way we do our current curriculum; FedEx day is a game-changing, disruptive thought that could make us greater as an institution and that demonstrates teacher mastery.

In reality, the design of an action plan may require more FedEx time; that need has to present itself in the plan at the end of the day, and then the driver of the FedEx program can determine if more time away from the norm is warranted. But the initial day is one of creative flow. Here is the program model as I presented it to the middle school faculty:

  1. Take the afternoon of our inservice day, from 1:30 until going home, to think and design a plan to have some FedEx time.
  2. Create this action plan (there isn’t a specific design to this plan, but it’s sort of like a field trip form that we use…purpose, logistics, who is involved, goal, etc.)
  3. Send me the plan so that we can sit down and discuss how I can help bring an idea into light.
  4. Once ratified, the FedEx Day proposal will have these features at a teacher’s disposal:
    • Use a workday (without spending a personal day) to begin working on this plan.
    • Employ the MS Leadership team to act as teachers in the classroom for the day (so we will need lesson plans, unless it’s a day given to us in order to bring in something unique).
    • Request funding (as needed) to help bring this day into development. While funding is severely limited, it is never a bad idea to ask for help!

In thinking of the way I envision this program to go, I have done some brainstorming of various ideas:

  • Building a research project for your students that has them explore new and exciting learning strategies.
  • Searching for a MOOC or some sort of professional development program to complete and share with the faculty.
  • Exploring a new digital tool to introduce to students and teach faculty.
  • Creating a photograph collage or artwork to share with the school and the students (think faculty gallery).

I’m sure this list could grow as I sit here and do some thinking. I really hope that the various members of our great faculty sink their collective teeth into the FedEx idea. My personal goal with this program remains in the effort to make this school the very best place to work. In giving teachers a voice and opportunity to express their ideas, I hope that I’m on the right track.