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Making Meetings Meaningful

Originally posted on Connected Principals

As a teacher, I sat through endless staff meetings where information was relayed and the same teachers commented and gave their donated ‘air time’.  As a principal, one of my main goals was to make staff meetings meaningful.  Just like a teacher designs his/her lessons with the students in mind, staff meetings need to be designed with the staff in mind!

My assistant superintendent, Scott Benwell, made a comment to me that put things in perspective for me.   “We have about 15 hours a year set out for staff meetings (due to contract agreement in our district); how are you going to spend those 15 hours to make these meetings the most effective?”

Although I have been a principal for just over 1 year and I continue to learn new ideas every day, here are 10 things I try to do to make meetings meaningful:

  1. Limit the amount of relayed information. If it can be stated in a memo/email – do that!
  2. Spend the majority of time on professional development. This does not mean having your staff sit through another PowerPoint presentation about data.  Facilitate conversations with your staff about topics that are meaningful and that have impact on student learning.
  3. Disagreements are powerful. Some of the best meetings in which I have been involved included fantastic, passionate debates around what we do for our students.  One of the best things about education is that two educators can completely disagree but believe wholeheartedly that what they are doing is best for kids.
  4. Keep to the scheduled time.  If a meeting is set for 1.5 hours, keep it to that time (or shorter).  Staff members have busy schedules!
  5. Invite to Optional Meetings. If there is a topic/issue in which some staff members are truly passionate, invite them to an optional meeting to discuss.  In this way, the only people at the meeting are those that have an invested interest.  Some of the best conversations have occurred at these optional meetings.
  6. Include Everyone. Stop the hierarchy.  If we truly are a learning community, include all staff members.  Too many times, support staff feel silenced at staff meetings; they are as passionate about kids as teachers/administrators so make sure all members have an opportunity to have their voice heard.  Remember that a staff meeting is not about YOU, it is a STAFF meeting. The most effective change is when it comes from the staff so provide a platform for people to feel comfortable speaking.  Include staff in the development of the agenda as well.
  7. Put Out the Agenda in Advance. This may seem like a no-brainer but it is key to having effective dialogue.  People can come prepared to discuss and issue/topic.  Conversations that are thought-out rather than reactive are that much more powerful. Also, limit the number of items on the agenda so there is time for conversations to go deeper.
  8. Set It Up! Make sure that the place in which you meet is set up in a way that encourages all to share their voice.  It is often effective to split up the cliques of people in fun ways too – people can learn more from hearing perspectives of people they may not talk to on a regular basis.
  9. Food, Glorious Food! Meetings often occur after school – people are tired and hungry so keep the staff nourished!  We have an awesome spread each staff meeting as each staff member signs up to bring food one time during the year.
  10. Use Humour.  Stories, Seinfeld Clips, comics… set the tone. George’s Views on Collaboration – Jerkstore! (video could not be embedded, sorry!)

Remember the limited amount of time that all staff members are together – make the most of this time, make it meaningful.

As I love to hear more tips from other educators, please comment so we can continue to improve our meetings.

Following the writing of this draft, I came across a recent post on the topic by Scott Elias: ‘Meeting to Meet’.

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8 Responses to Making Meetings Meaningful

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  2. Jen Alexander says:

    Love your list. I am an AP at a high school, and this year for our staff meetings, I am trying out a strategy in which the first 15 min or less will be myself or the principal. The other 45 mintues is devoted to team meetings, either by departments or focus topics. Hoping to make that time useful for more professional development than information sharing. I am also using your #5, optional meetings for those interested.

    • Chris Wejr says:

      Thanks for your input Jen! I agree and commend you for making staff meetings more about learning that about information telling. Optional meetings have been very powerful at our school and an idea that was given to me through a leadership series. I am looking to expand on this during this year.

  3. Brad Hagkull says:

    This is a good list Chris. Can you somehow make this a mandatory pre-September read for all administrators? ;o)

    I have found that in meetings I have led that the depth of the conversation and willingness to participate is directly proportional to the trust factor in the group. Trust grows from relationships and relationships germinate from connections. This can be hard in any first meeting of the year with new staff being uncertain of how much they can truly be “real”. My solution? Play together! It’s amazing what can be accomplished when the meeting is opened with a spontaneous 15 min. game of indoor soccer or floorhockey first. Nothing serious or long – just fun. In our TEP cohort, the Finger Rockets were also a hit. It’s been my experience that groups that play together seem to get down to some serious business afterward. Open communication will follow the fun and often those meetings end up being the most memorable.

  4. S. Ram says:

    Great post. You have some great ideas, and I think that they will work very well. I am not going to give you any suggestions, most due to the fact that I do not know your staff and that is essential.

    I would suggest that you take a look at “5 Dysfunctions of a Team”, there are some great things in that book that will point you in the right direction.

    Once again, Great Post.

  5. Chris Wejr says:

    Thanks Shawn. I will check out that book!

  6. Dennis says:

    NO! Not a memo or an e-mail! I get about 25-50 e-mails a day and all are REALLY IMPORTANT! What tips do you have for staff to streamline e-mailing and make messages efficent??? (for the skimmers like me)

  7. Chris Wejr says:

    Very good point Dennis. I think that the only way to do this is for the admin to filter the messages. If the superintendents, principals, department heads, etc all filter, this may help. The one thing that drives me crazy is blanket urgent messages that have nothing to do with me. We need to respect people’s time and send only those emails that pertain to them. Thanks for raising this point.

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