This article shares some strategies about managing meetings with a team of middle leaders, to help facilitate collaboration and save time.
Staff meeting time. The team all get together in one room. Teachers, assistant teachers, leadership, all sitting looking at the front of the room. Devices are powered on and logged in, ready to discuss the agenda for the next hour. Every school I have been in feels that staff meetings are an important part of a teacher’s week, yet staff meetings can often leave teachers feeling like they survived another session that should have been an email.
As well as being a PYP coordinator, I am also an aspiring entrepreneur (that is, I have lots of ideas, just not the time or finance to make them real yet). I love reading about the business world, about start-ups that succeed and that fail, looking to learn what I can about their successes and how I can apply it to the world of education.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, has a “two pizza rule” for meetings. Never have a meeting where two pizzas could not feed the entire group. Elon Musk, entrepreneur and businessman, questions anyone in a meeting who does not contribute to the discussion.
I love these ideas. They remind me of how we operate in a classroom – get to the point, share an objective, ask questions with one another, devise a strategy to solve the problem or investigate further, but as far as I have seen, we as teachers do not work like that. We take comfort from our one-hour staff meeting which allows everyone to listen to everyone else, and by the end of the hour there has collectively been a small number of ideas contributed, often with nothing meaningful being done at the end of it.
As PYP coordinator, I am responsible for running meetings with our middle leadership team: the year group leaders, our house coordinator and our head of learning support. I have tried a number of strategies with the team to try to make things work as well as they can, so that they can do their jobs in the best way that works for the whole school.
First, we looked at how we work. Over a term, we tried out Trello, Slack, Google Hangouts, Boomerang for Gmail, all kinds of efficiency tools that we have played with to find what works for us. As with anything, there are differing opinions on what is most effective but we have found that Trello is ideal for creating agendas and updating members on progress. We have also settled on a Google Hangout group, which acts as a quick space to ask questions or to semi-seriously complain about things. This is important; we have found the grumblings of middle leadership can be the symptoms of much bigger issues that need to be raised with whole school leadership or can be quick fixes for the team to address.
With regards to our middle leadership meetings, we introduced four rules.
Rule 1. The meeting starts and ends on time. If you are late then you are not coming in.
We have this rule to make sure we do not waste what time is available.
Rule 2. You do not attend without having read through Trello, responding where appropriate, so you understand the agenda and have considered the talking points.
We start with everyone up to speed on the topic, and having contributed ideas and information before the meeting.
Rule 3. We have prioritized items with colour labels. Use and respond to them appropriately.
One colour for things that are just for your information – things that could just as easily be put in an email but they sound better coming from an actual person, so the meaning is not lost. Another colour for things that you are seeking an answer to. Anyone can tag questions they would like to ask and people can come with answers or at least part of answers, ready to the meeting. Another colour again for things that we want to discuss. This could be new initiatives, ideas for curriculum development, house events etc.
Rule 4. If you have read Trello and do not feel you have anything worthwhile to add, you do not have to come to the meeting.
Our teachers can decide if they wish to attend a meeting. They can read the notes on Trello after the meeting, so they are up to speed.
I am not saying it is a perfect system, but it is helping with teacher agency, enabling us to work faster and better together, and achieve more in the little snippets of collaborative time we have. We have used these rules in conjunction with the IB learner profile to improve our meeting etiquette and make sure everyone gets the most out of our meetings. Our teachers have commented that it kept meetings tight, it helped quieter members of our team, who might not speak up in a meeting, to add comments via the agenda, and it gave them freedom to work in a way that best suits their needs.
David Bremner is the PYP Coordinator at New Cairo British International School and a member of the Primary Leadership Team. He leads the primary school’s Middle Leadership Team, sharing vision and ideas as well as giving them projects to work in. You can follow him on Twitter @MinotaurDave.