Sitting through meetings under those circumstances was torture. I tried my best to focus on the important information that was being communicated to me usually by my principal or department chair. Hard as I tried, I’m fairly certain I discovered the backchannel before I even knew there was a name for it. I had a “backchannel” conversation going on in my own head with myself for much of the time I was in those meetings, thinking of all the things I still needed to get done in the little precious time I had before the kids came. Later, when I became a campus technology facilitator and was given an hour each year of the teacher’s time to update them on technology resources on our campus, I tried really hard to keep things simple and to the point, giving them only the most important information – and handouts which covered in detail everything I was saying. I was fully aware that everyone in that room had a backchannel going on in their heads as well, even if they were making eye contact and nodding. The handout could be referenced later when they had settled into the year a bit. And I gave my best effort to not get frustrated when they came back later and asked me about something I knew I had covered in that meeting.
Those of us who are charged with sharing back-to-school information with teachers should keep all of this in mind. Yes we have agendas and important information, but does all of it have to be communicated NOW? Or in two solid days of meetings? Could we give teachers work time in the morning and meet in the afternoon? (They might listen better if they can knock some things off of their lists first.) Can some of it wait for the first few faculty meetings? Can some of it be communicated through email or a website or blog? If you think about it, you are wasting your own precious time as well if 50% of what you are covering isn’t making an impact because your audience is distracted. Be mindful of your teacher’s needs, focus only on what is of critical importance for getting school started, and then give them the valuable time they need to plan for quality instruction.
I’m going to point the finger a bit at my own educational technology community and say that we can be very guilty of this whether we mean to or not in our excitement over the latest new technology tool or research. When sharing this information with teachers, we can easily come across as “If you aren’t using this tool/method/etc you are not giving students a quality education.” Do we honestly think they are not educating their students at all? I don’t think that. I know teachers who are behind the curve when it comes to technology but who are still giving their students excellent skills in their subject areas. Teachers whom those students love despite the reports that kids are turned off by having to “unplug” at school. I am, of course, an educational technology advocate. I recognize, however, that quality teaching existed before technology hit the classroom and as a result quality teachers from “BC” (before computers) still exist in our schools. And I’ll venture to say that just because you are using computers doesn’t mean you are teaching in a quality manner.
The bottom line is this: If you want to take those quality teachers, or even those ones who aren’t so “quality”, and help them develop into better teachers, you should to give them some strokes for the things they are doing well. And you should present your new idea/strategy/program as an opportunity to add a tool to their pedagogical tool belt to increase the learning that is already going on in their classrooms. Couching it this way helps increase the receptivity of the teachers to new approaches. The old saying “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” should be applied far more often in teacher professional development.
All photos used with permission under Creative Commons License Agreements:
Teacher & Gradebook
Teacher & Student