a Quick Aside
First of all, and this is not exactly related to this post, check this stock photo above. I typed in teacher meeting and this was one of the first results on Shutterstock. I found other ones of professional meetings but this one was my favorite. I just like that they’re in some sort of strange classroom situation. Whoever took this photo knows that teachers wear lanyards and have desks in the corners of rooms. There are binders and messy papers around them. A hundreds chart and a few dinosaur and surfboard? nametags are thrown in too. I just love it. Each time I look at it I see something new that makes me laugh. If you haven’t checked out the female teacher’s ID please do so. It’s blank! It kills me!! Now that this is out of the way, let’s get down to business.
Isn’t this how most teacher meetings begin? Sharing funny stories or events of the day for the first few minutes and then getting down to business. While some people view the chit chat as a waste of time it is actually so important. Teachers need to build relationships with one another in order to grow stronger. Similar to classroom communities a lot of the functionality of a school is based on the teacher community. Teachers need time for chit chat to develop relationships and build community.
I remember being quite young and hearing my dad talk about teacher in-service days. We had a half day and my dad thought it was ridiculous. Why did teachers need a half day of school to get their work done? Why couldn’t they do their work during regular work days like all other professions? As an accountant, my dad didn’t take time off work to enter data; he did it during the work day and teachers should be able to do the same. They can’t do report cards while children are in school? How incompetent are they?
Yes, my whole life was filled with these negative talks about teachers. And I did wonder, why couldn’t they get this work done during the school hours? As a current teacher I can assure you that we do complete our report card grades and comments during the school day or likely on our own time on the weekends and after school hours. If we are given time for it during an in-service it is very limited. Teacher in-service time isn’t used for chit-chat and nonsense it is intentionally used to facilitate teacher growth which in turn facilitates student growth.
There might be a few schools where in-service time is wasted time. I have not worked in any of those schools. I do not know any teachers who have worked in those kinds of schools. Those schools are the exception, not the rule. Let me tell you about the kinds of things teachers accomplish during in-service days and early releases.
PLC- Professional Learning Communities
A professional learning community or PLC is a data focused group of teachers. At my previous school we met as a PLC every Thursday during early release. In my last district only the elementary had early release as they had the least amount of shared planning time. Middle school and high school PLCs happened during the school day.
Each PLC meeting would start with some sort of data discussion. Data was our “ticket” in the door. Data in this case doesn’t always mean an assessment. Perhaps we could have said we brought in evidence of student learning. Sometimes we brought reading logs, pre-assessments, mid-unit assessments, reader’s notebooks, published writing, a quick exit ticket, whatever collected data we wanted to discuss. The what always varied based on the day’s conversation.
Together as a group we shared successes and taught each other new methods that went well. We confided in each other throughout struggles and supported each other to become stronger teachers. We made schedules to cover classes so that we could observe one another.
As we met, interventionists flowed in and out of our meetings. Our math interventionist would come and we could all share how students were doing in the classroom and how they were doing in the intervention. The interventionist would offer up suggestions for our whole class instruction. We shifted kids and made different groups based off of data collected. Our ELL teachers and special education teachers also drifted in and out of the meetings providing input and insight into our practices. We worked together to become better teachers.
PLC meetings were some of the most powerful meetings I have ever sat in as a teacher. The community of teachers I was with was amazing. The support and focus on continued growth was some of the best I’ve received. You know how sometimes the best learning happens when kids teach other kids? The same can be said for teachers.
Teachers collect a lot of data. We complete benchmark reading assessments and students take periodic assessments like MAP or STAR. Teachers then need time to analyze that data and determine implications for teaching. Some data meetings take place during the school day but longer chunks of uninterrupted time are most helpful.
One district called these meetings Data Retreats and another called them Data Summits. The premise of both meetings was the same. Throughout the year we would get together as a grade level and as a whole school and analyze data together. Through focused questions and activities teachers looked into their teaching and teaching outcomes. Data is a large focus of PLC work so this meeting was sort of like a large scale PLC.
At times these data meetings span grade levels. When I taught 2nd we would meet with the grade 3 teachers at the beginning of the year to analyze data. We would compare end of year data to beginning of year data. We looked at what stuck over summer and what didn’t. There was no blame placed on any teachers but instead it was looked at as an opportunity for growth. As a team we noticed that we needed to work more on vowel teams and writing about reading. We then made changes to our instruction and reanalyzed throughout the year. We also met with the 1st grade team as we went through our data. They filled us in on any information we might need regarding strategies that worked or didn’t work for certain students. They reflected on their teaching and made plans for the current school year.
