5 More Ways to Improve Your Staff Meetings

5 More Ways to Improve Your Staff Meetings

Forward thinking leaders cannot afford to ‘cut and paste’ previous year’s agendas, and expect their staff to be prepared and engaged. Absent intentional and creative approaches to engaging staff, administrators might look up and see staff members sneaking looks at their phones, nodding compliantly with glazed eyes, or ruminating about the end of their summer fun.

I believe all school leaders want time with their staff to be practical, inspirational, and connecting. Too often, however, they are not experienced this way by teachers. Instead, consider these ideas when planning your staff meetings for the upcoming year:

Leave out communication that can be emailed. Much of the business that we bring into staff meetings can be communicated and received more efficiently through emails, memos, and individual conversations. Despite this fact, teacher staff meetings are too often flooded with reminders about textbook checkouts and copy room protocol.   While structures, procedures and upcoming school events are important, we are trading in critical minutes and deflating a group of primed-for-PD educators.

Think about time in small chunks. We know that young students have trouble focusing over long periods of time.  We might need to be reminded that adults have surprisingly short attention spans too.  According to this Fobres article:  “The average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now.” This reality has to impact the way we approach and conduct staff meetings.  We should view speaking portions of our meetings as Ted Talks.  They are focused, visually supported, scripted yet naturally delivered, and inspirational.  Beyond a strong beginning, we should strive to break up the time by using different voices, facilitating structured teacher interaction, and even consider multiple learning environments.  In the end, leaders have a responsibility to tailor learning experiences to the limitations of their learners.  Adults, like young people, need extended time to be broken up.

Model effective instructional strategies.
It is one thing for a developing teacher to hear about effective instructional strategies.  It is quite another thing for them to experience the ease of learning, from the perspective of a student, as an effective instructional strategy is employed.  We know, from research on adult learning, that individuals will remember only 20% of what they hear.  They will remember 50% of what they see and hear.  And the percentage increases as they experience it.   If our goal is that teachers ‘try on’ new or powerful modes of instruction, it’s important that we give them multiple vantage points and numerous opportunities.

Elicit laughter. The administrative team may need to dream up a running skit.  The principal may need to recruit a computer savvy teacher to Photoshop teacher heads onto other folks bodies.   Or maybe a ludicrous email, sent by a cranky neighbor could be read aloud.   Whatever it takes, eliciting regular laughter will go a long way towards reinforcing the idea that your school is an exceptional place to work.  Good things happen for kids when teachers believe this.

Feed them. I’m not suggesting that all staff meetings be catered by farm-to-table local restaurants as means of gaining whole staff favor.  Instead, I urge administrators to consider that food is one easy avenue to meet a pressing need of the hurried teacher and to help them focus on content of professional development.   A cooler full of Popsicles at the end of a hot day of teaching can say, “I care.”  Trail mix and chilled bottled water can do the trick.  And an occasional post-meeting splurge- maybe a taco cart- would have tens of teachers doing cartwheels.

Photo Angelica Portales via Flickr

5 Ideas to Improve Your Staff Meetings

5 Ideas to Improve Your Staff Meetings

In advance of opening campus for another school year, school administrators across the nation are analyzing school data, tweeking their master schedules, and preparing for meetings with their teachers.  Because effective instruction is the most predictive variable impacting student achievement, time with teachers is especially critical. Teachers are the most valuable resource our schools possess. It’s the school administrator’s job to stoke and direct the passion for teaching and learning, that resides within them.

The vehicle school leaders have for communicating, focusing, and connecting their staff is traditionally the regular staff meeting.  For most teachers, this avenue is predictable and stale.  I want to offer ideas that may take teachers by surprise, while accomplishing important goals.

  1. Be mission-driven.  One clear role of the educational leader is to cast an inspirational picture of what our schools and classrooms can look like.  It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out.  But it needs to be crystal clear and inviting.  Our teachers are already intrinsically motivated to make a difference for students.  They need to hear how this is going to take place and why their efforts matter specifically.  The best leaders are able to communicate this pressing mission in memorable ways, early in the year
  2. Dedicate a portion of the time to creating community.  Our staff will operate more effectively and with higher levels of satisfaction, if they feel connected to their colleagues.  Without the space, time and prodding to connect with one another, too many of our teachers will end up feeling like they are working on an island.  In these efforts, we are only limited by creative potential.  Whether it be an after school trip to the roller coaster or more brief in-meeting activities, our job is to facilitate numerous opportunities for our staff to connect.  I am aware of one administrative team that fund-raises throughout the year to pay for a swanky (semi-working) weekend at a high-end hotel. Their staff comes back from the weekend energized, and having interacted with all other staff.
  3. Be clear about the time frame, purpose, and expectations for teacher participation.  Many strategies that work with students also work with adult learners.   This is one of them.  We all want to know what we are getting ourselves into.  Structure communicated through meeting agendas, clearly explained purposes. Teachers like to know what to expect.  So they may, even subconsciously, appreciate a ‘heads up’ that, “half of the meeting will involve training in a whole group. The other half of the meeting will require idea generation in smaller groups.”
  4. Let staff draw conclusions from data.  You already looked at the data.  You already know your student’s strengths and weaknesses.  You may already even have plans for addressing the gaps in student performance.  Hold back.  Present the data to your staff.  Then let them draw conclusions.  This maneuver communicates what you believe about your staff: They are sharp. They know students well. And they want to see gains in student achievement.
  5. Allow for teacher choice. As educators, we believe that differentiated instruction is critical to pushing all students forward.  Why don’t we employ the same philosophy, when it comes to moving teachers forward?  Perhaps we should consider offering four teacher trainings every Monday of the month, requiring attendance to at least one session.  Teachers have a sense of the areas that will improve their practice.  If they choose to be there, their levels of engagement while at the training will be higher. Additionally, we need to acknowledge that the master teacher, with more than ten years of experience, has different needs than the first year teacher.  It’s time to think differently about the 1X month staff meeting.

Teachers and time are our most valuable assets.  Let’s use both of them well!

Image by Historias Visuales via Flickr.