Principal as Staff Developer: Alternatives to the Jigsaw, Part Three

By Terry Wilhelm

The first and second posts in this series described two strategies for completing professional reading during staff meetings or PD shutterstock_97743407sessions: the “full jigsaw” and the reading cascade. These strategies differ primarily in the way pages or sections of the reading are assigned to, or chosen by, various group members. In each of those strategies, group members summarize and respond to what they have individually read for the rest of their table group members.

Now we’ll examine a discussion format for situations where everyone has read identical materials. This could be a brief reading done while the group is together or a lengthier reading that was assigned and completed before the meeting. This discussion strategy is called the “final word protocol.”

Discussing Common Material: Final Word Protocol

To implement this strategy, a helpful prop for each table group is something representing a “talking stick,” a Native American ritual object that is passed from hand to hand around a circle, and signifies group respect for each holder of the stick. Only the person holding the talking stick may speak; thus it is not suitable for situations where an open discussion is desired.

I have my own set of authentic Native American talking sticks that I use with leadership teams for a variety of purposes. However, an object such as a pen or marker will do, although I do not recommend objects that invite tossing or throwing (balls of any sort) because this is counter to the respectful tradition of passing hand to hand.

Some groups initially resist the notion of restricting the right to speak to one person at a time, and may complain that they only want to have open discussions. Be patient with your group and stick to the goal of ensuring that every voice is heard, although members can choose to “pass” when the talking stick comes to him or her.

Final Word Protocol from Start to Finish

Groups of four are ideal for this discussion protocol because table discussions can be completed in just under 30 minutes. Before beginning, each table group should select a timekeeper and facilitator. Here’s how the final word protocol works:

  • Explain the “talking stick” tradition to the staff. I have used various resources  for this purpose, including this guide to sharing circles from Raven Murphy.
  • Following the individual silent reading, if this is done real-time during the meeting, begin the protocol by sharing a discussion prompt such as, “How might your team begin to implement these ideas?”
  • The person sitting to the left of the facilitator will begin. The first speaker has two minutes to share his or her response to the prompt (timekeepers must be diligent in signaling when time is up), then immediately passes the talking stick to the person to the left.
  • Each of the other members has up to 30 seconds to respond to what the first speaker just said.
  • When the talking stick returns to the first speaker, she or he has one more minute to make any final statement, either about what others have said or additional thoughts about the reading prompt, thus, she or he has “the final word.”
  • The talking stick is then passed to the left, giving that person has his or her turn for a two-minute personal response to the prompt, and thus the protocol repeats.

Once all the table groups have finished, wrap up by asking each table facilitator to share one or two ideas that emerged from the discussions. If time allows, invite an open discussion of any other thoughts about the reading or the protocol.

 Continue reading: Principal as Staff Developer: Alternatives to the Jigsaw, Part Four

Terry Wilhelm has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and adjunct university instructor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.

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