Schools like any large organisation by and large run on meetings. Meetings for the whole staff, meetings of teams, of committees, special interest groups and those between teachers, parents and rather importantly students. The total time spent by teachers in meetings is one area worth reviewing by any school, as it is undoubtedly a significant demand on their time. But what does this have to do with the Hare and Tortoise?
The answer lies in the pace of the meetings we hold and the conflicting need for a rapid sharing of information versus the time to reflect and deeply consider a topic. Often these two goals are attempted in the one face-to-face meeting but the demands of these two vastly different scenarios mean the one format does not suit. My team of five teachers has recently experimented with two vastly different meeting formats; one typifies the properties of the Hare, the other the Tortoise.
Recognising the need to share ideas, discuss the next steps in our programmes and collaborate around the needs of our students we have implemented a daily five-minute stand-up meeting. This is the ‘Hare’. We already had a daily meeting with the students which one of us led with the students to pass on information, raise awareness of pastoral matters and reward student effort and improvement with awards. This meeting has been useful for students but it did not require all five teachers to run smoothly. Now one teacher runs the students ‘morning lines’ on a rotating basis while the rest of the team meets. This meeting is quick, focused on sharing and items immediately actionable and like morning lines led each morning by a different team member. Not has this meeting allowed us to share what is providing the best results in our classrooms while ensuring we have a common understanding of our programmes it has freed time in our weekly team meeting where we can now focus on issues requiring longer blocks of time.
The ‘Tortoise' meeting is very different to this. This term we are implementing a new ‘Genius Hour’ programme that is a re-working of a ‘Personal Passion Project’, which we had run with students during Term Four for the previous eight years. For 2015 we will shift towards a ‘Genius Hour’ programme that students engage in on a weekly basis throughout the year. This change is the perfect time to review how we manage this style of learning linked to student passions and how we might best scaffold the skills required for both project management and an inquiry/design process. This planning process requires a combination of research, reflection, analysis and evaluation that takes time. It is also critical that each team member is able to contribute their voice to this discussion and we are keen to avoid dominant ideas taking over the conversation early on. The ‘Tortoise Meeting’ aims to meet all these needs.
In essence the ‘Tortoise Meeting’ is a shared document and folder established using Google Docs. The document at the core of this started life with just two questions and to this team members were asked to add not ideas or solutions but other questions. We recognised that this asking and sharing of questions was a critical first step. As time passed we shifted from questions to sharing response to the questions. Through the shared folder we have distributed readings and images relevant to the project. This structure allows participants to engage when they have time and to take time to discover relevant resources. When questions are considered members of the team have find to seek out answers from the education community, to find examples of how others have overcome similar issues and locate resources that might ultimately be used with students. The use of comments has added a further dimension and gradually our understanding of what our new ‘Genius Hour’ will look like, what it might achieve and how we will measure its success has grown. Most recently we have invited colleagues outside of our immediate team to add their voice to the conversation and this has assisted in further refining our understanding. When we do meet face to face to discuss this we are able to focus on the questions that require the greatest review, we have a shared understanding of the issues and an excellent set of resources to refer to.
Thinking about the differing purposes of our team meetings allowed us to see a single weekly meeting was not meeting our needs. Thinking outside the tradition models of a meeting has allowed us to find better solutions and to apply lessons from other organisations. The result has been a significant refinement of our process and a team that is functioning effectively, reflectively and creatively.
by Nigel Coutts
Public Domain Image courtesy Project Gutenberg by Milo Winter