These are my reflections about the "Improvement Day Project".
Improvement Day Project
Work on a project/task to improve the College or learning. This can be individually or in groups. It can be anything as long as it is not related to your day-to-day work or lesson preparation.
Aim: To develop or work on a project/task that will make a difference to improving college life.
Most staff worked in pairs or individually and the projects included:
- Improving classroom learning spaces
- Setting up spaces to display and store student work
- Reviewing and improving the recycling of waste in classrooms and playgrounds
- Researching the design and layout of digital learning spaces
- Learning how to use a new IWB and projector in one of our new learning spaces and then developing instructions for other staff to use this equipment
- Developing an electronic student personal learning agreement, that all staff can see and modify
- Reviewing the college use of social media to communicate with students, parents and community. Setting-up Facebook groups for each year group
- Tidying and setting-up electronic storage of Learning Area resources
- Reviewing social aspect of college life including surveying staff.
1. Staff buy in and time
Staff were enthusiastic about the day and bought into the open nature of the projects. As we were trying something new, I thought an important aspect for success was getting staff buy in. During Term 2, I consulted and gained feedback and input from key staff about the planned SDD. I gave staff the SDD information 4 weeks before the day to give them time to consider their project. I also discussed the SDD at some subject area meetings. The feedback in all these interactions was positive, which put staff in the right frame of mind before the day. The time also enabled staff to brainstorm, discuss and get feedback on project ideas.
2. Time and choice
I agree with the research I heard from Daniel Pink, that non-commissioned work is motivating. As staff selected and had control over their projects, they were totally engaged, because they were making a difference to their working environment. They also could not be passive as they had control over the learning, as one staff member commented "I couldn't help but be engaged".
When I presented the idea of an open project many staff instantly knew what they were going to do. The ideas were there but they had never had the time to put it into place and we gave them opportunity to do so.
An important aspect of the day was staff sharing the outcome of their project at the end of the day. I gave specific instructions that they had a maximum of 2 minutes, (yes the idea came from teachmeets) and they could present in whatever manner they wanted. A number of staff showed before and after images or used short presentations. This feedback was important; to raise the importance of every project, to have an audience hear what was done and to celebrate and share. This feedback ended the day, it was quick but left everyone in a positive and enthusiastic mood.
4. Increased conversations
There seemed to be an increase in incidental conversations, about learning, students and the college. These conversations occurred whilst staff were working on their projects and during breaks.
The staff were in control so they were able to change/adapt their projects during the day. Many staff ended up with different outcomes to what they had predicted.
It was stressful
One aspect I did not fully expect was my stress and nervousness leading up to the day. It came from me giving up control and from trying something different with an unknown outcome. I gave responsibility to staff; the project they chose, how they used their time, where they did it. They went off and did this learning and collaborating, often out of sight.
I put in place strategies to improve the likelihood of success, including time to consider and plan the projects and advising of the expectation of presenting back to the whole staff on the project outcomes. Next time I would be more comfortable and less stressed because I have seen just how successful giving control over to teachers can be. It's slightly scary to not have a scheduled agenda, but trust goes both ways and is needed for empowerment of teachers.
I would do this again, giving staff time and opportunity to work on their own projects. Some thoughts:
- It would be interesting to add other constraints to these open projects, for example, "the project has to encompass learning something new" or "you have to work with someone outside your Learning Area".
- Rather than a one-off activity I would like to build this type of project time into whole college planning and professional development.
- There are a number of projects which initiated ideas so I'm looking forward to seeing how these seeds grow.
What project would you do if given the chance to do an "Improvement day project"?