Posts Tagged ‘protocols’

When meeting as a Critical Friends Group (CFG)  it is essential to surface assumptions. Assumptions about the work, about each other. Assumptions about learning and the learners. Last July in Alpharetta, GA we started our 5 day institute experience by exploring our working assumptions for the following days.

  1. Our work products are better when we collaborate.
  2. Protocols offer equity in voice as well as efficiency.
  3. All 3 jobs: participant, presenter and facilitator require practise in order to improve.
  4. Creating and sustaining collaborative cultures is rigorous and intentional

At times when dialogue is stunted or a group is stuck it may be entirely necessary to voice your assumption in order to move beyond a hump. When it is time for the facilitator to allow time for Q and A it is important to understand that Q and A stands for Questions and Assumptions. If we had the answers we wouldn’t have the questions.  Coming together “beyond the place of right and wrong” makes for rich and fertile learning ground.  Rumi continued “there is a field, meet me there.”  At the heart of the CFG is equity of learning for presenter, facilitator and participant in a place where we can see things together.


We are all unique, but we are not alone. I can see things you can not see and you can see things i can not. We must try to see what is there together. M. Holquist

This poster was hanging in the space that we were using in the media centre of Alpharetta High School.  Apropos of our CFG work I thought.  You?

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During my 4 day institute on Critical Friends Groups in Alpharetta, Georgia we continually referred to our “gingerbread man”.  On day one we started our “Opening Moves” with the construction of gingerbread men that carried a number of our notions, perspectives, thoughts into our intense 4 days of learning work.  Each area on the cardboard cut out represented thoughts that we had.

  1. The head was a place to write things that are annoyances to us or things that “drove us crazy.” 
  2. The chest or heart was a place to locate those things that you loved. 
  3. The stomach area was for things that gave you indigestion.
  4. The hands were a place to indicate something you endeavoured to let go of during the institute and something you brought to the table.
  5. Each leg represented a place to write a reason you came to the institute and something you hope to take away with you.

During each day of the institute participants took their “gingy” in hand and reported out about one of the items on the surface.

On day one I shared that “something I love as a father is the noises Gavin makes (all be them rude sometimes) when he is really enjoying food that I prepare for him, especially when I cook him homemade tomato sauce for his penne.

Out of that sharing came this audioboo when I returned home and made Gav a tomato sandwich:

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I have embarked on a major project as part of my NSDC Academy Class of 2011.  I am working with 20 other elementary administrators like myself in some ways and very different in some ways.  We are engaging and learning together with a critical friend from another jurisdiction on the continent.  Our critical friend is a fellow learner, administrator and a skilled facilitator of adult professional learning.  The goal of my work is to enhance, develop or initiate the facilitative leader in all of us.  We are building on leadership skills that we all have.  We are building on the facilitative skills that lie in the realm of pressure and support.  We are working in the realm of relationships and protocols for engagement.  We are working so we may harness the true power and expertise of our teachers for improved student achievement.

First things first.  I am using technology to engage with my counterparts.  Using Twitter, Blogs, YouTube, Wikis and Google proved to be far to complex for many of my colleagues.  The learning curve was simply too steep for many.  I went to the one stop shop for professional educators:  The School Improvement Networks, PD360.  This on demand professional learning experience is tailored for educators.  It combines almost all the components of the above mentioned network tools in one place.  There are limitations however.

I look forward to updating this blog entry regularly as it will serve as my journal for my work with colleagues.  So far…14 of 22 have signed in for the first time.  Not bad.  We have two different physical meetings scheduled including our first….how to….coming up soon.  In all we will be working through protocols for PLCs from the School Reform Initiative and Michael Fullan’s newest Motion Leadership.

There is work to be done.  I am doing the work alongside my friends and colleagues.  I am engaged in and implementing the learning simultaneously.  Exciting and tiring.  Our kids are worth it.

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Clearly technology is not the sole answer to the teaching  learning gap.  It is just another channel to watch.  I view Twitter dialogue (#edchat) as a Protocol for my learning.  140 characters is concise to say the least.  A person of my loquaciousness needs boundaries.  Twitter gives me that structure.  Because it is on the public timeline I have also maintained public integrity.  I know that my digital existence is infinite.  I will be held accountable for my words.  Thus there are inherent “norms”.  My efforts are to get my colleagues to the table to discuss the issues in the same light.  I do not have a lack of faith or belief in any of us.  I know that people don’t “hate” me for talking it up.  On the contrary I understand that each of us has deep understanding for the role that education has played in our lives and we wish to provide that to our communities.  Technology is one avenue to get to that conversation outside of the time crunch and certainly outside of your circle of influence.  I have pictures of technoids sitting in rooms with handhelds engaging in Tweetups!  This is a structured protocol.

