I have been reading about the percentage of time that Americans spend in meetings. Often I hear myself and others saying, I wish we could get more done in our department meetings so that we could affect more positive change in our organization. It makes sense to me as members of a team to want to be part of the conversation and the decision making.
Most teachers describe meetings as a black hole of boring announcements, fruitless debate, and overwhelming agendas. But what if faculty meetings could actually inspire and engage? What if they were the high point of the week? It can be done, and here are the 6 key elements to facilitating productive meetings that I am repeating from the article from Edutopia titled “6 Tips for Faculty Meetings Worth Going To”
- Space. We have to work within the space we have, of course, but a few small adjustments can go a long way. Make sure the space is clean, that everyone can see everyone else, and consider providing food and drinks. There’s something about eating together that builds goodwill and community.
- Stance. Ask yourself what you’re hoping to model as an instructional leader. Get clear about your pedagogical stance and make sure you’re walking your talk.
- Processes. Just like good classrooms are built on reliable systems and structures, a positive faculty meeting should utilize protocols and processes that ensure all voices are heard, that no single voice dominates, and that discussion stays focused and productive . (I personally like the protocols from the School Reform Initiative: http://schoolreforminitiative.org.)
- Presence. If there’s ever a time to be fully present and aware, this is it. Try to set aside your personal agenda, fear, or hoped-for outcome and notice what’s really going on in front of you. You might be surprised by what you notice, and you’ll be modeling what it is to be fully present as a facilitator. (Learn more about mindfulness practices here: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/just-breathe-when-teachers-practice-mindful….)
- Clarity. Figure out what you want to achieve in the meeting. What problem needs solving? What issue needs exploring? Keep the agenda brief–only 1-2 topics or questions. If you’re using the meeting for announcements, stop. Anything that can be shared by email should be. We all have a limited number of hours on the planet. Choose to respect your team by using them wisely.
- Courage. Changing the culture around meetings can be nerve wracking. Choosing to be intentional about stance, to limit your time to only the important issues, to insist that everyone engage respectfully and fully–it may not be easy. Start by asking staff if they’re satisfied with the use of the time. If you build from what they identify as shortcomings, you’ll get better results.
Facilitating–rather the 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?
The last element is powerful. How does one go about having more courageous conversations? You read often, that the goal of all education is to improve and grow, but to make one’s school better requires honest conversation, and that requires courage.
Many teachers say to me, I wish we could be more productive and talk about things that matter to us more. I am wondering who told them they couldn’t.
Here are some questions you could use a during professional development activity to make this happen:
Questions for Discussion
- What is one practice in which you are currently engaged in your school that you would stop doing?
- What is one practice you are not doing in your school that you would start doing?
- What is something you are doing in your school that you question and would finally want to resolve?
If You Had Courage . . .
- How would you begin a conversation among those in your school about the core ethical principles that you would most want to define what you do, how you do it, and how people will treat one another?
- What rituals, routines, and other tangible signs will allow someone to experience/know/see/hear/feel these values when they walk into, walk around in, and spend time in your school? (Think, in particular, about entrances, the main office, hallways, lunchroom, detention room, and staff lounges.)
If you are the Department Chair try some of these ideas out. If you are not, bring these up to help strengthen and improve your department for the 2015/2016 school year.