Place yourself in the most recent staff meeting you attended. Now ask yourself - Was this an effective meeting? Did I know why the meeting was called? Did I have the mental capacity to engage? Did I get a voice? Have I taken anything from that meeting? Was the meeting run this way because it works or simply because meetings have always run this way at my school?
What if you could mitigate that low-level resentment towards staff meetings and leave the grumbles in the past?
If you’re not convinced that your meetings need to change, read this first.
If you know your meetings need to change, dive right in!
The key takeaway from my previous article, Staff Meetings: Trial & Error Until it Works, is that making meetings work is an iterative process; we have to seek continual improvement and give different ideas, formats and approaches a go in order to find the most effective way of running them.
To help you improve your staff meetings and communication, I’ve outlined the following in this article:
A quick overview of what makes a good meeting
What the iterative process could look like for improving your meetings
Solution ideas for common issues teachers have with meetings
A flow diagram to help you decide if a meeting is the right format for what you want to achieve
🏆 What makes a good meeting?
In a nutshell, a good meeting is one that achieves its purpose thanks to the collective efforts of everyone involved. Specific purpose → Thoughtfully selected group → Problems and plans discussed → Actionable outcome.
Meetings are infinitely more successful when they have:
A meaningful purpose
The right people
A time frame
Discussion between people
A tangible result
At schools, our meetings are usually held for the following purposes: To provide updates, to give information, to share vision/goals, to provide Professional Development (PD), to ideate, to find solutions to problems and to celebrate wins. Although some of these purposes could be fulfilled through other means of communication (see the last section), most of these do require some form of meeting. We just need to evaluate how we best do that.
🔄 How can I use an iterative process to improve meetings?
Using an iterative process in this context basically just means a commitment to continually improving the way we run our meetings. It’s using trial and error to make changes, big or small, with the intention of improving the efficiency, effectiveness and satisfaction of the people involved in meetings. It relies on regular feedback to inform next steps in a continual loop of ideation, testing and evaluation until the group is satisfied.
Here’s a diagram to show the process you could follow:
Here are some questions to consider before, during and after each meeting to help you to identify areas to iterate/improve on:
Before the meeting
Can the meeting purpose be explained in 1-2 sentences?
Does the topic align with the school goals/vision?
Will this build high staff trust that meetings are meaningful and worthwhile?
Will staff have sufficient time to prepare for the meeting?
Who really needs to be there?
At the meeting
Do staff know how they are expected to contribute?
Are everyone’s voices being heard?
Are the agreed timings being adhered to?
Are the discussions focused on the meeting purpose?
Is the group creating actionable outcomes?
After the meeting
Was everyone clear on their follow-up tasks and the deadlines for these?
Could the objectives have been reached in more efficient or effective ways?
Were the right people included? Was it easy for everyone to contribute?
What are the confidence levels of the participants in the outcome reached?
Do staff have a means of providing feedback on the meeting?
These questions can be reflected on time and time again to inform your next iterations. If you’re not sure of the answers, that’s where you keep your ‘ear to the ground’ to gauge staff sentiment, observing the behaviour, language and energy of staff before, during and after meetings, as well as actively seeking feedback from them, both formal (e.g. survey) and informal (e.g. hallway chat).
It’s about trialling something new, observing, reflecting, and trying something that could make it even better. How good.
💡 What are some solutions?
Here I’m taking problems (well, complaints) I’ve heard from teachers over the years and coming up with possible solutions. I’ve included some cool ideas that I’ve seen already working well in schools and others drawn from best practices in other industries. Take ‘em and roll with ‘em, adapt them or build on them - it’s your call!
Problem: “I’m too tired to process PD after school.”
Mornings - Who says Professional Development has to be in the afternoons? The prefrontal cortex is most active in the mornings and energy levels are higher so why not make the most of it! One solution to this I’ve seen is doing a 10-min bite-sized PD session from 8.20-8.30am before school. The teacher presenting keeps their presentation snappy and can’t go longer because there are of course students to teach!
Start of term/Teacher Only Days - Not a new idea by any stretch but worth using these times to deliver inspiring PD when teachers’ minds are ‘fresh’ and they have the full runway ahead of them to apply what they’ve learnt.
