Whenever you decide to try something new in a school you are going to find that there are three types of responses that you get from the people involved. 1. “I don’t see why we need to try that, what we’ve been doing is working just fine.” 2. “Sure, whatever, I’m willing to give this a try.” and 3. “Yes, please, let’s try that!”. You will find that these responses come from parents, teachers and students alike and you can probably, as a teacher or administrator, predict with amazing accuracy, the people who will give you each response before you even make a suggestion. The challenge comes with following through on your idea. Sure, it may be a risk that you are taking in implementing a change but how can we move forward and encourage risk taking if we don’t model it?
This past month we tried a new format for parent – teacher conferences.
We opened up the afternoon to “drop in” meetings for parents. In the past parents had to call ahead and book appointment times with each of their child’s teachers.
We had coffee and treats available for parents as they entered the building to welcome them to our school and also had parents fill out a ticket for a door prize draw. We have never had food or prizes before. (Who doesn’t love food and prizes?)
The teachers gathered in the gym at tables that we arranged around the perimeter. There were several advantages to this. It felt less isolating for staff and more like a school community, parents did not have to walk from classroom to classroom and wait outside in the hall while other parents were finishing their appointments, instead they could scan the gym to see which teacher was available and easily approach that teacher to discuss student learning. Our school is very large, it takes 20 minutes for me to unlock and turn on lights in the morning so having the teachers in one location made it much easier for parents.
When this new format was first suggested to staff, the three expected responses mentioned earlier were received. When I suggested food and door prizes I was almost laughed out of the room. The plan would also involve more work in organizing the gym and getting the food set up. This would be my responsibility but we have amazing students and support staff who helped out and when the last class left the gym at 2:11pm, everyone sprung into action and had all 30 tables, labelled with teachers names and subjects, 90 chairs, and the food tables ready to go by 2:30pm. Whew!!
While the turn out was not as great as I had hoped, the conversations that were sparked as a result of the change made it all worthwhile. I had parents drop by my office to give me feedback on why they liked this new format. I had teachers drop by with amazing ideas about how we can make this format even better next time. Ideas like using this time to showcase student success and creativity, displaying student work in the center of the gym for parents to see and having student council members present to greet parents, just to name a few. I know I will still have those people who are stuck on response number 1 but that is to be expected.
What if we promoted risk taking to our staff and students and modeled it openly as administrators?