Where have you seen this before? After a long day in the classroom, teachers gather together in the school library to listen to an administrator offer a lengthy, rushed review of a litany of housekeeping items including calendar, scheduling, upcoming events, policy, etc. They sit around passively with limited participation or engagement. Some grade papers. Others initiate side conversations. All of them look at the clock, waiting impatiently for their release. No wonder that in many schools, two of the most painful words that you can utter to a teacher are "faculty meeting."
As a former teacher and administrator, I have sat through countless painful meetings. With precious little time for conversation and a wide range of areas to address, faculty meetings 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, their input rarely results in meaningful conversation. The result is frustration and a pervasive feeling that teachers do not have a significant voice in the discussion.
After running such meetings for nearly two years, I began to rethink them. My goal was to make them positive, productive experiences, not something to avoid. To do that, I changed my approach and scaled back the agenda. Our conversations became more robust. Teachers were given more opportunity to grapple with real issues rather than get inundated with minutia and technicalities.
How did we do it? First, I cut out as much announcement-type information as possible. Those 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 details that could be read and reviewed just as easily before the meeting and give teachers the ability to process and offer feedback as warranted.
More importantly, 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 convening with more consistent purpose, usually to discuss the next stage in some strategic priority or professional development objective.
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 admin. 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, putting out some good snacks and other cute trinkets isn't a bad idea either.