Lunch times - Okay don’t get up in arms - hear this out as an option. ‘Lunch & Learn’ is used in other workplaces to provide voluntary opportunities for people to learn about a variety of things that are directly and indirectly related to their daily work. People can eat their lunch at the same time, making for a more informal learning experience. For teachers, Lunch & Learn could be directly related to their teaching e.g. introducing a new tool that could enhance student learning or sharing an example of a really successful lesson, or it could be indirect e.g. sharing well-being practices, education around pronouns for people who identify as LGBTQ+ or learning about an upcoming cultural celebration. The beauty I see in this is that it can help build a culture of learning and curiosity and provide opportunities for leadership and connections across the staff group. Staff get a say on the topics and decide if they opt in. Think of how much more buy-in that could have over a “normal” staff meeting.
Problem: “I walked all the way to the other side of the school only to sit around for 11 minutes of meeting time, 10 minutes and 42 seconds of which was irrelevant to me.”
Revise the ‘who’ - If the information being discussed isn’t relevant to some staff, don’t invite them to those particular meetings (or at least excuse them once you’ve covered any messages applicable to them). A primary school staff member doesn’t need to know about exam supervision procedures for Year 11-13s, right?
Revise the ‘how’ - If there isn’t anything to discuss and the meeting is only there to give minor updates, send it via an email/messaging channel instead.
Revise the ‘where’ - Consider if the message could be delivered to the teachers in their classrooms or office. Could you save 6 teachers 10 minutes of precious time? (6 x 10 mins is actually quite a lot of time).
Problem: “I already knew 90% of what they talked about today.”
Be specific with who needs the particular training session; perhaps it’s new staff or beginning teachers only, with the option for other staff to take part if they need a refresher.
Use punchy, objective-driven meetings for teachers to action learnings from previous PD sessions. Give teachers a meaningful task that will provide value to them but may also serve to highlight any gaps in knowledge or understandings. If the teachers prove they’re confident and on the right track, don’t hold them hostage. If teachers feel like they need further support in that area, allow them to stay and get the help they need.
Assuming your staff have a clear idea of the school’s vision, goals and current situation, get their suggestions for PD sessions and allow them to co-construct meeting agendas.
Problem: “There is SO much wasted time at staff meetings.”
Send the agenda out in sufficient time before the meeting.
Ideate before the meeting. If you’re meeting to discuss solutions to an issue, ask people to think of some ideas before they get to the meeting. This way you can save on the whole group “silent thinking time” and get straight into discussion.
Consider conducting meetings in smaller groups to minimise wait time and maximise discussion from all involved.
Start on time. Make it clear that punctuality is a priority.
Finish on time. Set clear expectations on the length of the meeting and stick to it. That’ll build your team’s trust and give them motivation to engage during your dedicated meeting time.
Have a Stand-up meeting - Used by many software development teams, this is a meeting done entirely while standing. It usually serves to provide quick updates from team members on progress with a time-limit for each contributor. The idea is that if people are getting tired from standing up, then the meeting has probably been running for too long. Anything that can’t be discussed in that short time frame, should be resolved at another time. Get in, get heard, get outta there!
There’ll be plenty more problems out there - I haven’t even touched on how to engage people within a meeting but that’s a task for another day! Besides, we’re all teachers here and I back your ability to create killer sessions to engage your participants!
🚦 How do I decide whether I need a meeting?
Okay let’s finish with something fun - a quick way for you to decide whether a meeting is the way to go (or if an email would suffice). I’ve outlined the common reasons why schools run staff meetings and some yes/no questions to determine the communication method or considerations. Enjoy!
Hopefully these ideas and processes have given you the launching pad you need to get out there and make your future staff meetings better and better. It might be a work in progress until you find the right fit, but just think of the payoff when those disgruntled murmurs and sighing under the breaths turn into engaged, motivated and happy staff who are smashing out goals and making your school vision a reality.
Go get it, team!
Be purposeful teachers
Who are in control
And know they’ve done enough.
If you’re excited to try any of the ideas from this article or have your own tips for running effective meetings, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!