Daniel Vrieze, Dover-Eyota Middle School/High School, Eyota, MN
Study Team and Teaching Strategies (STTS) are not just for students. A team of teachers in our district, supported by the administration, formed a building-level problem-solving group. We charged ourselves with the task of being a “forward-thinking team that has a direction, works cooperatively, and has positive energy to provide a consistent culture of professionalism and continuous improvement.” We named the group “Site Council”. Given the limited amount of time we are allotted, Site Council uses STTS to make sure everyone’s input is heard. Our organized, succinct meetings are infused with positive energy and there is a direct purpose for each staff meeting, as we demonstrate new strategies teachers can use in their own classrooms.
We believe that to have a strong collaborative culture, everyone on staff needs to connect through professional and personal relationships. In recent years, our staff has experienced more turn-over than we are accustomed, which unfortunately leads to many of us feeling that we have lost part of our family. To fill in the gaps and foster relationship building, we use grouping strategies from the CPM website to decide where everyone will sit during some of our staff meetings. This encourages staff members to sit by new people. Two of my favorite sorts are 1) choosing groups of two by typing jokes and punch lines on two slips of paper, passing them out randomly to the staff and having them find the person that completes the joke; and 2) choosing groups of four by cutting cartoons into five puzzle pieces, one piece goes on each table and the rest get passed out as people enter the room. The movement and humor created by these activities also help to provide a little energy by getting everyone’s blood flowing and provides a positive atmosphere to start the meeting. We have also lined up by birth month and day and years of experience to create more heterogeneous groups.
When staff expressed frustration with the growing separation between our values as teachers (work ethic and performance expectations) and the results we were seeing from our students, we decided to use STTS to help. We wanted to collect qualitative data about these frustrations and values of the faculty members in a manner that would create a positive problem-solving atmosphere while promoting trust and strengthening relationships between staff members. To do this we used a Think-Pair-Share mixed with a Dyad. We felt that these two strategies gave faculty members time to formulate their response in their head and practice it confidentially with a partner before sharing it with the whole group. The responses to this activity provided the direction for staff development for the next school year. We used the following sentence starters to keep the activity focused on student learning.
“I am frustrated with ___________ because I value ________. I feel this negatively impacts student learning because _______.”
In an effort to promote teamwork among staff, we used two different Carousels to collect and share ideas. During the first activity, we modified an Index Card Carousel to ask four different questions including “Can someone help me with…”, “I can help a colleague with…”, “Positive Celebrations”, and “How can I improve myself this school year”. The response to each question was placed on a different colored notecard and posted in the teachers’ lounge as a version of a Gallery Walk.
On a different occasion, we collected information on effective homework strategies, communicating essential learning goals, facilitating student self-assessment, ideas for open house/conferences, and effective teamwork strategies. Each topic was placed on a different poster and a Carousel-Around the World was used to collect responses. A Site Council member stayed at each poster to facilitate the discussion and to summarize the content using a Whip-Around at the end.
When we have needed new, fresh ideas about how to facilitate our staff meetings, we have referenced the STTS document from the CPM website for ideas. This year we plan to adapt a Fortune Cookie to collect information for next year’s teacher workshops and we plan to use a Silent Debate to have a civil discussion regarding the contentious topic of student cell phone use.
The Study Team and Teaching Strategies from CPM have livened up our staff meetings. They provide the structure needed to efficiently collect large amounts of qualitative data that provide the direction for teacher workshops and help create a positive culture of cooperative problem-solving in our district. In addition, teachers outside the Math Department are using the STTS documents in their own classrooms as a result of the experiences they have had at staff meetings.
To view CPM’s STTS, go to: https://www.cpmstg.wpengine.com/pdfs/studyTeam/STTS%20cards%202012.pdf