A truly successful schooling experience for students starts with a healthy and supportive school climate. Above all else, when students know they are cared for, they can truly focus on their educational experience and learning all that they can. Two staff developers and over thirty teachers and administrators from around the region took it upon themselves to collaborate and discuss ways to make positive changes to their school climates to better the learning experience of our students!
In late spring, Tessa Levitt and I had an idea to do a professional book study around a book we were both highly interested in ourselves, Lead with Culture, from author and Principal Jay Billy. This book is one of the Dave Burgess Publishing Company’s titles, made famous from the Like A Pirate series of books. We discussed different methods for how we wanted to approach this book study, and we both knew we wanted to try something “unconventional” in the sense of our current professional development opportunities.
We eventually decided that with it being summer and all, we wanted any participation to be completely voluntary from those interested in the book study. We also wanted to harness the power of the summer, and conduct the book study from an online platform, where participants wouldn’t need to physically be all in the same place to share ideas, discuss topics, and raise their questions to one another. In the end, we created a Facebook group, #BOCESLeads Summer Book Study, and anyone that expressed interest in participating in the book study was invited to join the group.
We met in person once, at the beginning of the book study, to distribute copies of the book to the participants, and to outline the dates and the layout of the Facebook page itself: We would meet online, from 8:00-9:00 on the Facebook page, Tessa and I would post questions from a few chapters at a time, and they could respond and share ideas and questions with one another, with Tessa and I there to help moderate and facilitate discussions.
The support and discussion from the participants were highly overwhelming! The amount of ideas shared and questions posited to one another were powerful, and really made this an interesting and unique experience for professional growth. The response from the participants was also noteworthy, as they liked being able to chime in from wherever they were at the time, and if they missed the discussion window, they could still go to the Facebook page and comment or discuss between the arranged question-posting days. The flexibility and freedom were lauded from those who took part!
Once the book was completed, we were excited to commence upon the final aspect of the book study: a live chat hosted on Zoom with author Jay Billy! Participants were able to take part in an online discussion forum with Jay himself, who answered their questions, shared advice, and helped spur more creative ideas for those who were able to join in. The session was also recorded and posted on the Facebook group page for those who were unable to make the meeting, so they could view it at a later time.
Overall, this experience was a phenomenal new approach to combating some logistical issues that we all experience: wanting to take part in something, but time and location not cooperating to allow it to happen. The discussion was rich and powerful, and multiple great ideas were shared and collaborated upon throughout the course of studying this excellent book. One of the most impactful results from this book study? The request to keep the discussion going over the course of this school year through the online group page and with regularly scheduled meet-ups for those that can attend, bringing that flexibility and freedom even further into the process. We look forward to continue documenting the journey of the region in regards to building and supporting the students of our schools through a positive and caring school climate and culture. When all else fails, lead with culture!
By: Ryan McGinnis, CA BOCES Professional Development