My friend’s email was included as a response because it helps me recognize the obstacles to having other educational leaders join the conversations.  I respect my friend immensely and thus view these perceptions as real concerns and obstacles for other professional educators.

  1. The time needed to learn the technology.
  2. The superficiality of the “Twitterverse”.
  3. The feeling that being self-referential is a bad thing.

1.  The technological learning curve is actually quite steep.  With the likes of WordPress, Twitter,  and other Web 2.0 applications that are web based there really is no length of time to learning these pieces of software.  There are oodles of people willing to help you once you are actually plugged in. 

2.  It is simple, only follow those people who offer something to your professional learning profile.  When they stop offering something to your professional learning profile stop following them.  Likewise you will notice that you can allow only those people you feel are following you for professional learning reasons.  Sure the web is full of stuff that just isn’t adding to the collective social consciousness of the world.  So are book stores.

3.  Delete self-referential and insert self-reflective.  T.W.I.T.T.E.R.-The World’s Intellectuals Taking Turns Exchanging Resources.  This was a Twitter post late last week by an educator I follow.  “Resources” are practical applications, web resources or could simply be the ideas, feelings, opinions and experiences that keep your mind actively assimilating new information.  Twitter provides a timeline for your self-reflection.  The self reflection you offer can stimulate others self-reflection.  It is essentially self-reflection for collective wisdom.  Please do not tell us what you had for breakfast.

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The use of protocols in Professional Learning Community meetings is essential to the continued growth and evolution of  a school.  Gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  If we expect our teachers to differentiate for students we, as instructional leaders, had better differentiate for their learning styles.  I believe that the appropriate use of protocols in PLC meetings do many things but most importantly they:

  1. reduce the threat of exposing yourself to the group and allow you to become vulnerable with colleagues
  2. increase risk taking behaviour and sharing through structured and formal practises
  3. allow for shared leadership as the facilitator is not the “Sage on the Stage” but simply the choreographer (there is nothing simple about it of course)
  4. engage all learners
  5. can be adapted by participants to be used with students of all ages

I refer to brainstorming  in light of a recent Blog post on Education Innovation that I read weekly.  The spoof “demotivation”  poster (that I was sent years ago-prior to PLCs in our setting) below depicts the concepts behind ineffective PLC time the best I think.  I am reminded of meetings my significant other would describe in one of her career settings.  She laughs every time she views this poster and states, “It’s so true!”  If we know this as educators and we know what makes the difference in PLCs why do we still revert back to old, less effective habits? 

The Power of Meetings

None of us is as dumb as all of us.

Recently I engaged a staff of Early Years and Primary teachers from 4 neighbourhood schools in the Interview Design and Dialogue Protocol to elicit as many consistent and common ideas around a battery of questions about the current state of balanced literacy in schools  (I adapted a protocol form from Jon Saphier of Research for Better Teaching).   More importantly was the form in which this process was done.  There was chart paper, stickies and markers but this was secondary to the fact gathering phase which was done far more precisely and structured than traditional “brainstorming.”  Using the design process we essentially eliminated any risk by engaging in one on one dialogue to start.   The only stuff that made it to the chart paper (dialogue: the second to last phase) had been consistently communicated across the length of the interview phase. 

Teachers in 4 groups of 8 heard 4 responses plus their own to the one question they asked.  They then met in “like question groups” to discuss and chart the most common and consistent responses to the questions.  An example of one question was: “What evidence of a balanced literacy approach exists in a classroom in our District?”  8 individuals asked this question 4 times and recorded the responses.  8 response pages with responses from 32 individuals became one side of a piece of chart paper.  Talk about precision.  Essential to the protocol was that once the question was asked all you were “allowed” to do was record.  This was an interview and not a conversation.  

I immediately thought of the above poster when I read the title (Dumber Together) off the Education Innovation RSS feed on my Netvibes page.   While the intent of its inclusion is humour it has been true for me in limited instances.  My goal as an instructional leader is to make this “demotivation poster” irrelevant.   A reader @Education Innovation comments that the information presented is unsourced.  Maybe . . . but haven’t we all been there before?  If the answer is yes than why, when we take over the reigns, do we seem to perpetuate this form of Professional Learning.  Brainstorming sessions can be effective.  There must be a sound protocol to make them work for everyone however.  I continue to work through the many protocols presented by the National School Reform Faculty in an effort to engage with adults in meaningful and unthreatening ways.  As I stated earlier, gains in student achievement depend on the learning and learning processes of the adults in a building.  I am dedicated to the use of protocols to make sure that each of us is as smart as all of us.

InterviewDesign from Jon Saphier at Research to Better Teaching

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