Discussion will be prompted by Jennifer Mueller, Dean of Faculty at
Souhegan High School. Possible questions include:
Jennifer Meuller and her colleagues will pose and respond to other
questions raised by discussion participants as well.
- Are there any clarifying questions about Souhegan High School and what you
saw in the video?
- How does a school start to work towards the kind of collegiality seen at
- Think about your school. What observations can you make about collegial
behavior in your school? How do you imagine a faculty might go from
"conversations at the copier" to creating and sustaining a culture of
collaboration in the school? What would need to be different in your
school if you were to begin to have the kinds of conversations demonstrated
in the video?
A consultancy is a structured conversation that provides the presenter an
opportunity to get feedback from others on a dilemma. Two consultancies
were demonstrated in the video: one by Sue Downer and three of her
colleagues, and another by Amy Oliver and her Critical Friends Group. This
consultancy will take place in written form on the Web site. A Souhegan
faculty member will serve as the presenter, and Jennifer Mueller, Dean of
Faculty at Souhegan, will be the facilitator. Therefore, as people enter
the "conversation" in different places, they can follow along by reading
what has been discussed and then participate.
The presenter of the consultancy (a member of the Souhegan faculty) will
provide a written overview (approximately one page, distributed to
participants in the on-line discussion) to be reviewed by the participants.
The written overview will include the following:
- Describe the issue. What is the problem or dilemma?
- Context. What information is necessary for the participants to know in
order to give feedback?
- Background. What strategies have you attempted already to try and solve
- Framing question. What is the question you want participants to address?
(Developed as part of the coalition of Essential Schools' National Re:
Learning Faculty Program, and further adapted and revised as part of work
of the Annenberg Institute's National School Reform Faculty Project)
Time: 9 days
Roles: Presenter (whose work is being discussed by the work)
Facilitator (who also participates)
Step 1: Presenter posts the written overview on the Web site to be
participants. (One day)
The presenter provides a written overview of their work. The presenter
highlights the major issues or problems with which he/she is struggling,
and frames a question for the consultancy group to consider. The framing
of this question as well as the quality of the presenter's reflection on
the work and/or issues being discussed, are key features of this protocol.
Step 2: Clarifying questions (One day)
The consultancy group asks clarifying questions of the presenters - that
is, questions that have brief, factual answers.
Step 3: Probing questions (Two days)
The group then asks probing questions of the presenter - these questions
should be worded so that they help the presenter clarify and expand his/her
thinking about the issues and questions raised for the consultancy group.
The goal here is for the presenter to learn more about the question framed
and to do some analysis of the issues presented. The presenter responds to
the group's questions, but there is not "discussion" by the larger group of
the presenter's responses.
Step 4: Group discussion (Two days)
The group then writes to each other (on the Web site) about the work and
issues presented. What did we hear? What didn't we hear that we needed to
know more about? What do we think about the questions and issues
presented. The "conversation" should include both "warm" and "cool"
comments. The presenter is not allowed to respond during this exchange,
but instead reads and takes notes.
Step 5: Presenter responds (One day)
The presenter then responds to what he/she heard. A whole group
discussion might then take place, depending on the time allotted.
Step 6: Debrief (Two days)
The facilitator leads a brief conversation about the group's observations
of the process. Was this medium an effective way to receive and give
feedback? Were the allocations for time appropriate?
Some Tips for a Consultancy
The success of the consultancy often depends on the quality of the
presenter's reflection in Step 1, as well as on the quality and
authenticity of the question framed for the consultancy group. However, it
is not uncommon for presenters, at the end of a consultancy to say, "Now I
know what my real question is." That is OK, too. The brief (one-two page)
description of the issue prepared by the presenter is very helpful for the
consultancy group to read as part of Step 1.
Steps 2 & 3:
Clarifying questions are for the person asking them. They ask the
presenters "who, what, where, when, and how." These are not "why"
questions. They can be answered quickly and succinctly, often with a
phrase or two.
Probing questions are for the person answering them. They ask the
presenters "why" (among other things), and are open-ended. They take
longer to answer, and often require deep thought on the part of the
presenters before they speak.
It is OK for the consultancy group to write about the presenters in the
third person. As awkward as this may feel at first, it often opens up a
richer conversation. Remember that it is the group's job to offer an
analysis of the issues presented. It is not necessary to solve the
problem or to offer a definitive answer.
Norms for an On-line Consultancy
Modified from Group Norms for a "Library Virtual CFG", initially defined
5/4/96 in Santa Cruz, CA.
- Be honest.
- Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements
- Acknowledge and recognize all ideas.
- No put-downs
- Humor, yes; sarcasm, no!
- Ask clarifying questions.
- Disagree with ideas, not people
- Find ways to code on-line messages for special needs. e.g.
"urgent response needed."
- Try to ask questions, not make statements
- Generate thinking - rather than make judgements.
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