We’ve all been there – a terrible meeting. We don’t why we are there, people are talking over each other, it feels like a waste of time. Many of us are required to meet, whether that’s a traditional staff meeting or a weekly team meeting with fellow teachers. These meetings can either be quite productive and satisfying or disheartening and a complete waste of time. At my school, we were initially mandated as instructional coaches with our teams, yet we had no idea why were we were meeting. We struggled to get coaching off the ground, and in faxct, the lack of structure and purpose to these meetings may have sabotaged the trust we wanted to build. Here are some of the lessons learned this year when it comes to meetings.
Adopt the Seven Norms for Collaboration –
We’ve been regularly using the seven norms for collaboration in our meetings, and often ask participants to set intent on which one(s) they want to focus on. These norms include ones such as pausing, asking questions, presuming positive intent, and paraphrasing. These norms are different from “Working Agreements.” Norms are considered to be trusted and effective ways of interacting that are effective regardless of the team or content, whereas “Working Agreements” are ad hoc agreements specific to the context and team. These might be more related to “being on time” or “bring prepared materials.” Holding people to these norms and processing after the back can build capacity of the team to be effective group members.
Clear Outcomes –
You should never meet just to meet. I even struggle with the term “check-in” meeting. What are we checking in on? There must be clear meetings for every meeting. If you are planning a meeting, you need to have clear outcomes that seem feasible to meet in the time allotted. These outcomes might be to share reflections on a past unit, plan a new lesson, look at student work, set goals for professional development, plan for another meeting, or even discuss material needs. Clarity and transparency builds trust, so make sure every meeting has clear outcomes.
Agendas and Protocols –
As outcomes are effective, a clear agenda with these outcomes and how they are met can build trust and transparency of the team. What is purpose of each section of a meeting? To get feedback? To share information? To make a decision? From these specific purposes, the “how” needs to be address. This one is particularly important for decision making? How will decisions be made? Majority vote? All members agreeing? “Will of the group?” In fact, consensus is a term that various understanding, so a common understanding of it is critical for decision making. When people know how decisions are made, it helps build trust and allows decisions to be made efficiently and effectively. These should all be clear from the start. In addition, these agenda must be shared well before the meeting to allow participants to come prepared and ready to learn, work and collaborate.
“I’m in an ineffective meeting, how do I get out?” –
So you are stuck in a terrible meeting, what might you do to work through it. It might be appropriate to clarify outcomes to allow those to leading the meeting to bring them to light, or to redirect participants to focus on those outcomes. I also encourage you to ask for an agenda before the meeting as well. You might also ask how decisions are made or what the process is. Of course, you can approach those who lead the meeting after the fact and do the same. Expressing your concern and giving helpful advice can help everyone involved in making meetings meaningful and effective.
These are just some tools and considerations for making meetings better. What are some tools or strategies you use to make your meetings a valuable experience?
Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is currently an instructional coach at Shanghai American School and is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development areas, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.