Transforming School Culture Conversation Tips

So who’s planning to stop by our Wednesday through Saturday conversation on transforming school culture and overcoming staff division?

I know that Anthony’s book has gotten me thinking about how I can be a more effective change agent, that’s for sure—and I’m hoping that a conversation with other readers will only serve to strengthen my understanding of the continental divide separating teachers—-and preventing meaningful progress—in struggling schools.

Continental Divide by micah.d, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  micah.d 

If you are planning on stopping by—and if you’ve never
been involved in a digital conversation before—here are a few tips
and tricks to keep in mind:


Make a commitment to being a productive participant:  Digital conversations—like any good conversation between colleagues—are only as valuable as the contributions made by their participants.  That means if you’re stopping by and you have something meaningful to add or a really interesting question for everyone to consider, take the time to make a post!

Lurkers—-or participants who quietly listen—-are learners, too.  It’s just that their silence is a loss for the rest of us!

Listen first, comment second:
Speaking of listening, it is impossible to underestimate how important it is for participants in a digital conversation to review the comments made by other participants in a strand of conversation before making a new post!  Listening accomplishes two key tasks:  First, you might find a question asked by another participant that you can answer, building a bit of digital karma with the group.

But more importantly, if you don’t review the comments made by other participants, the thoughts that you add might be off-topic or the questions that you pose might have already been asked.  Without listening first, you end up being that kid in your third block who raises his hand and throws the flow of the whole class out of the window by sharing something completely bizarre!

Skip the simple responses:  If you think about face-to-face conversations, there are TONS of simple responses exchanged between participants designed to show that one listener agrees with/acknowledges/disagrees with another.  For example, I probably say, “Yeah, Yeah,” or “Right, Right” ten times when talking with my peers to let the know I’m listening. 

(When I’m completely jazzed, I tend to shout “Straight up, brotha!” while standing on a table, but that’s a different conversation altogether.)

Those kinds of simple responses only clutter a digital conversation with tons and tons of comments—-so most people don’t bother adding them.  The advice I always give is to make sure that every comment you add is a meaningful contribution to the conversation—-asking a question, responding to a listener, challenging a thought, turning things in a new direction.

That way, learners aren’t swamped by simplicity.

Remember that there is no ONE expert:  Digital conversations are incredibly cool because they bring together people from around the globe who all have different backgrounds and experiences.  It is that collection of backgrounds and experiences that
adds richness to digital conversations.

The media specialist from Australia may have some incredibly cool examples of how to solve a common problem in your learning team.  The math teacher from Wisconsin may have a question that challenges you to think about things in a new way.  The principal from Columbia might articulate a thought you’ve been wrestling with for years.

Take advantage of the “collective intelligence” in a digital conversation.  Don’t expect one or two people to ask and answer all of the good questions.  Instead, interact—-because interaction means we learn from everyone.

Find and follow strands that interest you:  I surveyed my kids not long ago about why they enjoy digital conversations, and one theme repeated time and again:  Digital conversations—unlike whole class conversations—allowed students to focus on strands that challenged their thinking and to ignore strands that were boring.  As one of my boys so eloquently explained, “In our digital conversations, I don’t have to listen to Emily blather on about horses for an hour!”

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  When you’re in a whole group, face-to-face meeting, you’re forced to listen to conversation that might just mean nothing to you.  Quickly, yo tune out and end up disengaged and unmotivated.

(Think: Faculty Meetings!) 

Digital conversations are different because you get to CHOOSE the strands of conversations—and the commenters—-that you want to follow.  When I’m involved in a digital conversation, I NEVER read every comment or respond to every participant.  It’s just too time-consuming to be valuable.  Instead, I find one or two topics that
catch my interest and I invest my time and energy into those questions.

Anyone else have tips and tricks for participating in digital conversations that you want to share?

The way I see it, the kinds of conversation that we’re going to share from May 13th through May 16th are going to become more and more common in the professional growth of teachers, so learning how to navigate them is something we’ve all got to master!

5 thoughts on “Transforming School Culture Conversation Tips

  1. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Patrick,
    Glad to see you! Hope you’ll stop by the conversation this week.
    A link to a download of Anthony’s book can be found at the top of this post:
    Free registration at the Solution Tree website is required, though.
    Rock on,

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Hey T,
    First, thanks for the kind words on my blog and our conversations. I’m glad that they resonate with you!
    And our faculty is just like any other faculty—which means we have the distracted teachers that you describe in our professional development sessions too.
    I’m not sure who to blame, though. I know that I check out of faculty PD at times as well. Generally, that happens when we’re being force fed yet another “program” that we’re supposed to embrace. I end up deciding where I can invest my mental energies, and if the newest school-wide initiative doesn’t align with those energies, I unplug.
    I think that’s something school leaders need to consider when choosing PD for their entire faculties—-and it’s certainly something that Muhammad advocates for in his book.
    One of the keys to overcoming resistance, he argues, is an ability on the part of school leaders to articulate the reasons for any staff effort. Without clear rationale, getting everyone on board just ain’t likely!
    Hope you’ll stop by the conversation and ask the same questions of Anthony….

  3. Renee Moore

    Just a thought about tbowes scenario and question–deliberately doing something else while someone is speaking to you is rude (but that’s assuming a person has had what we call down here “home training”). In school settings, as in PD sessions, meetings, etc..the presenter (teacher) and the listeners (students, participants) share responsibility for a mutually productive session. As a teacher of older teens and adults, I insist respect be shown to all speakers within the classroom, including peers and try to enforce that by making my expectations understood beforehand or with a gentle reminder. Making a noisy example out of someone for improper behavior (unless what the person’s doing is to the point of disrupting the setting) is usually counterproductive to the task at hand.
    Wonderfully, that shouldn’t be a problem in this Voicethread discussion (if we all play by Bill’s helpful rules).

  4. Patrick

    Looking forward to this. By the way, is there the chance of having a free PDF of the book much like you did with Readicide?

  5. tbowes

    Looking forward to the upcoming conversations!
    Question for you regarding school culture – Has your staff ever set guidelines for staff behaviour at pd sessions or meetings?
    I sat at a very informational pd session last week that is crucial to our staff’s growth as a team and watched at least 3 staff playing solitaire or surfing the net during the presentation. My administrator told one staff member to put his screen down and it caused an outrage among staff.
    I think it is a topic that needs to be discussed within a faculty (as well as in your classroom!) and I am interested to see what you think. Do others go through this too??
    Thanks for all of your great projects and posts!

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