Administration & Leadership

4 Shifts That Lead to Better Staff Meetings

Long, unproductive meetings can be draining, but school leaders can take steps to make these gatherings more effective.

January 17, 2024
SDI Productions / iStock

We’ve all been there, sitting in yet another meeting where we feign interest. Many of us resign ourselves to the routine of these “time suck” meetings, but we should demand more. So, facilitators, no matter the meeting you are designing, consider these strategies to transform meetings into productive power hours.

Small Shifts to Turn Meetings Into Power Hours

1. Reserve face-to-face meetings for interactive engagement: This allows staff to feel not just physically present but actively involved—empowered, even—because the atmosphere cultivates a necessity for and an appreciation of staff contributions.

Email a weekly update for information sharing outside of meetings, and prioritize dynamic, collaborative learning experiences during in-person meetings. Consider the user experience, and create tasks that utilize various protocols to promote equity of voice, such as engaging in a dilemma protocol, collectively analyzing student work, seeking feedback with a gallery walk, or solving problems with a design sprint.

Use a variety of verbal and nonverbal engagement strategies, and vary the sizes and makeup of groups. This models high-impact strategies and provides staff an opportunity to experience these strategies as a learner, making them more sticky.

Provide access to the meeting resources, and empower staff to customize the materials for use with their learners. It always feels good to walk away with useful tools and strategies that can be implemented immediately.

2. Establish structures, routines, and rituals that foster inclusivity: Embracing author and professor Brené Brown’s wisdom that “clear is kind,” implement systems that ensure that everyone is well-informed and included. This will contribute to a more meaningful, collaborative environment.

Establish a distinct meeting rhythm with a well-defined purpose. Send calendar invites with essential details such as meeting purpose, participants, location, and start and end times.

Create a document housing a dynamic agenda, and link it within the calendar invite. This living document serves as a comprehensive and transparent resource, allowing staff to review past agendas and anticipate upcoming ones.

Check out this sample meeting agenda, or create one that might include the following categories:

  • Community Connection: How might you get all voices in the room at the start of the meeting to signify active learning and connecting as a staff?
  • Active Learning: How might you engage the staff in collaborative, dynamic learning that is learner-centered?
  • Updates Roundtable: How might you use this time to invite staff to share celebrations, elevate needs, and announce time-sensitive messages for the good of the group?

Encourage staff to participate as meeting facilitators or to share as contributors. Staff can sign up to run the community-connection portion or can share a strategy during active-learning time. Staff-led sessions can cover diverse topics such as sharing new tech tools, modeling effective feedback strategies, or leading a reflection activity.

Extend invitations to all staff (licensed and classified) whenever feasible, and intentionally design meetings to accommodate the needs of each role. Cultivate a team environment that not only values but actively seeks out diverse perspectives. Continuously ask, “Who is not here?” Ensuring representation from all roles fosters a comprehensive, inclusive approach, and the collective identity of us and our school is deepened.

3. Assign directly responsible individuals (DRIs) and collaborators for projects: Empower staff by designating DRIs and collaborators for significant projects. The DRI is responsible for planning, organizing, and disseminating information and acts as the go-to resource for questions or information. Collaborators work closely with the DRI on project execution.

This structure fosters staff empowerment, builds capacity, and deepens self-efficacy by encouraging staff to try on leadership roles, refine project management skills, improve facilitation skills, and cultivate their creative confidence.

Invite staff members to be the DRI for open projects. Examples of open projects might include back-to-school night; exhibitions of learning; book fairs; and other schoolwide, grade level, or multiclass events.

Develop an open-project board, and make it visible so that all staff know the DRI, the project, and the deadline. Encourage staff members to add ideas to the open-project board by pitching their idea to others who might join them as a collaborator.

DRIs and collaborators can share project updates, enlist feedback, and more during power-hour meetings.

4. Ensure effective facilitation: Shift from speaking at staff to collaborating with them. This builds trust in a way that speaking to trust never will. Also, all learners thrive when actively engaged, so entrust participants to do the heavy lifting. Continually ask, “What am I doing that my staff could be doing?” and continually plan referencing these levers of design to cultivate a sense of belonging.

When using slides, employ the 25/25 rule—a maximum of 25 words in a 25-point font per slide. Engage the audience with simple words, phrases, and images so that participants listen rather than read text-heavy slides.

Avoid posing questions that you already know the answer to, that have obvious answers, or that have one right answer. Instead, use open-ended queries, like “How might we…?” or “What are some ways…?”

Model strategies that teachers can implement with learners. Kick off meetings by priming teachers to wear two hats—one as a learner engaging in the work and one as a teacher reflecting on instructional moves to add to their toolbox. End meetings with a takeaway question like, “What instructional moves did you see today that you might adapt or adopt for your learners?”

Intentionally design meetings to affirm the expertise in the room and challenge staff to stretch. Allow space for learning to happen, and design using the Universal Design for Learning framework:

Representation: How might you provide multiple means to access the material?

Engagement: How might you provide multiple means for your staff to engage?

Expression: How might you provide multiple ways for your staff to practice and demonstrate their learning?

We aspire to be part of a collaborative process where staff are architects of what school can and should be. Let’s embrace the question, “How might we?” and break the typical meeting script by cultivating curiosity, initiating subtle changes, testing ideas, and iterating.

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