IdeaExchange: Transformative Meetings for School Communities

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

Photo of Robin U
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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.


Evaluation results

9 evaluations so far

1. Potential for Impact: Imagine this solution had near perfect implementation. To what extent would this solution bring about a culture of innovation within a school or classroom?

A lot! This solution would greatly bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 66.7%

Somewhat. This solution would somewhat bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 33.3%

Not much. This solution might help with other things, but I don't see it really bringing about a culture of innovation within schools or classrooms. - 0%

2. Feasibility and Fit: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: If this solution were available to me right now, I would be able to use it with relatively low investment. (i.e. money, time, or skills).

Strongly agree (this solution strongly aligns to my/my school's current capacities). - 55.6%

Agree. - 11.1%

Neutral. - 22.2%

Disagree. - 11.1%

Strongly disagree (this solution would take a big lift in resources to pull off). - 0%

3. Adaptability: I could imagine this solution working well in a variety of school and classroom contexts across a diverse set of needs.

Absolutely! I could see this working for a variety of schools and classrooms with different or unique needs. - 66.7%

Somewhat. I could see this working for many schools and classrooms, but it might need some adjusting to fit a broad diversity of contexts. - 22.2%

Not a lot. This seems like it might be better suited to only a few contexts. - 11.1%

4. Scalability: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: This idea could be adopted by an ever-growing number of teachers or students without requiring significant changes.

Strongly agree (this solution could easily scale without any significant changes). - 44.4%

Agree. - 11.1%

Neutral. - 33.3%

Disagree. - 11.1%

Strongly disagree (this solution would require significant changes in order to properly scale). - 0%

5. Desirability: Do you wish this solution were available to you right now?

1 - Not a lot. There's not a big need for this right now and/or we use something already that fulfills a similar purpose in my school or classroom. - 0%

2 - 22.2%

3 - 11.1%

4 - 22.2%

5 - A lot! There's nothing like this already and I'd love to have it in my school or classroom. - 44.4%

22 comments

Join the conversation:

Comment
Photo of James
Team

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.

Photo of Tom Sayer
Team

I really like this. A couple of comments: First, I worry 'Disruptive Innovation Lab' might put people off.

Second, are there some resources you could collate for people to get started?

Also can we get comment access to the doc?

Thanks so much!

Photo of Robin U
Team

Thank you for the comments.

1. I worry about the name too. Do you have any suggestions?
2. Yes, I am going to add a lot of resources for people to get started. Making those now.
3. I think so but it's not my document so I don't think I can control the access. Michael can do it, I think.

Photo of Robin U
Team

How about IdeaExchange?

Photo of Becka Nathan
Team

I think this would maybe be less challenging for some people and also emphasises the mutual exchange of ideas, of which disruption can take place within?

Photo of Tom Sayer
Team

I really like it! (tried thinking of something myself but creative juices clearly not flowing today!) Maybe IdeaLabs? It was more the term disruptive that put me off.

Photo of Becka Nathan
Team

I really like this idea, especially meeting topics being chosen collaboratively and the inclusion of students. Teacher time is so precious, there can definitely be a frustration when we are asked to attend meetings that aren't perceived to be valuable or purposeful in regards to teacher practice and teaching and learning. Being actively involved in the process would shift from staff meetings being 'done to' teachers to being 'done with'. Something I wonder about is introducing this idea into a school when you are not in a management position?

Photo of Robin U
Team

I think that one way to do it would be to show how it works with your students. When administrators see how the discussion can be a structured one, a calm and supportive one and one where people disagree, they might be more open to this type of process at a faculty meeting. What do you think?

Photo of Becka Nathan
Team

I definitely agree! Have you ever played Socratic Smackdown http://www.instituteofplay.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/IOP_PrintPlay_SocraticSmackdown_v1.pdf ? It's a great way of gamifying discussion techniques that I've been using a lot in my class this year, this reminds me a bit of that.

Photo of Aletta Sauer
Team

So many school districts schedule collaboration time, but it usually ends up be managed by the most vocal and/or senior staff members who have their own agenda. I really like the structure and process here because it lends itself to developing the key strategic documents for California schools like the Single Plan for Student Acheivement (SPSA). This might be a way to hook in administrators, because like teachers and the other stakeholders, they want the strategic documents to be meaningful, relevant, and measureable - the only problem is, most of the participants lack experience in managing that kind of process. And this idea seems to support that process.

I want to echo Michael Schurr's comments that too many staff meetings are consumed by updates that could be handled by other channels. The Google drive lends itself to running Socratic seminars because you can handle large groups by splitting them in to two groups (or more). Group A is active in the seminar first with 2-3 notetakers (or more). Meanwhile Group B only uses the backchannel Google chat to comment as they follow Group A's discussion. Then they switch, with Group A on back channel, and so on.
As a teacher I am so busy, I need this type of disruption to break out of ingrained habits that need to change.

Photo of Robin U
Team

Thank you so much for your comments and I am excited that you are comfortable with Socratic Seminars. I would really appreciate your feedback again in a few days when we are working more on the kit that we want to make that schools might be able to use. If you have time, that is.

If you want to join the team and help work on this, that would be great too.

Photo of Karen Qualey
Team

Robin,
I'm also a great fan of reinventing staff meeting time. A really great idea. I feel like I'd need to spend more time learning about the Socratic method to facilitate this at my building. I know there's resources available...this is just the motivation I need to start learning more. Thanks for sharing.

Photo of Robin U
Team

If you want help, I can provide you with some resources and/or email support. Or, if we work more on this idea, you could join us.

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

check out our collaboration work here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GU6SiIvK30Kx_X59qdmGD1AwNouCXN9KhUJ8NEz6ewg/edit?usp=sharing

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

Hi Robin, I can't stop thinking about this idea and would love to help it make it through to the evolve phase. Would you like to team up to flesh this idea out in more detail? If so, we can exchange email addresses and then get a Google doc going. Out of curiosity, where in the U.S. are you?

Photo of Robin U
Team

Sounds great!

I am in the Canada part of the US. Vancouver, British Columbia.

Photo of Emma Scripps
Team

I've always loved the socratic seminar method. So you're suggesting that this is something that becomes a norm for teachers too (not just students). Would love this idea to get fleshed out more - how do you imagine it would work as a method for teacher meetings?

Photo of Robin U
Team

I think it would be fun to flesh the idea out together - Michael Shurr (above) is also interested in dialoguing about it.

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 RSVPd 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 faculty meetings. It would be fun to work on this with others.

Photo of Emma Scripps
Team

Wow. That's awesome. Love the idea of you teaming up with Michael. Ideally - would love to see this system get fleshed out your in your post. Question to address would be:
- How do you pitch this to teachers/admin in your school?
- What's the rationale for why it helps to support innovative cultures? Is it just that it leads to more effective teacher collaboration or are there other ways it helps?
- What is the kit you could export to other schools to help them get this idea off the ground?

And onwards. This has tons of potential. Thanks for contributing this.

Photo of Michael Schurr
Team

This is such a fabulous idea. We constantly talk about how faculty meetings end up being updates that could easily be communicated in many other, more effective ways. I particularly like the idea of creating learning communities through faculty meetings. It is also a great way to get faculty reading research on best practices which has the potential to transform our teaching pedagogy. I would love to continue a dialogue with you around this idea! It seems so easy, yet is rarely seen!

Photo of Robin U
Team

I would also love to keep talking/writing about this idea. We've tried it once but never fully fleshed it out as a practice.

Photo of Ellen Deutscher
Team

Robin,
Yes please on using meeting time to transform schools and including the students in the process!!