Professional Learning

Setting Up Meetings to Empower Teachers

Meetings feel more useful and productive when teachers have time to focus on solutions and interact with new resources.

February 21, 2024
AzmanL / iStock

A common complaint among teachers is the prevalence of unproductive meetings. While this issue isn’t unique to teachers, unproductive meetings often feel even more draining for educators, who typically choose the profession because their skill set lies in teaching rather than sitting in meetings for long periods of time. Not all meetings are created equal; some are purposeful and leave you feeling accomplished, while others leave you feeling like you just wasted an hour and now have more work than when you started. Here are a few common themes of meetings that leave teachers feeling empowered, respected, and ready to teach.

Focus on Solutions, Not Problems

Effective meetings are characterized by problem-solving, not just problem identification. Most of us have been in meetings where the majority of time is spent discussing a problem or focusing on why solutions won’t work. One way to ensure that meetings are solutions-focused is to create a norm where all ideas remain on the table until they are replaced with a plausible alternative. By creating this norm, you are imploring teachers to turn their thinking toward solutions rather than just lamenting on the problem. Teachers can ask clarifying questions about a proposed solution, but they can’t automatically reject it without offering a new idea. This strategy works particularly well if you have a team member who tends to find fault with everything.

This might be a familiar scenario: You’re in a meeting discussing test data and identifying areas in need of improvement. Various suggestions for fixing the problem are offered, but they all get shot down. You wonder if it will ever end. I still remember one particularly frustrating meeting topic. Our team identified that our students were struggling with nonfiction text features and began to offer suggestions.

One person thought morning work that focused on these skills would be good, but that idea was pooh-poohed because not all kids would have time to finish. We thought weaving these skills into a class meeting might work, but the detractor said it would take too long to plan. However, once we imposed the rule that all suggestions would stay on the table unless replaced by another viable option, the naysayer was forced to change their thinking.

This can have a big impact on productivity and ease feelings of frustration that often come with unproductive meetings. When questions are asked (like where to find resources to use in a class meeting or what to do with kids who arrive to class late), you are helping the team solidify their ideas and patch holes in their thinking, which is useful. Also, by asking questions, you are learning more about the thinking behind an idea, which can be helpful. This rule can make team meetings so much more productive and shifts the focus from problems to solutions. Identifying problems is important to fixing them, but once they are identified, it’s time to switch gears to asking questions… and then finding solutions.

provide time to interact with New Resources

In many school districts, teachers are given ample resources but are not given time to interact with them, so they aren’t utilized as well as they could be. However, by setting aside time in meetings for teachers to truly learn how to use resources, they are empowered to successfully use them in the classroom. Additionally, by making meetings interactive and having teachers work through tasks together, you’re able to see what mistakes students might make—because sometimes you make those same mistakes. 

My former math coach did an amazing job setting aside time for us to interact with challenging problems and learn games that engaged students and strengthened their mathematical reasoning. One game that my students loved was Math Dice, which is great for practicing quick thinking and order of operations. However, if you were just to hand a teacher five dice and a set of directions, it's unlikely that the teacher or students would benefit from this resource. By taking the time to teach the game and have teachers play it together, they could see the classroom use and the best way to instruct students.

While actively playing a game and interacting with the resource takes time, it pays off because so often teachers are given resources but then not given the proper training to use them. When time is set aside in meetings for this purpose, the resources can be used, and teachers can add more tools to their toolbox, and kids benefit.

Create space to implement new learnings

It’s never fun to leave a meeting with your head spinning and feeling like you’ve just been bogged down with even more work to do and nothing accomplished. When meetings focus on how you will teach and provide concrete resources to use, teachers leave meetings feeling prepared and energized.

Going back to my amazing math coach, in our meetings we didn’t spend much time on what we were going to teach: We mapped that out at the start of each quarter and adjusted as needed. Instead, we spent most of our time on how we were going to teach. Teachers and the coach came to meetings with resources for specific standards and then shared what they were going to use. This helped ensure that all students had the same high-quality resources available to them and that all teachers were on the same page. 

Respecting teachers’ time by ensuring that meetings have useful outcomes is a great way to lighten the mental load that teachers often carry. Things like providing time to make copies so that teachers leave the meeting organized and with resources in hand to use in the coming weeks is another great way to ensure that what is shared in our meetings makes its way into our classrooms. Most teachers would agree that it’s a great feeling to leave a meeting with lessons solidified and all your copies for the upcoming week made. When teachers are given time in meetings to do things that are truly beneficial to them and their students, they are much more engaged and come with a more positive attitude.

In a day and age when teachers are being asked to do more and more, it’s essential to look at how we are using meetings to ensure that they aren’t adding to the problem of teacher burnout. Entering meetings with a solutions-oriented attitude, making time for teachers to meaningfully engage with materials, and ensuring that meetings leave teachers feeling prepared to teach are ways to lessen the load instead of adding to it. Meetings and collaboration done right can bring teachers together and help them to feel empowered, and that is a formidable antidote to teacher burnout.

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