Two weeks ago in an #EdChatNZ session on well-being, the following question was asked. What SPECIFIC changes in schools would increase well-being of staff and students? My suggestion was to:
‘BAN staff meetings for giving of information; staff meetings for collaboration only.’
In the space of a very short time I had 14 retweets and 19 favourites. Given the frantic pace of the #EdChatNZ stream, I figured that my frustration with staff meetings was shared by many other teachers.
Why is it necessary to gather very busy teachers in one room to give them information? Why on earth in the age of communication can information not be shared in a timely manner digitally? When I posed this questions to other educators, many like my fellow tweeters agreed, however I had one teacher tell me of how when their new principal introduced communication via email, that all of a sudden they no longer had staff meetings, and that this had a huge negative impact on staff morale. So if we are no longer to use staff meetings as a platform for giving of information, then they must be reinvented.
Staff meetings for collaboration only, seems like a wonderful solution, but perhaps it is not as easy as it sounds. Collaboration involves the development of mutual understanding, through a process of communication based on a common frame of reference (Bromme, 2000). It is a form of interprofessional practice, and essential to its success, is teachers considering themselves, and treating each other, as professionals. The primary indicators that are used to determine the effectiveness of interprofessional practice, can also be used to highlight the essential components of collaboration in a teaching environment. These primary indicators include: the level of integration of knowledge; and the level of cooperation, integration, and the development of a collective identity(Specialist Teaching Programme, 2015).
Fiore et al. (2010) identified that when the knowledge product being produced originates from the group’s discourse, rather than from one individual, then this is a sign that integration of knowledge has occurred. So a staff meeting that promotes positive discourse about a topic, where everyone contributes, and where there is a common frame of reference, is a good start. The second primary indicator of effective interprofessional practice is the levels of cooperation, integration and the development of a collective identity (Specialist Teaching Programme, 2015). Hardy, Lawrence, and Grant (2005) believed that these could be assessed by considering how the individuals use language, to describe the group, or how the group works together. So a staff meeting where all staff are included in the ‘we’, rather than ‘them’ and ‘us’, would be considered essential for effective interprofessional practice and therefore collaboration.
So why is it that staff meetings that are for collaboration only, are not the reality in the majority of New Zealand schools? I believe that part of the reason is because real collaboration involves conflict. It is far easier for teachers to avoid conflict, opt out of real collaboration, and instead simply cooperate. In professional cooperation there is no requirement for individuals to develop a mutual understanding of the activity or task, they simply do what they are asked, avoid an disagreements, and take no agency over the outcome.
So my challenge to my fellow educators is to start the change. Embrace the life of a professional educator, and commence with the dissemination of information using regular emails. Collaborate with others in your school about everything. Find some common frames of reference and use these as the basis of your collaborative efforts. Be mindful of your language and use the royal ‘we’ whenever you can. Get comfortable with conflict, and use it as a platform for critical thinking. Then, and only then……..tackle the staff meeting.
Bromme, R. (2000). Beyond one’s own perspective: The psychology of cognitive interdisciplinarity. In P. Weingart, Stehr, N. (Ed.), Practicing Interdisciplinarity (pp. 115-133). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Fiore, S., Rosen, M., Smith-Jentsch, K., Salas, E., Letsky, M., & Warner, N. (2010). Towards an understanding of metacognition in teams: Predicting processes in complex collaborative contexts. Human Factors, 52(2), 203-224.
Hardy, C., Lawrence, T., & Grant, D. (2005). Discourse and collaboration: The role of conversations and collective identity. The Academy of Management Review, 30(1), 58-77.
Specialist Teaching Programme. (2015). Domain 2: Interprofessional Practice Evidence Based Interprofessional Practice Retrieved from http://masseyuniversity.mrooms.net/mod/book/view.php?id=3077&chapterid=6436