Monday, February 25, 2008

Fast Meeting and English Cafe

On Saturday I went to a VATE Review Day which is for Council and Committee members as well as other interested members. I was there in my new role as member of the PD committee, and also to learn something new, which I did.

The morning was run by David Pointon and Deb Dalziel of
FAST Meetings. This company helps coporate and not for profit groups to make the best of their f2f meeting times and helps them plan their conferences. From the company's website: "increase the effectiveness of your meetings and get things done more quickly through engagement and alignment of others. FAST Meetings specialises in meeting productivity and meeting effectiveness." David also points out that "demands on people outside the meeting room have heightened their needs for faster decision making, higher participation, and increased alignment across a wider range of stakeholders." You can tell straightaway that this would be something right up my alley.

Because of my accelerated learning over the last two years using all sorts of non f2f meeting software such as Flashmeeting, Elluminate, Skype, Ustream, Google Presentations and Twitter, I really value the place of face to face meetings. They are precious, costly to arrange (just calculate time in meetings by salary cost by people in the organisation) and potentially able to harness a passion and energy of participants that they should not be wasted in information giving only. They need to harness the voices and gifts of the participants. This can even happen though possibly not so well with technology assisted meetings. When we think of meetings in the workplace they are often anything but energising (oh not another meeting!). I spent an enjoyable morning looking at methods to get the most out of our valuable f2f time.

I learnt about Cafe, Open Dialogue, and a station exercise called Art Gallery. I was thinking that some of these activities would be great for classrooms and I put English Cafe (similar to a Jigsaw Activity) into action this morning with the Year 7s. This activity consisted of five teams of five students with five discussion questions one per group. Each group has a host who takes down notes. These were the questions I asked my Year 7s (they had to do with Millie and the Night Heron by Catherine Bateson. If you havent read the book they may not make sense) .
  • When and how should a parent talk to their children? Mr. Lawrence confessed to Millie that he is having trouble talking to his kids. What sort of questions should they ask
  • What are some of the 12 steps you could give to any parent to raise a successful teenager? Brendan Trotter gave Kate a book called “Twelve Steps for Raising Successful Teens.” (p.36). (See also p. 74)
  • What is your definition of high self-esteem? In Chapter Seven Millie and her new friends, Rachel, Helen and Sarah, talk about self-esteem. They think that being able to perform means you have high self-esteem. They define high self-esteem as feeling good about yourself (p. 71).Can you always feel good about yourself?
  • Can you learn how to make friends? Millie makes some new friends and the girls talk about things they can learn to do, like self-esteem. Why/ why not? Explain to next year’s new year sevens, how to make new friends.
  • What is it about change that scares us? Millie doesn’t want to change schools or move: “‘What about me?’ I wailed? p.17

The students spent three minutes discussing, then all students except the host moved to different tables. The host told the new group at the table what had happened and then passed the role of host to another student in the group. This was repeated till all the students had a chance to discuss all the questions. It took about 25 minutes and I asked for feedback at the end. This is some of what they said:

"It was fun, sharing ideas"; "I was surprised at how many different opinionions there were"; "we laughed a lot"; "better than normal classes"; "It was interesting hearing other students' stories"; "Everyone got a chance to share their opinion."

And I guess you want to know what they said about how parents should talk to their children? There answers will be on the Year 7 blog in the next few days, but here is a taster: "Questions should not be boring"; Speak in a calm voice"; smile and don't press for answers"; don't become an angry alligator"; "any plans for today?"; "ask relevant questions"; "make sure you're in private when asking embarrassing questions". You can't say you didn't know!

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