Leading a Staff Development: Habits of Heart and Mind
With the process of our WASC review this year, we have been using a lot of our professional development time to review our work and write our goals and assessment as a staff. The WASC committee had given us our 3 assessment standards through which we were meant as a staff to review our work. On one 3 hour development meeting in early November we began discussing the Habits of Heart and Mind (HOHAM). According to our WASC report that we are writing, these Habits are to serve as our standards through which all of our students as well as work should be assessed. Our meeting leaders decided to break from the presentation and host a free-form discussion on how the entire WASC process was going for everyone. This was slated to be a 15-minute check-in, and it turned into an hour-long discussion. As a new teacher to HTHNC, one of the things I kept noticing coming up was that there was no clear consensus on how HOHAM was being used. In addition to this, I also noticed that none of the newer teachers were adding to the discussion. I felt that the reason I wasn't adding to the discussion was because I had no real understanding of HOHAM. I wasn't sure where it came from or why it was implemented. I didn't know how teachers were using it or if I was supposed to be using it. When I finally decided to speak and bring this up, I noticed a lot of the staff, especially the newer teachers, were nodding. What came out of this discussion was that one of our new staff goals was to at the very least get some background to everyone on HOHAM.
Andrea, Geoff and I decided that we would plan a professional development that would begin this process. Geoff and I planned the basics of the meeting during a school day. He asked me what I felt like teachers should leave knowing. It was hard for me to speak for everyone, but I wanted at least to know some of the history of why we use HOHAM and how people are using it in their classrooms. After talking with Geoff, it became clear that I didn't have buy-in for these standards that are supposed to be prevalent in my class. I wasn't sure if this was the case for others though so I wanted to make a snapshot video of random staff and students to see where everyone was on using and internalizing HOHAM. We then figured it would be a natural segue to go into a little history of using HOHAM at North County. Since Andrea has been at HTHNC almost since it opened, she volunteered to take on this section. We planned that after Andrea gave a brief history, everyone broke out into planned groups of 4. Andrea divided up the groups so that there were newer staff members as well as people who had been around for a longer time. Within these groups, they were instructed to discuss the purpose of using HOHAM at HTHNC. After this, Geoff had posted the 10 Habits of Heart and Mind around the room and asked everyone to walk around and write up a concrete example of when they had seen this being used in their classroom or in someone else's classroom. We ended with a 5 minute journaling and asked everyone to take this journaling and set a HOHAM goal for their team on Monday's team meetings. Although we led the process, I also felt like I was also able to participate and assess the effectiveness of our original goal: to get the staff on the same page with HOHAM.
One of the most important things that would ensure the meeting would go well would be that the staff have a genuine interest in wanting to examine how HOHAM is being used at our school. I thought we could open it up with a discussion and some purposeful questions. However, after looking at the time frame of an hour, I thought it might be more efficient and engaging to put together a video of the staff and students. I filmed during a 30 minute window of time I had during a prep one day. My intention was to have a random group of both teachers and students. As I left the 12th grade wing with my FlipCam, I asked any teacher that was available and students two questions: 1) What are the Habits of Heart and Mind? 2) What is the purpose of using HOHAM at HTHNC? I used a clip from everyone's response to make a 5 minute video. When I tuned our meeting, my concern was if I should make this video funny or if it should be a more serious piece. It was my inclination to make it funny and also revealing that indeed everyone is all over the place with our interpretation of HOHAM's purpose. I also asked my director to screen the video. Although it was only a little 5-minute piece, I was nervous that I might make someone feel targeted or that I could be seen as making fun of students. Both my director and Geoff said that it was fine to add humor, and Geoff suggested that I simply preface the video with an explanation that the people used in the video was random and not targeting anyone in particular. After leading into the video with this introduction, I felt that it went really well. It became pretty obvious that there is a lot of confusion surrounding HOHAM.
