I’m not sure if teachers dreaded faculty meetings more than I did, but while standing in an auditorium filled with tired-looking faculty after a long day of teaching, I sometimes had this thought: If I did a dance or paused unsuspectingly, would that gain their attention, even if only for a moment?

We ask teachers to sit and focus at their lowest energy cycle of the day. It’s no wonder—as with kids—we see distractibility, disinterest, and frustration. Absenteeism rose by 10 percent on faculty meeting Mondays. That’s 12 faculty members absent, more than double the average absentee rate.

Something had to be done to change faculty meetings. Otherwise, students lose: Absent teachers make learning harder and kids are in greater need of a positive and present adult influence in school more than ever.

So, what could we do? Drawing on research on effective professional learning communities (PLCs), I developed a PLC model, wrapped around a focus on learning, results, and timely and relevant information. How do you do this with a faculty of 100+?

A model for any school, department, or level
Breaking the process into parts is the key factor in executing the roadmap. Here’s how it works at our middle school:

Four administrators oversee eight departments: language arts, math, social studies, science, world languages, arts, technology, and physical ed/health. You can facilitate with a lead teacher, specialists, or coaches and/or supervisor. Each facilitator takes a core subject in the first and a non-core subject in the second category. For instance, I was assigned to math and world languages. These two departments meet (separately) in nearby rooms.

Next, you need to set the stage to execute a successful faculty PLC. Google Forms are nifty, free, and accessible. They let you gather information easily, quickly, and efficiently. Before a meeting, we email faculty members the Google Form.

 

Departmentally, the most popular topic selected is the topic that month. If there’s a tie, the department decides what to do. As you can see, this is an extremely democratic process that empowers faculty. They own this, and they make effective use of their time on their professional development topics.

 

You may have noticed the “Fed-Ex Day.” Have you heard about Google’s “20% time” policy, where the company offered staff the option to work on a topic of their own choice on the fifth day of the week? What resulted was a fourfold success rate of ideas, or 20-percent time providing 80 percent of their ideas/achievements! If this can work at Google, why not in schools? Offering this option warrants one requirement, however; the performer must produce a result related to student achievement. That’s it. This has been one of our most well-received and—you guessed it—performance-generating PLCs!

What happens in the PLC
Teachers report to their department-based locations. An assigned secretary and timekeeper takes attendance and submits a narrative Google Form with any relevant data, while keeping the department on task. Meanwhile, the administrator/coach rotates between his or her two departments. This may sound challenging but remember, this is teacher-empowered. An occasional question about district regulations or helping facilitate access to something are typically all the administrator needs to handle.

At the monthly PLC meetings, faculty move toward a common goal. I find teachers staying 10 to 15 minutes after the meeting, fulfilling a task, walking out smiling, slapping each other’s backs, and feeling accomplished. No more tired, disconnected, or absent teachers.

I’ll be honest: This did not come easy. We tinkered, we added the Fed-Ex Day when faculty reported the other topics were not relevant to them. We moved locations for convenience. And all of these little tweaks allowed us to refine our faculty meetings into a powerhouse model for the district and state. Flipping the focus, work, and empowerment leads to the most effective method for functional, interactive professional learning. When a team is on a roll, it feels so much easier, and it is.

Sometimes, departments join each other for cross-curricular meetings. This may occur a couple times a year and offers an interesting lens into shared experiences, especially about students. The question I am asked the most by people interested in implementing a similar model in their school is how I manage the minutia, the intermittent mandates. When necessary and you still need to present information, I use Loom, a free video recorder, to present minutia in no more than 10 minutes. Faculty can watch, right from the comfort of their own seat, and then jump right into their PLC.

Online surveys of faculty showed a jump from 45 percent before we did PLCs to 82 percent reporting they receive adequate professional development time. That is progress.

Next step: Edcamp-style meetings
Once you’ve established engaging PLC platforms for meetings, you’re ready to embrace Edcamp-style faculty meetings. Teachers share topics of interest and select a topic that they would like to learn and share about. You’ll be amazed by the diversity and creativity of topics. Try this once or twice a year to reinvigorate and build collaboration among faculty.

Final thoughts
Empowering faculty with the tools to lead their own professional development is the most effective way to target student achievement and improve faculty attendance. Our faculty PLC roadmap can be replicated in any setting. All you have to do is take a chance.

About the Author:

Dr. Michael Gaskell has been principal of Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick, N.J. since 2006, following experience as a special educator and assistant principal in Paramus, NJ. Gaskell achieved his doctorate in educational leadership in 2014 and continues to model the pursuit of lifelong learning as he serves as a mentor to new principals in other schools through the NJEA Leaders to Leaders program. In his work as a principal, he works tirelessly to support instructional excellence, his faculty, the district, and, most important, the children as benefactors of idea sharing.