The post follows on from the earlier investigation and visits to schools looking to address the inefficiencies of this ‘typical’ parent and carer events. You know the ones…. where teachers sit around the outside of a main hall and spill into neighbouring class rooms. Where parents and carers desperately attempt to fulfil their almost pointless severely limited appointments. Again, you know what I am talking about, the “Hello, good evening. I am X your child’s x teacher. Please, have a seat. Currently you child is working at a level x (whatever you may understand that to mean). Yes, they are not making progress, making some progress but, is really underperforming (delete as appropriate). Yes, thank you.” (smile, nod) before you trying to politely advise who is next, the scheduled appointment or the parent who has been waiting the longest?
So, to how best to canvass the staffs opinions? One way is to you ‘Open Space.’ I so impressed with how my colleague introduced, managed and summarised this process that I am writing it up here. That said, however positive a spin I create in writing my explanation, ‘Open Space’ is just one of those things that is best experienced, rather than explained. I have included a video, and will use the headings from the video to help structure the post and share my observations.
Pre-opening, or introduction
After notices and a busy first full day back teaching, we felt we needed something to break the ice a little. We framed the purpose of the session before acting out a poor example of a parents conference, the acting may have been terrible, but our efforts gleaned a few laughs and knowing nods. Next, we briefly outlined the technique of ‘Open Space’ before reorganising the seating into a circle (0.04s), of course in a perfect world we would have done away with the notices and started in a circle.
Opening by facilitator
With the ‘Open Space’ set, we framed our purpose with a broad and open statement projected and left up on the main wall.
“Parent or carer meetings are a valuable opportunity for parents or carers, teachers and students to discuss how students can learn better and make progress.”
Q What opportunities are available to us as a school, as teachers, to develop a learning dialogue with parents and carers?
Following the introduction, members of the circle are then invited to come to the centre of the circle and contribute the questions or areas investigation they wish to pursue and consider important (0.14s).
The person asking the question then reads the question out loud for the group before posting the the question gallery under a session time. In out case session 1 3:25-3:40pm or Session 2 3:55- 4:10pm).
Now IMHO, the very fact that members are asked to read out their question put some people off from coming into the middle of the circle in the first place. Next time, I will add that this step is optional. After all, everyone gets to read these questions are posted in the marketplace.
Now we didn’t have an attractive vase in the middle of our circle, with paper and pens around it, although I now understand the importance of it. The vase exactly helps space out the centre area as well as making it more welcoming. Another tip I will take from the video is to set out chairs in concentric circles. (Smaller circle, more welcoming with gaps at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o’clock to enable colleagues to access the gallery). When no more questions are offered on the topic, the next phase is introduced.
Market Place – Creating the agenda (0.22)
All the questions are posted in the gallery. It is worthwhile having a team member ‘balancing / sorting’ the questions are they are posted under the session headings. By that I mean, we had two sessions. As the questions came in, my colleague balanced the number of questions under each session and ensured that we did not post duplicate discussions. Members of the group are given time to reviews the questions and signs up to join a discussion group they are interested in. The final observation, space out the sessions heading to encourage ’flow’ through the market place and avoid viewing bottle necks.
Who ever comes to the start of discussion are the right people. One member in each group starts the discussion (we suggested the member who wrote the question) and one member is assigned to write notes (0.34s). Finally we promoted two ‘guidelines.’ Firstly the law of 2 feet, if at any time you want to leave and join another discussion, you should feel comfortable doing so. Second, when its over, its over.
Now this is not in the video, but at the end of session 1 we asked a groups to summarise the essential points. After a short 5 minute comfort break, we moved onto session 2 with group members joining their second session, again concluded with a short summary.
Discussion reporting (0.52s)
Next we posted the notes in the staffroom. They are currently being processed, before being shared with the staff in preparation for our second session. In case you are interested, here they are. As you can see in the book below, questions led to some very positive conversations.
[book id='4' /]
Survey on priorities (1:13)
We have not yet reviewed and processed the notes, nor finalised a list of concerns / issues / themes / priorities, however that is our next step. The aim then, to present a list to staff prior to our next session on which they can vote. Voting may well be our first task, gates style, or we may use Google Moderator.
Action Planning (1:19)
When the priorities have been set. I anticipate a second marketplace where staff will be able to join the working parties or action groups they want to work with, to design our solution to the priority that concerns them the most.
Closing Circle (1:20)
The closing circle may come at the end of this summer, or in fact be the introduction of the new parent and carer meeting programme next September.
The introduction of Open Space and seating plan for Open Space was met with some hesistantcy, understandable, anything new is met with some waryiness. The wording of opening question is clearly important, though perhaps more important than you would at first consider. The session really came to life in the market place, where staff were discussing their decisions on which group to join. Discussion were purposeful and feedback very pertinent, a number of insightful contributions were made. Few staff enacted the rule of two feet, but that is possible due to this is our first experience of Open Space and the sessions themselves were fairly short. Our mid point feedback has given us plenty to discuss, staff are supportive of the process and I anticipate will be more accepting of any recommendations we make as a result. I am looking forward to part 2.