Five Strategies for Successful Staff Meetings

I am not here to suggest I am the meeting guru, but I have found five strategies that have helped me facilitate more successful staff meetings.

1. Don’t Call Them Meetings
For that matter, avoid the terms “committee” and “task force” too. I know some leaders believe that it doesn’t matter what you call them, as long as they are productive. While there may be some truth in this thinking. the titles No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top are examples that language does matter. I think we associate past feelings and experiences with certain words. For me, I call our whole school meetings “All Staff Gatherings”. The word gathering conjures thoughts of family and get togethers. I also like “teams” and “groups”. A small shift, but one that I believe makes a difference.

2. Share the Agenda Ahead of Time
In the past, I would type the agenda right into our Google calendar. My thinking was they would at least have it on hand in case they needed to reference. Of course, my thinking was wrong. I now try to email out a digital copy one day ahead, plus provide a paper copy at our meeting. My school’s letterhead, mission, and vision are imprinted on every piece of paper. When staff get these ahead of time, it gives them a chance to think about what they want to say. Our work is proactive instead of reactive. With the paper copies, I am told that staff appreciate marking it up and saving it to read later in case they missed anything. Following up with shared minutes afterward is also important, particularly for collaborative teams.

3. Stick to the Plan
There is a tendency for some people to insert new items into discussion. Often times it is good to hear what needs to be said, so I try to plan for a few extra minutes for questions and comments. Usually it is something I missed. However, in the chance that a controversial topic gets thrown out there and no good will come from discussing it, going back to the agenda can be very helpful. It gives me a chance to contemplate the possibilities that a whole group discussion might produce. Not that we shouldn’t have a dialogue about it. But if I am not ready to respond productively, it can make a little problem become much bigger than it needs to be.

4. Bring Food
In my school, each grade level/department picks a date to bring in morning snacks for our once-a-month staff gatherings. Judy Wallis, at a Literacy and Leadership Institute, pointed out that food has that ability to invite everybody to the table. We feel like a family when we are brought around a familiar ritual. Great conversations can happen over this type of experience. I don’t think it needs to be expensive either. Even providing chocolate at an after school meeting can address this need.

5. Celebrate
No matter what is going on in the school, there is always something to recognize. I believe that no success is too small to celebrate. What we acknowledge, we reinforce. This is a great opportunity to not only build spirits, but also tie our efforts to our building mission, vision, and goals. In my school, we host an early bird raffle. Staff receive a ticket if they arrive before the meeting starts. Not only has this helped promptness, but I can get instructional materials such as professional books and classroom supplies in teachers’ hands. These prizes usually connect with what we are focused on as a building. Also popular is my “30 minutes of prep on your prep-free day” certificate. I have already had the privilege of teaching computers to 1st graders and hosting a morning meeting in 5th grade. These opportunities to be in the classroom help ground me to what’s most important.

This list is by no means comprehensive. What works for you?

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

10 thoughts on “Five Strategies for Successful Staff Meetings”

    1. Thanks Mike for commenting. I agree 100% with what you state. Our time is too limited to not make the most of it. Because we send out an agenda ahead of time, I think this gives staff time to think and discuss issues before we actually meet. In our school leadership teams, we use social media such as Google+ to take care of building business. This leaves our physical time together to discuss best practice.

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      1. It’s a matter of limited time and conflicting priorities. In my experience of more than 30 years working in schools, most (not all) of the staff meetings were a waste of time. In the last school I worked, meetings were voluntary. I knew the agenda before and could make informed, professional decisions as to whether to attend. I found it interesting that these meetings were shorter and went smoother. There was also much less multi-tasking (grading papers, writing plans, etc.) during them. A key component of this culture was that all were bound by decisions made at staff meetings, whether you attended or not. It was very effective, and great for morale.

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  1. Matt, these are really great tips. Our Monday staff meetings take place after school and as much as I try to make the meaningful and focused on PD…. man, they are deathly sometimes. Tough, tough audience. I am going to focus on implementing #2 and #5. These are great ideas!

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  2. I’ve changed meetings to workshops. I believe that teachers should spend the vast majority of their time together planning, analysing student work, identifying implications for future instruction, or productively dialoging about how we can make our school a better place.

    Most of the other stuff can be done via email.

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