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.
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?