The Break Out Groups
At this point in our meeting, I got to participate as a member of a mixed group of teachers. Andrea started by giving us a brief background of HOHAM according to Debbie Meyer and the Coalition of Essential Schools. She had some handouts with background available at the back of the room. Then we were divided into groups of 4-5 based on HTHNC experience. In my group, we had an 11th grade teacher who had been at HTHNC for 3 years, the Dean of Students who had been there since it opened, a new teacher to HTHNC this year as well as myself, also a new teacher to HTHNC. We had the goal to discuss what the purpose of HOHAM was at HTHNC. The first 2 comments from the more veteran members both centered around that there are too many Habits currently to make them authentic. It's funny that this was the immediate course the discussion went because Geoff and I predicted that this might happen if we opened it up to a full group discussion about the purpose. Geoff had asked if we wanted to revisit the Habits of Heart and Mind in this case. I felt like it would be necessary, but that perhaps now wasn't the time to do it, in the middle of our WASC review. I also felt like if HOHAM is supposed to be our guiding principles as educators at HTHNC, that they might need to be revisited each year. At least until the staff seems more set and stable. One of the teachers brought up Boston Arts Academy and their concept of RICO. These are their 4 Habits that they want all of their students to embody. I added that I had visited Boston Arts Academy last year, as had our Dean. We both were impressed that the students not only could vocalize their Habits of learning, but that they seemed to apply them naturally on a consistent basis. It seemed that some of the other groups talked about ways to change them as well, while some groups focused on the more theoretical question of why we use HOHAM now. I left this section of our meeting with so many more questions.
Andrea wrapped up this section by having groups that were willing to share out. I loved this time. The conversations seemed so rich in each group, and we had to end the sharing out time even though people wanted to continue to share. It was time to go to class at this point, so Geoff left the group thinking about our next step which was to think about concrete ways that HOHAM is being used in classrooms so that we could begin to convert the conversation from the theoretical to the concrete.
The HOHAM Gallery Walk
This meeting was broken up over two morning meetings, and the second part started with a gallery walk of all the HOHAMs posted up around the classroom. Between our first meeting and this next one, Geoff had typed up the notes that the groups had emailed to him, and we read over the feedback with a partner and shared out things that surprised us. From this, we walked around the room posting concrete examples of things we have seen in classrooms (our own or others) that embody HOHAM. Along with the Habits we had posted the questions that go along with each habit to help people visualize each habit. I always enjoy seeing what is happening in other people's classrooms and often staff meetings and recognitions is when I hear what's happening on other sides of the building. By going through this process as well though, I was forced to think about my own practice. As one of the teachers stated in the video, “I think I am using the Habits of Heart and Mind, but I don't think I could label it or tell you what I specifically am doing.” This was a time to specifically analyze what we are doing. This left me wondering if we should address being more deliberate in our labelings of our practices. This seemed to be a common question from a lot of the staff. If we are using the Habits of Heart and Mind on a daily basis, but we are not calling them as such, is this OK?
After our gallery walk, we spent 5 minutes journaling about how our thinking may have shifted as well as a goal that we might want to work on over the next couple of months. I wanted to make sure when this activity was over that the staff knew this information would be used later or could be used later. I asked that everyone spend a few minutes on Monday's team meeting discussing a goal that they might have in relation to HOHAM over the next few months. I thought it was important to say that this is only the beginning of the conversation, especially since I felt like a lot of the groups tended to be leaning towards re-examining the Habits of Heart and Mind. Often when we get going with meaty issues in professional development, there is some sense of closing the loop. This particular meeting seemed unresolved to me, but definitely a start to an important conversation.
I have led meetings before, but I enjoyed leading this with 2 other staff members. It felt to me like it was a collegial effort which mirrored the feel we were hoping for among the staff. We weren't looking for a top-down training since this was simply an exploration of what we want as a staff. Talking out the structure of the meeting with Geoff was especially helpful. What he was able to bring into our meeting was a more thorough understanding of the way the Coalition of Essential Schools has used these Habits. Additionally, he had a myriad of resources including a teacher's self-assessment of using the Habits of Heart and Mind in a lesson or project. We had initially planned to have the teachers do this self-assessment, but then Andrea grounded us and suggested that it might be too much crammed into one meeting. Having three people plan a one-hour professional development meant that we also wanted to fill it with a little bit too much information so that we could all have a hand in executing the meeting. It worked out well to have Geoff and I initially plan the meeting and then have Andrea critically look at what we were trying to pack in.
Hearing feedback from Nikki, our director, was also helpful. She said that she felt it was necessary and well-executed. Interestingly, I would have probably had a slightly different format if I had planned the whole thing myself. Lately, I feel the more hands in planning something the better. Although, it's not as quick as planning something alone, the final product ends up being informally and formally tuned when doing something for the GSE. Yet the meeting was filling an authentic need and fit in seamlessly to our WASC exploration with the staff.