Time for another staff meeting. Need an idea for something that engages teachers? Shakes things up a bit?
Maybe you can group teachers in some cool way—by their birth month or favorite Jimmy Buffett song. Maybe you could play an inspiring video from YouTube, streaming it from your phone to seem all high-tech and whiz bang. Maybe use an ironic or inspiring quote as a writing prompt and discussion point. Maybe add a pile of candy in the middle of the table and see what goes first, their attention or the Jolly Ranchers.
You could encourage teachers to get up and move around the room—maybe modeling a literacy strategy like a vocab stir or some kind of gallery walk that uses their phones. Or do a Hawaiian shirt day. So fun!
If the above strategies don’t change the culture in your building—and it should be clear that they won’t—you need to think more ambitiously and get at the root of what makes some staff meetings so unbearable.
Problem: Faculty meetings don't help anyone.
Solution: Ask teachers what they need.
It may not be true that meetings are useless—they’re good to keep the gears of the school turning—but rarely do they meaningfully impact the learning and lives of students. Think about your average staff meeting and what happens—the work and the lasting impact of that work. How much of it changes lives?
There may be school and district policies that dictate much of what happens in staff meetings: how often you meet, how long you meet, and so on. But if you’re able to start with the kinds of things that teachers actually need, rather than what the school or district needs, engagement should improve—eventually.
Some schools have adopted workshop- and PD-style staff meetings, but teachers still often lack any sort of input or control, which doesn't solve the problem of the meetings being school- and district-centered instead of teaching- and learning-centered.
Genius, Not Endurance
Problem: Faculty meetings focus on minutiae and housekeeping items.
Solution: Prioritize those ideas that most meaningfully impact students, and use social media for the rest.
A key theme in staff meetings is data—events, priorities, scheduling issues, general feedback, etc. Having everybody in one room allows information to be exchanged, enabling a lot of housekeeping items to be checked off. But the internet can be a better way to share information widely: Social media, closed Edmodo, Facebook, and more provide online hubs to exchange the kind of information that’s usually exchanged at school staff meetings. Flip your staff meeting.
When you are all together, establish mission-critical goals like improving literacy, communicating with communities, or expanding student-centered programs. Next, break down how to achieve those goals, and do things that engage the genius in—rather than the endurance of—your teachers.
Problem: Faculty meetings are often held after long days.
Solution: Don’t hold them after long days.
Again, this one depends on local rules, regulations, policies, and other matters of bureaucracy likely beyond your control. While some districts have calendar-embedded PD or partial instruction days when students aren’t in the building so that teachers can get stuff done, the weekly staff meeting is different.
So why not pitch a new approach to the superintendent? Suggest something that teachers won’t dread, and that doesn’t depend on their attendance, compliance, and fatigue, but rather on their expertise, craft, and professionalism. This will likely look different from one school to the next. Decide what works for you, package it, pitch it, and make the decision to innovate it in an easy fashion for those above you.
Problem: Faculty meetings often lack compelling interaction.
Solution: Help educators interact compellingly.
One idea is to consider technology. The days of rolling in the TV cart or pulling down the projector screen to get pulses racing are over. So have them teachers use their favorite app to record snippets from their classroom, share within their table, and then stream to an Apple TV or Chromecast-equipped screen that the whole staff can see. Then maybe cobble together the best bits and release it to YouTube, parents, or the local community to show a weekly glimpse into your school.
Engagement isn't magic, but after years and years of sit-and-get, many teachers are justifiably bored with it all. Administrators are bored as well. Yet somehow, we continue beating our collective heads against the same stack of bricks. If teachers are meeting to do work that they see as meaningful with people that they respect, engagement won’t be a concern.