I had the opportunity to sit in on a Special Education Visioning Committee meeting that was run by Laura Shoemaker. The committee is made up of secondary and elementary administrators. Laura felt it would be good for me to participate in the meeting as a participant to go through some of the strategies she had in place to help guide the decision making process.
Although I was a participant, I was able to view the meeting as an ‘outsider’ and look at how she ran the meeting. The first thing she did was welcome and thank everyone, but she then elaborating on the importance of everyone being there, stressed that everyone’s voice would be heard and the ideas and recommendations that come from the group would be used to move Special Education in the WCDSB forward. Setting the tone of the meeting in this format was very powerful, it gave everyone the sense that being there was important and it wasn’t just another committee meeting they were ‘voluntold’ to be a part of. It also made everyone feel like what they have to say is important and it will be heard and taken into consideration as decisions are being made.
The active part of the meeting was not a typical “everyone sit around and discuss topics on an agenda”. At their previous meeting Laura had the participants come up with Strengths, Weakness’, Opportunities, and Threats for the current role of the Special Education Teacher within the WCDSB. We reviewed these notes and she then provided a research component about the role. We were to take 2-3 important points from each of the area's (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats) and write it on a sticky, the sticky was then placed onto a piece of chart paper on the wall. Laura then had small groups go to each of the 4 pieces of chart paper and classify each of the sticky’s/points as negotiable or nonnegotiable items. This was very powerful exercise as it encouraged small group discussions about each item and whether it was something that could essentially be changed or didn’t need to change. We then moved to each of the 4 areas and could reclassify each point as negotiable or nonnegotiable, once again creating very rich discussion about each point.
Before the meeting was adjourned, Laura refocused the group and encouraged everyone to use a similar structure for building capacity within staff. She also explained what the next steps looked like by reinforcing that our opinions would be used to drive/move forward the Special Education Vision. She was also honest in the fact that she had to present the information to Executive Council who would also provide feedback. She then reviewed what next steps and action items need to occur for their next meeting.
From my point of view I must say that it was one of the best committee meetings I’ve been a part of. I think that setting the tone of the meeting at the beginning allowed everyone to realize that their voice was going to be heard and it was. The structure of the meeting easily allowed for everyone to provide input, often times at meetings they can be overtaken by a few powerful/loud personalities and some of the other messages from others can be lost or intimidated to bring forth ideas/information. Laura facilitated the structure but once everyone got into the exercise it drove itself, the discussion and questions that were raised were all coming from the participants with a few points of clarification from Laura. I also realized that there was no ‘hidden’ agenda or ideas being pushed, everything was being driven by the participants which was also very much appreciated.