IdeaExchange: Transformative Meetings for School Communities

Transforming meetings into IdeaExchanges can raise the level of conversation, deepen thinking, and establish norms for dissent.

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IdeaExchange Kit

Click the link to play with the protype kit for facilitators and schools.

IdeaExchange Overview:  This idea can transform school-based meetings into spaces that engage educators and learners in high-energy, collaborative,  issue-focused discussions.  These discussions lead to innovation and meaningful change.  Re-purposing the Socratic method for learning communities can help establish norms for investigation of issues, for the sharing of ideas and for voicing dissent.  

Potential For Impact:

It's difficult for true innovation to occur when school community members are afraid to speak, either because they are afraid of being reprimanded OR of being angrily shot down by a colleague. To innovate, participants need to feel safe disagreeing and offering different solutions They may even need to reframe the problem from the one that was presented. When this kind of dialogue is allowed to flourish, innovation follows.

When you hold an IdeaExchange with teachers, administrators, students and other community members, you are using a structure that allows for a deeper discussion of complex issues.  This leads to a culture of innovation. Educators and students use action research and evidence from shared texts (readings, videos, etc) to really dig deep on issues that have been collaboratively identified as important for the school. The innovation and creativity from these labs and from this process can help produce real change with the community on board.  

Value/Pitch

What if faculty meetings were something you looked forward to because you were going to be able to work with others who care about the school on issues of real significance?  

What if you felt like your ideas were valued and that you had something important to contribute to the idea-generating part of the school?  

How would it feel to be empowered to reframe, to offer different solutions, to pose questions, to cite evidence from your experience and others’ to support those ideas and questions?

What if after every staff meeting or class-based discussion participants came away respecting each other more, and more open to new ideas and solutions?  

IdeaExchanges can provide space, time and a process for helping participants transform action research into action plans. Re-purposing the Socratic method for learning communities means:


  • topics for meetings are selected collaboratively
  • participants examine shared research and literature to drive discussion
  • dissent is valued and there are norms (some inherent and some collaboratively chosen right before the meeting) for dissent and for risk-taking.
  • the labs/discussions are an extension of our roles as learners and educators, but they are also places for members of the school community to flourish as innovators and to help the school fulfil its potential.

Design Thinking + Socratic Method = IdeaExchange

How’d I get this idea off the ground?

When we piloted the idea, we held a special faculty meeting for teachers who were interested in talking about technology in middle school, particularly the use of laptops in the classroom and for homework. We had pre-selected two or three articles for participants to read and we also had some guiding questions that we wanted them to consider.

Before the meeting (about a week) we invited the teachers who RSVP’d that they were attending the meeting to send any articles they might want everyone to read and/or questions they might want us to consider for discussion.

A few days before the meeting we distributed the readings and guiding questions (not too many) electronically and in hard copies (it's better to have hard copies in front of you in a meeting because you don't want people looking at their screens).

Teachers already knew what a Socratic Seminar was so we didn't have to explain that but at the meeting we went over the 'rules'. We decided as a group that each person could speak three times and that each person had to speak at least once. There is no leader in a Socratic Seminar - just someone who makes sure the rules are followed - so no one gets extra time. No one chooses who speaks next, no one raises their hands and no one interrupts anyone.

We had the best conversation and that dialogue lead to the beginning of some good work on changing our computer policies and practices. This meeting also followed on the heels of my classroom Socratic Seminars on the same topic so we had at least 40 blog posts from students on the same issue as we moved forward as a school. A little later we held a joint teacher/high school student seminar on the same topic to see how high school students felt looking back on their MS years and their laptop use.

This method could be adapted in so many ways for different types of school meetings and discussions.  Groups could share with each other. Schools could also create digital and/or physical forums to share what they are working on.

How  you can get started:

The IdeaExchange Kit will provide:

  1. Socratic Method/Seminar background info ie. the rationale and how it works, guidelines and rules.
  2. Sentence stems for speaking, dissenting and asking questions (if people need them).
  3. A list of potential topics ie. we can anticipate the big ideas that are coming up in schools now OR we can create a form/worksheet for admins to do come up with a good topic for discussion.
  4. Some ideas and points for admins for how to work in announcement types of items either in meetings or other ways
  5. Some ideas for follow-up, extensions, reflections, etc…

This kit will help you adapt your lab to your classroom, a staff meeting. or a parent meeting about sex-ed or technology use for discussion.

Materials to get this idea off the ground:


    • Socratic Seminar guidelines (rewritten for various settings)    
    • Sentence stems for students/parents/teachers learning 
    • Some general topic ideas
    • A worksheet to help participants/leaders decide what issue to focus on and where to find some texts/data that can provide for each discussion.


Original Version

Socratic Seminars can help schools establish norms for investigation of issues, for the sharing of ideas and for voicing dissent.

They can also help students and teachers work together on school-wide challenges, issues and problem-solving.

Typical Socratic Seminar Routines:

  • In Socratic Seminars, participants 'read' shared texts - which may include articles, books, videos, podcasts,photographs or other textual artifacts ie. architectural drawings, student work, photos of public spaces, etc.
  • Facilitators can be trained and therefore different people can do it each time - facilitating means that you collect and distribute the materials (decided on by the group), come up with a few open questions that challenge people's thinking and make sure that the 'rules' of the seminars are followed.
  • Participants must refer to the texts and must use the rules for listening, dissenting and speaking.  

In our classroom seminars, each person, including me, is only allowed to speak twice.Participants can decide these smaller rules in advance to maximize learning and innovation.

If we transform meetings into Socratic Seminars - we will encourage more substantive dialogues and discussions on important issues.  We will teach people better ways of talking to each other about controversial or contentious issues.  We will be utilizing the writing and work of others who have thought carefully about the ideas and challenges we are discussing.  

Announcements, schedule changes and procedures could be sent by email.  Faculty lounges would be places for socializing and getting to know other teachers in a less formal way. 

This would leave meetings for students and teachers that could be used to transform schools.


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One of the motivations for developing this was that so many of the protocols used for meeting times feel like they end in a dead end. Writing ideas down and sharing them aloud for 5 minutes at the end of a meeting often felt frustrating for many teachers. One reason that this felt so positive when we piloted it was that it kept gaining momentum as the conversation built.

It also has the benefit of strengthening school cultures of learning because the conversation built relationships between people who often don't get to interact. It was/is a way of building a feeling of common purpose even when there is/was a multiplicity of perspectives and ideas.

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