Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Rugtime for Teachers: Reinventing the Faculty Meeting

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Rugtime for Teachers: Reinventing the Faculty Meeting

Article excerpt

Ms. Hebert and the teachers at Crow Island School have been energized by a new format for faculty meetings that gives them support and encouragement for their sometimes convergent and sometimes divergent views.

I CONFESS! For more than 15 years I have not looked forward to faculty meetings. Over all this time, I've allowed our meetings to fall into the stereotypic pattern dreaded mandated gatherings that jolt us from our teaching day into a 50-minute rapid firing of disconnected announcements and abbreviated discussions about issues that require much more time and thought.

To break out of the rut, I've attempted a number of different formats over the years, but all have yielded pretty much the same mediocre results. Whether I've tried the "pre-announced-agenda" approach or the "faculty-committee-to-propose-the-agenda" approach or the "open-ended-let's-see-what's-important-to-everyone" approach, the meetings have failed to capture the hearts and minds of the faculty . . . or of the principal, for that matter!

Why? Because I sacrificed our meeting times for ordinary purposes, which inevitably yield ordinary results. I lost sight of the importance of using what precious little time we have together for refining and reinforcing our understanding of and commitment to the kind of positive faculty community that is required of a good school. I abandoned the complexity of my leadership role in guiding us toward this essential principle; instead, I maintained the conventional role of agenda composer, timekeeper, and taskmaster. I led the meetings, responded to questions about how we would resolve issues, and clarified announcements as needed.

This format is not unpredictable in schools and may even be thought of as soothing and comforting for many teachers. The principal leads and the faculty follows what could be easier or more expected? It is easier because active involvement is not required and expected because, after all, the principal is supposed to run the school, right?

I am keenly aware of the complexity of the relationship between faculty and principal and its consequences for the life of a school. It began to dawn on me that, contrary to my convictions about the kind of collaborative leader I hoped to be, I was unintentionally reinforcing a leader/follower dynamic that tends to produce a division between principal and faculty. Although subtle, the underlying tone of our meetings was counterproductive to the natural sense of sharing that we enjoy at other times. It was becoming abundantly clear to me that the format of our meetings did not serve our collaborative purposes. It was time to consider a new format.

At a moment when I was mulling over this issue, I was in a first-grade classroom. The teacher was gathering her students for a rugtime meeting, and, as the first-graders purposefully assumed their positions around the perimeter of the rug, I attended closely to the dynamics of the group. What makes a good rugtime meeting so compelling and fulfilling for the children and teacher? Well, first, the children all know one another. They have a common history, and they share common experiences. They have numerous opportunities to interact and collaborate. Each day these children are better able to predict one another's responses to the events of a school day, thereby learning more about the most important item of interest to them how to make friends.

At this particular early fall rugtime meeting, the topic of discussion was the courtyard garden outside of the children's classroom. The children had been presented with the enviable task of redesigning the garden. Young children gravitate to the authenticity of such a project, and they are both grateful for the opportunity for real work and aware of their collective competence to fulfill an obligation. As the teacher carefully recorded the children's ideas on chart paper, I witnessed the class making a significant interpersonal transition. …

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