Data meetings aren’t always academically focused. At a school I taught at in the US we also had behavior data meetings. We noticed that we referred Black students at a disproportionate rate to their peers. We worked to learn about bias and learned strategies to use within the classroom to teach all students. We worked to refine our behavior policies and create new systems that kept kids in classes.
Without data meetings teachers don’t have time to analyze what is and is not working. These data meetings need to be focused and intentional. Once we held a data meeting during the school day and substitute teachers floated from grade level to grade level. I was pulled out of over half of my data meeting to deal with behaviors the sub was struggling with. This is why data meetings held on in-service days are better for teachers and in turn better for students.
Professional Development Sessions
Teachers need professional development in order to grow. The more professional education our teachers receive the better teacher they are for students. Teachers need time to learn new curriculum and strategies for teaching. As a math curriculum leader I lead professional development around answer getting in math and creating problems with multiple entry points. This year as a curriculum team leader I lead professional development on Fountas and Pinnell’s Benchmark Assessment System, mini-lessons, conferring, using writing checklists, writing essential questions, and much more. Without large chunks of time we end up getting half-way through or part of the way and then lose momentum by the next meeting. It can take forever to train or lead people on something if the time needed is not given. Next year my school will adopt a new math curriculum and they’ll need large chunks of time for training.
Professional development sessions can be so helpful! Once we had a district wide grade level pd afternoon and it was so helpful. We focused on a few areas grade 3 writers were struggling with and how to target those in writer’s workshop and word study. There’s so much to learn as teachers and there’s always room for improvement.
Teachers don’t only have to teach, assess, and report on progress. We also have to write curriculum and document curriculum taught. We use Atlas Rubicon to document our curriculum. This year we are working to rewrite all of our science curriculum. We chose to rewrite science to focus on the scientific method and a more hands on approach. We need time to not only document our new curriculum but to discuss curriculum with one another. We’re working on our vertical alignment during the meetings to make sure that each grade level flows into and supports the one after it. Without our in-service time we wouldn’t be able to create a cohesive curriculum for our students to enjoy and explore science.
It's not work alone in your room time
Imagine a group of students who were just told that they were heading out on a surprise field trip. The excitement would be through the roof. This is how teachers react to classroom work time on an in-service schedule. It is a rare beauty. Our most recent in-service allowed us 30 minutes at the end for independent work in our classrooms. This was a real treat! As you can see in-service days aren’t meant to be work alone in your room kind of days. They’re meant to be engaging professional learning days. So when the opportunity comes to work in your classroom it is so exciting. In fact, I think this is the first one we’ve had all year. That is how rare they are. Usually some sort of committee meeting might be held in this time slot so most teachers wouldn’t even get work time.
There is work that teacher’s can’t get done in their classrooms while students are there. During many of my preps other classes use my room so I can’t work during that time. I take a teacher taxi to and from school so there is no coming in early or staying late. All I have is the time at school with my students. Some tasks fall away because they aren’t a priority. I wasn’t sitting in my room painting my nails and counting down until the end of the day during my work time. I was in a complete reorganization frenzy. Our organizational system wasn’t working and I was fixing it. Something I didn’t have time to do for weeks.
why not just have meetings during the day?
We have a weekly meeting during the day. It takes place during our lunch and recess time. We start at 11:40 and it ends at 12:18. That is not enough time to accomplish much. As elementary teachers we have to ensure our kids get ready for recess and watch them until the recess supervisor arrives. This eats away at our time. We have to pick them up from lunch so our meeting ends earlier than other departments- this eats up at our time. After our meeting I rush off to teach math and all but one teacher on our team rushes to teach. Some teachers also teach the period right before.
Sandwiched into our busy days is this little chunk of meeting time. During our meetings we need to be hyper-focused. We need to enter, forget all the stress and worries of the day, focus on a task and work to complete some sort of learning, and then rush off to teach kids again. Can you imagine a meeting like this? Of course, we all make a commitment to show up as our best selves and collaborate to learn. Sometimes it just doesn’t go that way.
When students aren’t in school there isn’t any additional sort of pressure. Teachers can fully engage in meetings because there is no running to do list of the rest of the day. There is no stress that in 5 minutes time you need to rush off and teach a math lesson that you didn’t have time to prep because you were at a meeting. It allows time to breathe and relax. I’ll be honest I do find learning on in-service days to be relaxing. Teachers need this stress free time to grow. Teacher growth leads to student growth.
What sort of scheduled meeting times do teacher have at your school? We have staff meetings after school on Wednesday and monthly in-service days.
What do you do with teacher in-service and meeting time? I’d love to find out more. Leave a comment in the box below!