I’ve never been a big fan of the “run a school like a business” analogy and philosophy. But I was sitting in a meeting recently, contemplating this concept, and I thought: what if my school created a similar team? Instead of always focusing on the “right now” trend in education, what if we had a team of teachers looking and planning ahead, helping us adopt the next generation of best practices so that we, too, could be “ahead of the curve”.
Many schools require teachers to sign up for committees at the beginning of each year. Social committee, RtI committee, PBIS committee, etc. What if one of these committees was an “Innovation” committee? The goal would be to critically examine new trends and/or ideas in education (or maybe just “new” to your school), determine the validity of / research behind such ideas, and decide their practicality within our particular school.
Given its important and independent nature, consideration must be given to who are the members of the committee. In a middle school setting, one member of all content areas should be included. A member of all grade levels should also be included. This ensures that all teachers feel their issues and concerns are represented in the committee’s decision making. However, effort should be made to keep the number of committee members as small as possible. Larger groups tend to have more difficulty having honest conversations and making decisions.
There should be no stipend attached to this committee, but it should be made known that the committee members may be asked to spend some time outside of the school day on committee work. This will help filter out people who want to be on the committee a) for additional money or b) just to ram through their own ideas, and will encourage the teachers who are truly passionate about improving the school to apply. From there, the selection process should be just that - selective. One idea is that teachers could be nominated for the position by their colleagues, to add credibility to their selection as respected by their peers. In the end, administration should select the team to ensure the highest quality of team members. (One caution with this: Administrators need to make sure that teachers do not see the committee as an extension of administration. It will detract from the committee’s legitimacy and make it harder to get the entire staff to adopt recommendations and suggestions).
At the beginning of the year, the committee should survey teachers to determine the topics and ideas that the staff is interested in pursuing in their school. For example, in our school teachers have expressed interest in standards-based grading and project-based learning. A simple Google Form or Survey Monkey can easily collect the data for you. Include some topics the committee itself is interested in, and leave space for the staff to write in their own suggestions. When you get teachers input, they feel their voice is heard, and they more easily buy into change.
Once the data is back, pick 2-5 topics that the committee wants to focus on. This can be the most popular, most practical, or a combination. From here the committee’s job is to research these topics. Questions they should answer is:
- What, exactly, is it?
- What is the research behind it? What evidence is there of its effectiveness?
- How are other schools and districts implementing it?
Once the general information is collected, the committee’s job is to determine the feasibility of the idea within their own district. Questions to debate should be:
- Is this something we can commit to?
- What resources will we need?
- How will this look in our school / district?
- What supports will teachers need?
At this point, there should be some meetings scheduled with administration. Findings should be presented to them, and their input should be considered. It is important that for this committee to work, administrators need to be willing to keep an open mind on ideas that are not their own, and be willing to productively engage in these conversations.
At the end of the year, the committee should present their findings to the whole staff. This should include the research and effectiveness of ideas, a plan for how such ideas would be implemented within the school, and the committee’s recommendation on whether or not it should be adopted.
Then the entire staff can have a solid discussion on such changes, and whether or not they want these ideas to be a part of their school building. If we really want to make substantive changes in our schools, we need to recognize that it will only happen if all (most) teachers believe in such a change.
I know I am quite idealistic. What do you think about this idea? Could this take place in your school? Do you already have something like this in place?