What does a modern faculty meeting look like?

Teachers file in after a long day in the classroom. Some slump in the back of a room and listen to announcements from administrators. A high-flying colleague shares something “exciting” going on in her classroom while some of the more dutiful members of the faculty (future admin) jot down ideas. Others barely pick their heads up from papers they’re grading – thirty years in the classroom, they’re resolved nothing new will happen today. Still another group sits in the back row plowing through email. Everyone watches the clock at the front of the room, on their laptops, or their cell phones, waiting for the meeting to end. When the time comes, they head out with less time and less energy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Although maybe the previous paragraph isn’t entirely fair.

We have all sat through many faculty meetings, and possibly some have been interesting, thought-provoking professional learning experiences. A good many, however, resemble what’s above. I would venture that worthwhile faculty meetings focus on conversations about teaching and learning or that being together in a shared time and space with colleagues is integral to what happens. Seldom has communicating mundane logistics and talking at people been a good use of gathering everyone together. This begs a host of questions:

  • In schools where there is so much conversation about being “learner centered,” why are professional learners obliged to attend the same slate of meetings and participate in the same conversations?
  • Why do school leaders and the people we invite to speak spend so much time and energy lecturing (aka “presenting”)?
  • Can we as school leaders do better?

We were fortunate to have Stephen Valentine and Reshan Richards recently facilitate Blending Leadership, a course for leaders based on the key concepts in their eponymous 2016 book. Valentine and Richards put forward their six beliefs for blended leaders:

  1. Blended Leaders engage with thought leaders and engage as thought leaders.
  2. Blended Leaders design spaces and care for spaces.
  3. Blended Leaders reject insularity and embrace sharing.
  4. Blended Leaders challenge meeting structures and change meeting structures.
  5. Blended Leaders articulate a mission and advance a mission.
  6. Blended Leaders keep the off-ramp open and use it frequently.

While none of these beliefs is easily disentangled from the others, their reimagining of faculty meetings is particularly compelling, especially for me, given that I organize and oversee faculty meetings at GOA.

When I think and talk about “faculty meetings” for GOA faculty, I often want  to put the term in quotes. What we do bears little resemblance to a traditional faculty meeting. First, if face-to-face meeting time is precious in the typical school environment , it’s that much harder to come by for us given that our faculty lives in 14 different time zones and operates on even more idiosyncratic school schedules and academic calendars. We never have the luxury of bringing all faculty together in the same video-conference, to say nothing of getting everybody together in the same room. In short, if scarcity is the mother of invention – our lack of “together time” has pushed us to rethink faculty meetings in ways that have relevance for school-based faculty meetings as well.

First and foremost, we rarely use synchronous time with teachers for logistics. Instead we  facilitate asynchronous interactions in our GOA Faculty Slack team, and we frequently update our online Faculty Lounge with announcements, resources, and logistical information necessary  to support effective online teachers. Doing so requires that we invest time creating and maintaining the digital spaces (acting as a “digital zamboni driver” as Valentine and Richards would say). We also invest energy in reminding our faculty to use those spaces fully. All that said, the reminders and time maintaining Slack and the Faculty Lounge are far less than the aggregate time squandered by bringing 50 teachers together to communicate that same information in a meeting. Most importantly, the effort put into maintaining these spaces allows us the opportunity to focus on issues central to teaching and learning when we bring groups of teachers together for synchronous conversations via videoconference.

Our faculty meetings have two components: fast chats and slow chats. Fast chats are 45-minute videoconference conversations and the slow-chats are 10-day asynchronous threaded discussions in Slack. In a given week we’ll schedule three fast chat sessions and set up the slow chat conversation on the same topic. Before the semester starts, we send out a menu of meeting topics (many of which come from our teachers), and we ask teachers to attend videoconference conversations with colleagues twice. Many attend more. Using a When Is Good poll, they communicate their availability for the topics they’ve expressed interest in. All of the fast chat conversations are then scheduled around the availability of the people interested in them and placed on the calendar by the first day of the semester. Further, just before a meeting takes place, we encourage anybody who might not have signed up to drop by.

Here’s the  menu of meeting topics for Semester 2:


Week 1TOPIC 1: How might we build community in our classes to highlight and leverage the geographic and cultural diversity of the community?
Week 1TOPIC 2: How can Slack be used to bring a group of students closer to one another?

Week 3TOPIC 3: How might competencies and outcomes give the students greater control over their own learning?
Week 5TOPIC 4: What strategies help blended & online teachers manage their workflow?
Week 7TOPIC 5: How can formative assessment allow students multiple opportunities to demonstrate mastery of a particular outcome?
Week 9TOPIC 6: How can we design courses that allow for greater differentiation when students have different skill levels or interests?
Week 11TOPIC 7: How might we design and facilitate courses that better support our students’ developing executive function skills and eventually make them more independent learners?
Week 13TOPIC 8: How might we encourage our students to apply their learning to catalyze change in the world around them?

Before each meeting, we send a link our Faculty Lounge site, where we’ve provided guiding questions and resources on the topic for teachers to explore. We record the fast chats (and there are often several of them on the same topic), cobble together a rough highlight video, which also includes ideas from the slow chats in Slack. The highlight video enables everyone, whether at the meeting or not, to learn from the conversations. Further, we now have an archive we’ll use when training our new teachers and for our own internal reflection on what our teachers are thinking and experiencing (Here’s an example of one of those pages).

Instead of having the whole faculty mandated to meet on campus at a set time when they may intermittently listen, stare at the clock, grade quizzes and check email – we have teachers choosing the topics they’re most interested in and engaging with colleagues when, where, and how they choose. This approach also reflects what the research says about adult learners: having choices and control over their time matter. To be sure, this is a route that we have taken first and foremost because of the unique nature of our far-flung faculty, who live in some ten different countries and all around the United States.

It also reflects our desire to improve: the approach now differs from that in Semester 1, and we’ll make adjustments in the coming year. Nevertheless, what we’ve learned leads us to believe that school leaders could benefit from asking the following questions:

  • What does a modern faculty meeting look like?
  • Does everybody need to be a part of the same conversations?
  • Can you cover more ground providing greater flexibility with meeting structures?
  • Do all faculty meetings need to be synchronous? Would some benefit from having teachers chew on topics for a longer period of time or not while a whole group of colleagues is waiting for people to speak up?

As Valentine and Richards’ insist: blended leaders challenge traditional meeting structures (while at the same time reiterating an important point that Eric Chandler recently made).  Time is a finite resource. Neither schools nor teachers nor students can make more of it. What we can do, however, is prioritize the way we use it. If we value collaboration, flexibility, and learner-centered experiences as much as our mission statements often say we do, then the unconscious decision to run faculty meetings according to time-worn structures may, in fact, betray our values.

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