This posting is part of a series, aimed at sharing high-impact ideas and practices for consideration in relation to Collaborative Team Meetings.
The power of the Collaborative Team Meeting resides in the diversity of thought at the table when examining key issues being elicited from the identified needs of students. It is during this brainstorming of strategies, accommodations and interventions that could be considered for implementation in the classroom that innovative solutions and possibilities often arise. By ensuring diversity of thought by maximizing the individuals participating in the conversation, we can broaden our thinking and really adopt a mindset focused on “so what can we do?”
Here is a Collaborative Team Meeting Overview Template to be used to communicate the different Collaborative Team Meetings happening in a school, meeting times, dates and focus areas, and the anticipated participants for each.
Obviously the composition of the participants in the Collaborative Team Meeting is going to be dependent on many factors, such as availability during the scheduled meeting time, diversity of roles in the school, ability to release from classroom instruction if the meeting is happening during the school day, etc. However, here are some considerations to keep in mind when determining the participants involved in each Collaborative Team Meeting.
Of course teachers need to be present, engaged and coming prepared for the Collaborative Team Meetings. However the number of teachers and the composition of their areas of expertise and skill sets matter. Optimally, somewhere between 3-5 teachers on each team seems to ensure both diversity of thought that may not be present if less than three teachers are on the team, as well as opportunity for high levels of voice and engagement. When the teacher participant list starts to exceed five, it becomes more and more difficult for a facilitator to ensure everyone is engaging, having a chance to share strategies and practices, as well as prompting further questions and discussion.
When teams involve two teachers, it can still work if the partners have a solid working relationship, can challenge and question each other’s practices in a professional manner and have a breadth of experience between them to access throughout the conversation. However, the synergy of ideas may not be as robust with only two teachers.
Sometimes schools will engage with larger numbers of teachers on teams when first learning the process, just to ensure an overall understanding of the process and consistent practices being reinforced, but then need to begin scaling back the size of the groups to really promote dialogue and the examination of each educator's professional toolbox.
When employing the solid process of eliciting a key issue in relation to an identified student need, attaching other students to that key issue and then engaging in exploring potential classroom-based responses, the diversity of teacher expertise and subject matter focus (particularly at the junior high and senior high levels) becomes beneficial as you mix teachers from different departments and/or grade levels. At Medicine Hat High School in 2019-2020, the school established a structure where Friday times were scheduled with three group focuses, with groups consisting of 2-3 departments. During their 50 minute Professional Learning Time (PLT) on Fridays, one group would remain “on the floor” with students, supervising and/or providing tutorials. Another group would engage in a department meeting, while the third group would then divide into ABC groups, involving teachers from the 2-3 departments as shown in the draft document (where the schedule was developed to only go to the October 25 PD Day, to then be reviewed and adjusted as needed).
Having at least one administrator involved in the Collaborative Team Meeting is critical, as discussed in a previous blog posting. Administrators can model the process, ensure deep questions about pedagogy and instructional questions are being asked, assist with the follow-up and additional support that may be needed, and use the opportunity to learn more about the students being discussed, the responses from the staff team and where areas for further professional learning could be examined.
As shown in this meeting participation overview from Memorial Composite High School in 2019-2020, it is established that administrators in the school each engage with three teams during their Collaborative Team Meetings.
As an elementary school administrator in a relatively smaller school, we scheduled Collaborative Team Meetings so that I could attend every meeting as principal to “roll up my sleeves” and engage in the critical conversation about students and our instructional responses. This serves as a practical, embedded method of engaging in instructional leadership. Simply stated, administrators need to make the commitment to be actively engaged in Collaborative Team Meetings!
As examined in a previous blog posting, having educational assistants engaged in the conversation ensures a number of things.
- It empowers the important role of the educational assistant, inviting them to the table to share their expertise, as well as their potential knowledge of the students being discussed, family situations, community dynamics, etc. Although it is important in the Collaborative Team Meeting to not get sucked into the minutia related to an individual student (which reinforces the importance of layering team meetings within a school, so that the Collaborative Team Meeting is not a “deep dive” into an individual student), it can be important to know some background when considering appropriate actions and educational assistants can potentially bring some previously unexamined information to that conversation.
- It supports the continued growth for the educational assistants involved, as the meeting focuses upon the examination of different instructional practices and strategies. This becomes a source of powerful and timely professional learning for everyone engaged in the process.
- Due to the potential flexibility associated with the educational assistant role, the conversation could involve shifts and adjustments to the way the educational assistant is deployed to help support students. By having educational assistants involved in our own Collaborative Team Meetings, a number of creative responses involving the support they could provide would be imagined, involving this critical team member directly in the conversation.
Additional School-Based Specialists
Infusing additional school-based specialists into the Collaborative Team Meeting again just maximizes the diversity of thought and access to further toolboxes for consideration. This includes a myriad of different roles within schools, such as counsellors, student services team members, family school support workers, learning coaches, etc. This list would be a mile long if we included every variation of specialized roles we have witnessed in different schools! In addition to the extra minds around the table, there are two other benefits for the inclusion of school-based specialists:
- Since their role may include support for instructional practices within the building, the Collaborative Team Meeting conversation becomes an exceptional opportunity to help support teachers in employing the strategies and practices being suggested. Being able to respond with “can I come into your classroom to help model that?” or “I have an excellent resource I could share with you following this meeting” allows us to continue to collectively develop individual expertise across classrooms, as we are attempting practices to support students that we, as the adults, may need help with.
- Often these individuals are involved in the School Support Team and/or Case Consult Team Meetings, as part of a school’s layering of team meeting structures. Engagement in these Collaborative Team Meeting conversations can help to inform the discussions involved in the other more intensive student support structures.
We have worked with many school divisions who see the Collaborative Team Meetings at the school level to be an exceptional forum for their divisional specialists to attend to help suggest and reinforce impactful universal and classroom-based practices. When schools can provide the anticipated dates and times in an annual calendar for their Collaborative Team Meetings, preferably with the intended areas of focus, to a divisional student services team, it can lead to the intentional infusion of external specialists to engage and be part of these conversations, to further elicit practices to put into place in classrooms to support students. A pre-meeting conversation is sometimes valuable with the specialists as their roles assume that they will share the answers and their participation can enhance or impede the true intention of the Collaborative Team meetings.
In addition, several schools and school divisions have begun to seek out the Jigsaw Learning Associates and team members, to come join their Collaborative Team Meetings related to their areas of expertise and specialization, to not only offer additional strategies, accommodations and interventions to consider for the classroom, but to then potentially lead short professional learning sessions for team members related directly to the key issues being experienced. Ensuring timely and targeted professional learning in small doses can be highly impactful for staff, leading to increasing the collective capacity of the team.
It takes a team!
Ensuring diversity of thought at the table is a critical element for impactful Collaborative Team Meetings. Schools often ask the optimal number of participants to consider for this important structure and our finding has been typically 5-12 participants (knowing 3-5 of them are teachers, as discussed earlier). Less than five and we may lack the collective toolboxes important for the discussion. More than twelve and it may be difficult to ensure everyone is engaged and able to contribute in a meaningful way. The secret to the Collaborative Team Meeting is that we all enter the conversation as an expert AND a learner. We understand that we each have something meaningful to contribute in regards to our own expertise, but we also have something we can learn from the expertise of others. When we intentionally engage in practices to reinforce psychological safety on teams, we can really stretch ourselves as learners and envision different ways to adapt and transform our divergent approaches to ensure high levels of student success!
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