Administration & Leadership

5 Tips for Meetings Worth Going To

Can meetings be inspiring and engaging, a time for solving meaningful problems? Absolutely.

April 16, 2015 Updated October 18, 2019
Valero Doval / Ikon Images

Ask most teachers about faculty meetings and they’ll describe black holes of boring announcements, fruitless debate, and overwhelming agendas, ending in a deeply dissatisfying lack of meaningful conclusions or decisions. But what if these meetings and all the others—department, grade-level, professional learning community, and even special education and 504 meetings—were focused on learning together, building community, and solving meaningful problems? What if meetings could actually inspire and engage?

What if we actually looked forward to them as a key piece of our professional self-care?

One thing you should be aware of, though: You may have staff who are very attached to elements of your current meetings that don’t seem like a big deal to you—including the location—so you’ll need to create buy-in for change by explicitly sharing why you’re asking for these changes.

5 Ways to Improve Meetings

1. Pick the Right Space: Be it a classroom, a conference room, the library, or the cafeteria, we have to work within the space we have. Being mindful of the choices we make—adult-size chairs, please!—can go a long way toward making sure the staff are comfortable at a meeting.

It should go without saying that the meeting room should be clean and easily accessible to everyone. In addition, be intentional in the way furniture is arranged so that everyone can see everyone else without twisting around in their chairs.

Finally, consider providing food and drinks, even if it’s just simple snacks—eating together builds goodwill and community.

2. Be Clear About Your Purpose: Figure out what you want to achieve in the meeting—don’t just have a meeting because you always have one on Thursday afternoons. What do you need to do? Solve a problem? Make a decision? Discuss a new idea? Share pedagogical successes or challenges? Know your purpose and plan the meeting accordingly.

Once you have a clear purpose, you can more easily choose the right process, protocol, or structure for the meeting. And don’t be afraid to look outside the educational community for those tools—NOAA, for example, has an excellent handbook on collaborative decision-making. Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, build an agenda focused on that purpose and only that purpose.

Keep the agenda brief—only one or two topics or questions per 30 minutes of meeting time—and share it in advance. Even better, build it in advance using a collaborative digital process. And be sure that all agenda items require the presence of everyone in the room. If only a subset of people are impacted by an item on the agenda, hold a separate meeting on that item with just that group.

If you’re using meetings to read announcements, stop. Anything that can be shared by email should be. Consider flipping your meetings if you have announcements to get out: Tools like G Suite, Smore, and Flipgrid can help you share information and raise questions that the staff need to address together. Hand out a hard copy of all announcements at the end of the meeting, not the beginning, because questions and discussion will derail your agenda—and if you can anticipate questions or discussion, that “announcement” is actually an agenda item.

If one of your goals is to solve a problem, consider setting up a committee, team, or task force instead of using faculty meeting time. A small group can research, discuss, and create a proposal much more efficiently than the whole team, and they can report to the larger group either in a meeting or via email or Flipgrid for feedback as needed.

3. Establish Fair, Productive Processes: Just as good classrooms are built on reliable systems and structures, a positive meeting should utilize protocols and processes that ensure all voices are heard, that no single voice dominates, and that discussion stays focused and productive. Get clear about what you expect from one another using a norm-setting process, and then use those expectations as a tool to reflect and grow your communication and collaboration skills together.

Think about which voices dominate and which are silenced, and use processes that build equity and inclusivity. I personally like some protocols from the School Reform Initiative for their effective, elegant approach to making sure all perspectives and voices are included. For example, if the goal of the meeting is to discuss a new idea, the Final Word Protocol can guide small-group conversations within the larger meeting that are more comfortable for quieter faculty members. Need to have a conversation about how to improve a system or plan? Try SRI’s Tuning Protocol.

Provide a paper or digital “parking lot” to put on hold any off-topic or emergent questions that would eat up time without being resolved—Padlet is a great tool for this, but a shared Google Doc or even chart paper and sticky notes will work. Save the questions for a later meeting or for resolution by a smaller group, or respond to them on your own via email or handout.

4. Be Present: If there’s ever a time to be fully present and aware, this is it. The time you spend with your team is sacred—as is the time your team spends on their other tasks—so start on time no matter what else is going on in your professional or personal life.

Be with the people you’re with. Leave your phone in your office, and encourage your faculty to do the same. We know that just putting phones away doesn’t keep students from getting distracted, and you can apply that idea to your time with your colleagues. You’ll all need your collective mental energy if you’re going to be fully present and responsive. Try to set aside your hoped-for outcomes and pay attention to what’s being said. You all might be surprised by what you notice.

5. Have Courage: The status quo has a powerful gravitational pull, and change—even well-intentioned and seemingly small-scale—calls for courage. As a leader, choosing to be intentional about how you use your meetings, to limit your time to only the important issues, and to insist that everyone engage respectfully and fully requires courage.

Beyond the changes discussed here, you can also ask for recommendations. Start by asking staff if they’re satisfied with the use of the time and what, if anything, they want to preserve or change about the existing meeting structures and processes.

If you build from what they identify as successes and shortcomings, you’ll get better results. Facilitating—rather than leading—requires a shift in the way we think about staff meetings. If done well, it raises the level of discourse, builds professional culture and community, and models the pedagogical philosophies we want to see in classrooms. How would your meetings be different if you made the shift?

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