As a former teacher and administrator, I have participated in countless faculty meetings. With precious little time for conversation and a wide range of areas to address, faculty meetings often take on a rushed feeling. The agenda moves quickly from point to point, with little time for processing and input. Even when teachers do weigh in with questions, comments or opinions, they rarely result in meaningful conversation. The result is frustration and a pervasive feeling that teachers do not have a significant voice in the discussion. More important, these meetings lack energy and fun and become a real drag for an already overworked and stressed staff.
After running such meetings for nearly two years as a school principal, I began to rethink our meetings. My goal was to make them positive, productive experiences — something to look forward to rather than avoid.
To do that, I changed my approach. Most announcements were left off of the agenda. Instead, they were distributed by email and/or weekly memos. Of course, “good and welfare” announcements remained, as they gave us opportunity to celebrate with one another and offer support. But our staff meetings were no longer bogged down by detail that could be read and reviewed just as easily.
More important, our meetings began to take on a real purpose. In previous years, they had felt perfunctory at times, as though we were meeting simply because the calendar told us to. Now, we were meeting with more consistent purpose, usually to discuss the next stage in some strategic priority or professional development objective. Often, teacher input was solicited in advance to help create the agenda and ensure its usefulness. This also allowed me to come to each meeting as prepared as possible.
Discussions were structured cooperatively, to ensure that all teachers participated and had a voice. Sometimes this was done in simple think-pair-share format. At other times, jigsaws were used. By putting teachers into “committee,” we were able to get great feedback on matters that really mattered in a manner that was focused, productive and efficient.
Speaking of committee, we were able to extend and deepen conversation through use of targeted committees that were comprised of teachers and administrators. By going in and out of committee, we were able to get broader input while also moving along an agenda without getting caught in endless, directionless conversation that failed to produce useful outcomes.
Another benefit of this new design was opportunity for peer teaching. We had more time at our disposal and could invite teachers to make brief presentations about their classroom practice. This gave us all a chance to learn and offered our leading staff members a well-deserved opportunity to shine.
Finally, a member of the school office was asked to attend the meetings to take copious notes of the conversation. This allowed for an accurate, detailed meeting summary to be distributed shortly after the staff had met.
As noted above, faculty meetings can be a real drag. They can also be tools for exciting engagement. Teachers are so busy. They deserve to be recognized and have their time valued. By creating action-oriented agendas that offer opportunity to talk, debate and vote, principals can transform their meetings from something just slightly better than a trip to the dentist’s office to a truly engaging and beneficial experience. Of course, some good snacks don’t hurt either.