School: Shuksan Middle School
District: Bellingham Public Schools
Source: National Network of State Teachers of the Year
If you walked into our library five years ago on a Tuesday at 8am, you would have heard the sounds of a typical staff meeting: talk of schedule changes, don’t-forgets, events coming up, everyone needs to know this, information from the principal … you know the drill.
Today, you would witness a very different scene. You would see teacher leadership in action. You would see a teacher in front leading the meeting, teachers sitting in content areas, the principal sitting with a small group, relevant discussions around student learning, laughter, and “how can we use this tomorrow?” conversations. In short, we call it a “Show & Share.” Our staff meetings are 45 minutes and the first 30 minutes are reserved for teachers to lead and share what is working for students in their classroom. We “show” a strategy and “share” it through modeling and by giving others access to the materials or the idea. We end the meeting articulating how we might use the idea in our different contexts.
How did this change occur? About four years ago, our staff was focusing on how to better meet the needs of our English Language Learners (ELL students). We had attended professional development training on language acquisition and strategies to teach content and language simultaneously in our lessons. We learned many strategies that we were very excited to put into action.
My colleagues and I knew that, in order to ensure that we fully understood our new learning and would actually implement the new strategies, we needed more time to collaborate with one another. We wanted time to share what we were trying, talk about what was and wasn’t working, ask questions, and discuss new ideas.
We suggested to our principal that we use part of our staff meeting each month for teachers to share strategies and reflect on what was working and why. We called them “Show & Shares.” Our principal supported the idea and agreed to cut down the “business” topics of our meetings to just 15 minutes each month. If there were topics that needed to be addressed beyond those 15 minutes, we would take care of it via email or hallway conversations.
As a result, for the past three years, the first 30 minutes of our staff meetings are reserved for teachers to lead teachers and focus on instruction. As the ELL Specialist in our building, I seek out teachers willing to share for each meeting. Sometimes they share a quick vocabulary strategy, sometimes a classroom management technique, sometimes a story about a student making growth. We end our time applying what we heard to our own classroom. Every teacher leaves the meeting with a next step. How might I use this idea this week? What might I try? What other questions do I have? What other strategies do I want to learn about? I have to say that, at Shuksan Middle School, we love staff meetings! It has become a collaborative space for ongoing, relevant PD that is focused, timely, and fun. You won’t see any teachers walking in late – that’s for sure. This time has become extremely valuable and has led to a culture focused on instruction, student learning, and teacher leadership.
Katie Brown is an ELL Specialist, Instructional Coach, and the 2014 Washington State Teacher of the Year. You can learn more about her work around ELL and professional development on her website: www.mycoachkatie.com