Staff planning, or: how we build it ourselves.

SLA is still in the midst of its planning week, so I thought I would describe the structure that informs our faculty work groups.

With a tiny administration (principal, secretary, and a few killer assistants), planning and organizing has always been an all-hands-on-deck affair. Since we became a full-sized school, these tasks were formalized as committees, although sometimes we avoid that term for the less bureaucratic “working groups.” Each group has a couple of rotating leaders and a short list of members. Everybody is in at least one working group, and at least half of staff are committee chairs.

I know that many schools spend their professional development days “handing down” content — whether it’s curriculum, discipline plans, trust falls, or something else. I also know that this makes a lot of people want to poke their eyes out. In contrast, virtually all of our our PD is teacher-led — and these groups have already been meeting and planning in advance of presenting to the larger group.

A couple of examples from this week:

– The Attendance group shared their reflections on last year’s attendance issues, and presented a revised proposal for dealing with student lateness.

– The Diversity committee led a workshop on working styles.

– Our Technology Coordinator (who is also our art teacher) gave us a tour of some new interfaces we will be trying out this year, in addition to Moodle and our old favorites.

– The new Curriculum committee will be guiding some unit plan improvement workshops.

– The Advisory committee will be rolling out a new program designed to help beautify and care for school spaces.

I am not going to pretend that PD is always a joy for us — but there is a sense of investment that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. We pull from all kinds of plans and structures that exist elsewhere, but ultimately what we are creating is uniquely SLA. We’re not buying wholesale into a pre-packaged plan; if there’s something that’s not working so well, we can tinker and reorganize instead of looking for a complete replacement. And we have two hours a week of staff time all year long, so people have a chance keep talking.

I know that many schools are not built for this kind of collaboration — and as a result, teachers are never asked to own anything beyond their own classrooms. The policies are rigid, and if students are hitting their heads against them, tough.

Can this change? In Philadelphia, there’s recently been a move towards more autonomy at the high school level. A part of this is the financial reality of the district; other changes, like the move away from zero tolerance and rampant suspensions, is a conscious decision on the part of the board. Response from schools was positive. Hopefully people are willing to shoulder the extra responsibility in exchange for the results.

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