Padlet Block Parties: The Jazzed-Up Online Staff Meeting!

April 1, 2020

For years now, great principals have moved away from the nuts and bolts staff meeting in favor of interactive professional learning and dialogue.

While the current crisis likely demands a return to orderly info sessions, there will soon be time to engage with our colleagues around professional matters.

So, why not host a Block Party?

If you’ve ever used this, you know how engaging the Block Party can be.  It’s my go-to opener for staff meetings and professional learning sessions and it’s never disappointed. (I’m a huge fan of protocols and rely on the School Reform Initiative for their great list of resources.)

It goes like this:

The facilitator chooses quotes related to the topic or theme of the meeting.  (You can do this with pieces from one specific article/reading, but I’ve had great luck with these quotes.)

In a face to face meeting, I print the quotes and cut into strips.  (There are usually multiples.)

Then, spread out the strips on a table and allow folks to choose one that resonates with them. Give some thinking time and then have people get up, find a partner and share what they chose and why.  After both have shared, they move on and find new partners. Repeat as long as you wish. (Usually 3 rounds)

In a large group, people share themes, poignant remarks from partners, etc.  

A well-planned “block party” never fails to ignite minds and prepare us for good work.

Now, take the party online…

  1. Create a Padlet in Grid format. 
  2. Put a different quote at the top of each column.  (As many or as few as you want.)
  3. Make sure you’ve adjusted settings to allow for comments and reactions.
  4. Ask participants to make sure they choose at least one quote, comment  on at least one other person’s response and make sure every response has at least one comment. 

Click on the link to access a Block Party Padlet that I’ve pre-populated with relevant quotes.

You’ll need to make a copy.  Here’s a quick tutorial for how to do that. 

I hope this provides a space for meaningful staff engagement.  I’d love to hear reactions and suggestions – contact me here



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How to promote experimentation during the COVID-19 shutdowns

March 19, 2020

There are many, many real challenges associated with these school closings.  I don’t take them lightly and I appreciate the leaders working to ensure equity, provide services and promote a caring culture from a distance.  To those of you doing that, I thank you.

In the midst of this, though, we can find opportunities. 

Now is a time to ask ourselves how we have been constrained by our school calendars and daily schedules.  Now is a time to encourage experimentation and growth so that we might return to school with fresh ideas.

Here are few possibilities…

What if…

  • Instead of teachers meeting with their classes or sections, they met according to interest/need groups?  In high school and middle school, teachers teach multiple sections of the same course.  Why not mix and match students for new groupings? Some might be based on need and teachers could use the time for focused tutorials.  Others might be based on interest and might be more student-led while the teacher observes or facilitates?
  • Teachers dropped in, or even guest-lectured, in one another’s classes?  A fourth grade teacher might drop into a third grade class to get a sense of where her future students stand.  A social studies/history teacher might drop into a math class to get a sense of how his students approach that subject?
  • Teachers paired up to create optional interdisciplinary interactive lectures via zoom? Math and science teachers might come together to show students how their subjects merge.  ELA and History teachers might do the same.

There are so many more.  We have allowed ourselves to be limited by any number of constraints—the length of day and of classes, the limited time for professional interaction, etc.  We have an opportunity right now to go beyond class time and physical walls.  Let’s see what we can do with it.

I would love to hear how others are experimenting…

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Gorillas and Teacher Evaluation

Gorillas and Teacher Evaluation

March 5, 2014

Let me just say this at the start–I’m in favor of systematized teacher evaluation systems. Here in Rhode Island, we have taken elements of the Danielson framework and built a rubric for professional practice from it. In our network, we’ve spent considerable time focusing on the various sub-domains via Instructional Rounds and other forms of professional development and have conducted numerous partnered observations to norm our process.

The system itself has a number of imperfections. First, a teacher’s effectiveness level in any domain is calculated using a simple average. That means that a teacher who becomes more and more effective in one sub-domain over time is not rewarded for growth. (maybe reward is the wrong term–it’s better to note that the final rating may simply be inaccurate. As a fan of standards-based grading using complete or weighted replacement in which a student’s mastery in one area is determined by his most recent grade, the practice of averaging these teacher ratings perturbs me.

Second, while the process has forced some of us to observe and give feedback more frequently, it has also become another bureaucratic exercise–so much so that where I work we’ve actually separated the observation/evaluation process and our coaching and peer feedback process. I’d love a world where the elements of coaching, support, real feedback and self reflection were companionable elements of a constructive and meaningful evaluation system.

However, what really concerns me is the possibility that focusing on the elements of the rubric could cause us to miss –or misunderstand–other events in the classroom. If radiologists–highly trained viewers–can miss a picture of a gorilla superimposed on slides they look at when searching for cancer, then it’s certainly not a stretch to think that educators might miss important classroom events, teaching practices or student actions when framing the observation in terms of a (very good) rubric only. What’s the solution? Observe with an open mind. Use partners who can observe with little or no preconceived notion of what to look for. Leave the rubric behind from time to time. Try video which allows the teacher –alone or with colleagues–to view and debrief by starting with what they noticed, staying low on the ladder of inference. Let’s just look, rather than looking for something.

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