Administration & Leadership

Conducting Meetings That Matter

School administrators can use staff meetings to build teachers’ collective efficacy with these four tips.

May 24, 2024
SDI Productions / iStock

Educators arrive at school every day wanting to improve the learning lives of their students. They desire ways to measure their impact and make just-in-time adjustments but often have to rely on intuitive measures rather than objective evidence. This is akin to setting up a savings account and downloading a budgeting app without actively reducing expenses and regularly transferring funds to savings.

This isn’t for a sense of wanting. Doctors have the luxury of seeing a single patient at a time. Teachers have 30 or more students at one sitting for a minimum of four hours per day. Collecting evidence while managing students is incredibly complex. Moreover, the time that teachers have to actually look at evidence is usually minutes before they begin teaching or after a long time of physical and mental focus.

The primary vehicle to support teachers in assessing their impact and determining next steps is through department and grade-level team meetings (often called professional learning communities) and a few days of professional development. These meetings can range from rigid processes centered around scripted questions to general philosophical discussions that lead to little or no improvement for learning.

If they are done well, the results are beyond typical expectations. Collective teacher efficacy, the collective belief of the staff of the school in their ability to positively affect students, is highly correlated to strong improvements in learning. In fact, a synthesis of meta-analyses places it at the top of all variables that can influence student learning. The question is, how do we lead this work within the context of schools?

The lack of productive meeting time causes friction, making it difficult for teachers to analyze their impact and improve their craft. Leaders can reduce friction and lean into teacher improvement by the following four tips.

4 Ways to Enhance Staff meetings

1. Match meetings with moods. Author Daniel Pink argues that moods are generally higher in the morning than in the afternoon. Leaders should schedule time for teams to meet to discuss student evidence and make decisions on teaching practices before the day begins with students. This will require that teachers have the time to meet and then a buffer of time before students arrive. Given the research on improvement in student well-being as related to later start times for students, this should be a net positive effect for everyone.

If this is not possible, then during afternoon meetings, leaders need to create a few brief activities that enable teachers to enhance their mood. These mood boosters are typically low challenge but high engagement, such as short trivia games, sudoku,or a brief walk and talk.

2. Match measurement with mindset. The collective beliefs of teachers shape their interpretation of evidence and the actions they take in the classroom. As such, these beliefs really matter. In order to shape the right beliefs, teachers need to find evidence that will illustrate student progress in real time. Using a portfolio of evidence, teachers can be both an ethnographer, interacting with students to better understand progress, and a statistician, capturing data from their class performance.

3. Match motivation with what matters. Ask teachers to identify a number of problems of practice that they are interested in exploring as a school, grade level, or department. Next, ask them to form groups around those problems, focus on addressing each one, and then share out their solutions with the staff. The process can follow these steps:

  • Need It. What is a compelling problem?
  • See It. How will we ensure that our change is observable now and in three/six/nine weeks?
  • Start It. How will we lower the threshold for implementing action and collecting and inspecting our impact?
  • Show It. How will we show our progress over time?

4. Match meetings with material. Most teachers do not need to meet for more than 15 to 30 minutes to go through the Need It–See It–Start It–Show It process. Meetings should be held for only as long as they are needed. In their book The Friction Project, authors Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao show that some teams were more productive when they split their meetings into full-team meetings and then asynchronous meetings in which teams contributed to a shared document to post questions and new findings. In addition, ensure that teams separate logistical meetings with the work conducted for action-research. If meetings are not segmented for each purpose, agendas become long and the work of inspection typically takes a back seat to the politics of the day.

While educators strive to work together to make a meaningful impact on their students’ learning, the primary avenues available to them—department meetings and professional development days—often are not built to address the number of questions and concerns they face over the day or week. Rethinking our meeting approaches to match purpose with practice can be a positive catalyst for student and adult learning.

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