3 Gigantic Problems that School Principals Can Fix Today

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Is this your faculty meeting?

Is this your faculty meeting? photo credit: BobDuCharme via photopin cc

There’s an amazing Voxer chat group called Talks with Teachers, composed of remarkable educators who converse about best education practices, technology integration, assessment and many other subjects. We recently discussed things that make teachers’ jobs difficult. The chat was not about principals, but upon further consideration, it occurred to me that school principals could easily solve most of these issues.

Granted, school principals and teachers often have different perspectives, based on the worlds they live in. Still, some of educators’ biggest problems have shockingly simple solutions.

3 giant school problems and 3 simple fixes

Problem #1: faculty meetings

Your faculty meeting needs a makeover. After nearly 20 years and roughly 24,000 minutes of lost time, I realized that faculty meetings are a place where great ideas go to die. The average faculty meeting consists of lectures that teachers don’t need in the first place about information that won’t improve their methods. Does your faculty meeting resemble the picture above? Are you the woman with the phone? It’s okay; I won’t tell. Hey, I used text, tweet, read email or chat with a peer during faculty meetings, because I wanted to get back as many of those lost minutes as possible.

Fix: throw out faculty meetings (well, sort of)

School principals should set meeting agendas. Then, start at item 1 and ask one simple question: “Can I communicate this in another way that doesn’t force teachers to convene?” The answer for 90 percent of the items will be an emphatic, Yes. For items you believe need your input or a related article, send the article and/or create a video for your staff. Former principal, Peter DeWitt, explains how to use alternative methods to engage staff in his book, Flipping Leadership. Sending videos and other critical information to teachers, allowing them to absorb the info when they choose, can eliminate the need for a faculty meeting or help make the meeting more valuable.

If administrators could leverage technology a little bit more, you could really make faculty meetings a time that is nourishing for the whole staff.Jennifer Gonzalez, teacher/blogger

Problem #2: muting teachers

While many school principals might say faculty meetings or private meetings give teachers the opportunity to be heard, what typically happens, much like in the classroom, is the same people do all the talking in faculty meetings. As some shy students are uncomfortable with class and private discussions, there are also teachers who fear that they will look bad, if they speak in a staff meeting or in a principal’s office.

Fix: use social media to give all teachers a voice

The best part of social networks is that they give everyone a voice. Even the quietest student will participate in an online chat. Teachers are no different. The previously-mentioned Voxer is a wonderful platform to engage groups in real discussion. Twitter and TodaysMeet are also terrific for giving all shareholders a voice. These social networks can be public or private, and people love them because they don’t feel like everyone’s watching them speak; plus, the social networks offer a moment of pause, so you can gather your thoughts prior to responding. It’s easy to set up a Voxer group or a school Twitter handle or hashtag that teachers can use to share their insights and concerns. If principals give all teachers a voice with social media, future conversations could go a long way in saving time and making teachers more effective.

Problem #3: plan time

It’s evident that many issues that make teaching difficult are about time. There may be no greater loss of time than during teachers’ planning periods. Most teachers are fortunate to have time built into their school day for planning activities, conferencing with parents and evaluating learning. Although most teachers would say they’d like to have more time during the school day, many also complain that plan time is lost, due to unnecessary interruptions. Often, these interruptions consist of colleagues barging in just to talk, the phone ringing, or students dropping in to say hello. While personal interaction is important, these casual interruptions can eliminate much of this crucial prep time.

Fix: designate a teacher quiet zone or hideaway for uninterrupted work

While “hideaway” may have negative connotations, the idea is sound and perfectly acceptable. Sure, some school principals will point to existing faculty work rooms as a refuge from interruption, but teachers know this is rarely the case. Most work rooms are noisy and ill-equipped to provide what teachers need. Few come with comfortable seating, ample space and the technology teachers need to work efficiently. So, why not create this space? Be transparent about the room. If it looks like a secret hideaway, students are likely to spread rumors about what happens there. Tell them and parents you’re helping teachers become more efficient. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Convert a room to a teacher Quiet Zone, complete with everything teachers need during planning time.
  2. Put comfortable tables and chairs in the room.
  3. Designate the room as a quiet room–absolutely no talking.
  4. No phones allowed. Personal device use is acceptable, as long as it’s quiet.
  5. Teachers should name the room something appropriate that all staff and students recognize.
  6. Don’t forget transparency.

Note: the quiet zone idea may belie the title of this post. If a room like this can’t be created today, some plan time guidelines can be implemented that capture the underlying theme of the quiet zone–uninterrupted teacher plan time. If school principals create an attitude that teacher plan time is sacrosanct, using some of the rules for the quiet zone, plan time might become more valuable today.

While there are many problems teachers face that aren’t mentioned here, these three can be solved today, with some shockingly simple fixes.

So, what are you going to fix tomorrow?

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Mark Barnes is the author of many education books, including Bestseller Hacking Education, part of his Hack Learning Series, books that solve big problems with simple ideas. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and student-centered learning. Join more than 100,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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