Purpose Driven Meetings

Faculty meetings. Department chair meetings. Meetings, in general. We’ve all been there. But how many times have we walked away from those meetings inspired for the rest of the day? How many times have we engaged in active discourse with our peers? How many times have we said, “That was fun, I can’t wait for the next time!” I bet that you and I could count those times on one hand…together. And if you cannot, consider yourself lucky because you are not the norm.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more possessive of my time. You can never, EVER get back lost time. So I have very little patience for things that do not add value to me, to my craft, to what I do with my students, or to my professional goals. I fail to see the purpose in coming together to simply be talked at. Dissemination of information does not need to be done face to face. 
I mean, we’ve spent all of this time and energy discussing ways to make learning engaging for our students. In fact, it’s an expectation in my district that the teacher is not the center of the learning process. Sure there’s a time and place for DI but that’s not what I’m talking about. In a 21st century classroom, learning is student-centered not teacher-directed. And for those of us who conduct PD, engagement is an instrumental part of the PD process otherwise all you will have are a bunch of angry teachers giving you dagger looks as you waste their time. The whole idea of bringing 21st century learning into the classroom can and should have a place in meetings. We shouldn’t simply be talked at, but rather this valuable face to face time should…no must include some of the very skills that we want our students to acquire: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. 
Sure communication may be in the form of talking…but productive communication is a two-way street. Why not approach these meetings with the intent that teachers will be active participants? Why not bring in topics that foster collaboration between teachers and admins? Why not take the time to introduce a topic that might elicit some type of problem-solving or maybe some type of task that involves creativity?
I don’t have my administrative credential for a reason. I like being with my students but I do consider myself a leader. In fact, I’ve served as department chair for 19 years (at two different school sites). Needless to say, I’ve conducted my share of department meetings and collaborations. But when I create the agenda, it’s done after talking with department members. I take what we’ve discussed in emails or in passing and put that on the agenda to discuss when we have a formal meeting. But the key thing is…these are mutually determined topics. Anything that is purely informational is written on the agenda and my colleagues can ask for clarification (or not). The majority of our department meetings are spent working on lesson ideas, discussing common grading practices, reviewing student data/achievement, etc. We utilize our entire 60 minute collaboration meeting time and then some. And I can honestly say that when we leave, we’re revved up, inspired, and usually still discussing topics as we walk out the door to start our day. Our meeting time is collaborative, includes a great deal of communication (sometimes it’s even a bit spirited…we’re history teachers, what can I say?) and problem-solving as we continue to develop lessons and activities that are not only rigorous but engaging for our students (and to the same extent, us). 

Can “other” meetings be run the same? I ask, “Why not?” Why can’t faculty or department chair meetings be conducted more like an opportunity for PD? There’s an increasing amount of research out there about adult learning theory which is why there is a such a huge need for personalized PD. But since there’s never enough time in the day for all of the things that we want to do…that we need to do…why not change the purpose of those meetings so that we leave feeling that our time together added value to what we do with our students (Barth, 2013)? Information can be relayed via email. It’s done all of the time. And sometimes too much with the “reply all” feature, if you know what I mean. But I digress.

I think we need to move beyond bringing people together for a sit and get…and utilize that valuable time together to help each other grow professionally (Hagan, 2014). To figure out how to solve-problems that may be plaguing our campus. To discuss ways that we can help our students attain 21st century skills. Those are all value-added options and something that would give us (the participants) a purpose. 
Here’s to purpose driven meetings.

Barth, R. (2013). The time is ripe (again). Educational Leadership, 71(2), 10–16.

Hagan, D. (2014). Catholic school faculty meetings: A case study linking catholic identity, school improvement, and teacher engagement. Dissertations. Paper 58.

Personalized Learning…It’s Possible.

About eight years ago, my district eliminated advanced classes for history.  This meant that gifted students were placed in the general education population which posed a problem because the question now became…how do I differentiate for all the various academic levels in the same class?

[Enter technology]

When I started my master’s program in 2008 little did I know that technology was going to be part of the solution to help differentiate learning in my classroom.  I was creating lessons that utilized a variety of technology tools that I could incorporate into my lessons that would allow me to create a learning environment that was closer to what I defined to as personalized learning.

[Flash forward to 2011]

I was graciously given a class set of iPads by my principal because through our conversations I was able to convince her that technology was going to enable me to provide learning opportunities that would help all levels of students in my mixed ability classes.

It’s a work in progress and it is by no means near completion…

But we’re happy with the results thus far.


Our district brought in Robert Marzano as a guest speaker.  From there we were encouraged to utilize his idea of learning scales.  My department (true to form) took the idea and ran with it.  We created learning scales for all of our units:  world and US.  That was in 2011.

[Flash forward to today]

Each member in my department now has their own set of iPads.  Our principal purchased licenses for Haiku Learning.  We’ve changed our units so that we are offering our students opportunities to work in a blended learning environment.  With that, we’re able to create tasks that are required and optional.


Level 3 tasks which fall under the describe/define category of Bloom’s are required.  It’s the bare basic concept attainment for our respective curricular areas.  Level 4 tasks are analysis and Level 5 tasks focus on evaluation and/or creation.  Levels 4 & 5 are optional. Students who complete Level 3 tasks will earn the equivalent of a C for that unit.  Students who complete Level 4 tasks have the potential to earn the equivalent of a B for that unit.  Likewise, students who complete Level 5 tasks have the potential to earn the equivalent of an A for the unit.  Level 4 does not count if students do not demonstrate mastery of Level 3.  Level 5 does not count if students do not demonstrate mastery of Levels 3 and 4.  Students choose their level of learning.  It’s just one part of the personalized learning that occurs in our classes.

[Flash forward to today]

In Haiku Learning, we’re able to create leveled tasks for students.  Not only do they have a choice in their learning level, but they also have a choice in how they want to demonstrate their learning.  Students who are interpersonal can choose to work with a partner.  Students who are artistic can choose to use creation apps like Paper 53 or Notability.  Students who are musically inclined can use Garageband or Songify.  The point being…the integration of technology into our classes has given us the means to offer our students a personalized learning experience.  We can create differentiated lessons and activities, but students also have a choice in their learning.  It’s been a crazy first month of school and I’m totally pooped but it’s been fun.  I love watching my students get excited when looking at the various options that they can choose from.  I don’t think that students often get a choice in how they learn but we’re trying our best to make that happen in our classes.  And for that…we’re super thankful that our administration believes in our vision because we’re not done yet.  =)