A Protocol for Discussing Articles in Faculty Meetings “Smarter Together: Using Text-Based Protocols” by Daniel Baron in Principal Leadership (High School Edition), September 2006 (Vol. 7, # 1, p. 52-54)

What’s the best way to get teachers talking in a substantive way about professional articles?

In the September Principal Leadership, Indiana-based consultant Daniel Baron describes Final Word, a 45-minute protocol for breaking a faculty meeting into groups of four, having a structured discussion of a particular article, and then coming back together for whole-group sharing.

Here’s how it works:

• Teachers are given copies of an article a week or so before a faculty meeting and asked to read it, highlight two or three passages they find particularly significant, and jot notes on why they chose those passages.

• Teachers are introduced to the Final Word protocol and given a chance to explore, revise, and accept it.

• Once the faculty has gathered, teachers divide into groups of four, preferably sitting with colleagues they don’t normally interact with. Each group should have the broadest possible representation of gender, age, ethnicity, teaching experience, and subject areas.

• Each group sits knee-to-knee in a tight circle and decides on one person to be the timekeeper and facilitator (this member remains active in the discussion).

• One person starts, taking no more than three minutes to read the one passage that meant the most to him or her and the reason (e.g., I agree, disagree, makes me wonder about, etc.).

• Then the other three members of the group take turns reacting to the quote and the first person’s commentary, each taking no more than a minute. The initial presenter doesn’t respond as the others talk; the purpose of this segment is to expand on the first person’s thinking about the quote and the issues it raised, provide different perspectives, clarify the presenter’s thinking, and question the presenter’s assumptions.

• After the other three have spoken, the presenter has the final word, responding and saying what he or she is thinking about colleagues’ comments (no more than a minute).

• It’s now the next person’s turn to read and explain his or her chosen passage from the article (in case the first person used their quote, they have a back-up), and the process of getting quick reactions from the rest of the group and having the final word is repeated.

• When all four members of each group have presented, heard reactions, and responded, the group debriefs, discussing how the process supported (or did not support) each member’s learning. The debriefing might focus on questions like these: What did you notice about the protocol? How did the structure affect the dynamics of the group’s conversation? Did the structure expand the individual’s understanding of the text? How and why might you use this protocol with your students?

• After all the small groups have finished debriefing, the whole staff might briefly discuss how things went. A staff can complete this whole process in just 45 minutes, provided that timekeepers keep things moving: the discussion of each person’s quote should take about eight minutes (three minutes for initial presentation, three minutes for colleagues’ reactions, and one minute for the final word), totaling about 32 minutes, with another five minutes for debriefing in small groups and the remainder of the time for large-group discussion.

The principal might also suggest ground rules before beginning this process, for example: - Listen for understanding; - If you wonder about it, ask about it; - Support one another’s learning; - Encourage and support risk-taking and exploratory thinking; - Build on one another’s thinking. 

From the Marshall Memo

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