Many study group leaders find themselves facing two demographic challenges in coordinating study groups that meet before or after school. Middle-aged faculty are often in the “sandwich” generation, caring for elderly parents and their own children at the same time. An influx of new teachers leaves many of the youngest teachers in a school in prime childbearing age, with some responsible to pick up infants from daycare. Still other faculty have to choose between study group meetings and graduate courses required for certification.
Teachers in Mapleton, Maine have been successful in building and maintaining study groups around different inquiry topics, in part because study group leaders are flexible about attendance. Their tips for boosting study group attendance are documented in the book Spelling Inquiry and include:
- Set the meeting as a continuation of a regularly scheduled staff meeting. That way, everyone is already in attendance, and must make the effort to get up and leave. Often participants with home constraints have already made special arrangements for these meetings, and it isn’t as difficult for them to add an extra thirty minutes or hour to those plans.
- End early, rather than late. This allows group members with extra time to stay and chat, getting answers to specific questions or concerns. It also reassures group members on tight schedules that a commitment to a group isn’t open-ended in terms of when sessions will end.
- Don’t limit your study group membership to teachers. Include aides, student interns, even volunteers who have interest in the topic.
- Give lots of advance notice. The earlier the meetings are posted on the school calendar, the more time participants have to make arrangements at home.
- Order pizza. It’s the refreshment with the strongest enticing odor to draw a crowd to your location.
- Schedule the meeting in a high-traffic area. If you meet in a central lounge, teacher workroom, or any other location that gets a lot of foot traffic on the way to the parking lot, you are likely to attract a curious colleague or two wandering by.
- Post charts, notes, and intriguing posts in a common area. The Mapleton group leaves these materials on chart paper, with plenty of room for colleagues who weren’t able to attend to add their own comments. This gives everyone in the community a chance to add their two cents to the discussion, even if they aren’t at the meeting.
Perhaps the most important advice from Mapleton is to be welcoming to any group member, whenever they come to a meeting. There are times in any teacher’s life when it just isn’t possible to do much beyond the regularly scheduled and required programming in the school day – and we will all encounter those stretches in our own personal lives. By keeping the door open, and the invitation warm, it gives everyone a chance to cycle in and out of study groups whenever time and circumstances allow it.