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Managing meetings as a coordinator and school leader

David Bremner, PYP Coordinator, New Cairo British International School, Egypt

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.

7 Responses to Managing meetings as a coordinator and school leader

  1. Shannon Hickey 22 May 2018 at 4:47 pm #

    Very interesting. I definitely appreciate the discussion of how to best use everyone’s time and make meetings efficient. Is this meeting time your collaborative planning time or is it a different part of the week? I would be interested in hearing how collaboration evolves if attendance is voluntary. Thanks for sharing your school’s journey!

  2. David 22 May 2018 at 7:28 pm #

    Great tips! Thanks for sharing. With this new format have you found some teachers not attending meetings or does everyone still come? Does external pressure keep them from sitting out?

  3. Kairavi Oza 23 May 2018 at 3:43 am #

    I like the open, non authoritative, trustful structure of your meetings. It must invite constructive and responsible participation. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Ricardo Domínguez 28 May 2018 at 12:17 am #

    Great article. I really liked your ideas. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Tami Milles 29 June 2018 at 1:32 am #

    Thanks for sharing your unique style of meetings. I work on the administrative team at an independent school, UCDS in Seattle WA and we are constantly in meetings. Our admin structure is designed to work collaboratively so meetings are integral to our work environment. I appreciate some of the ideas you shared and in particular, the prep work that needs to be done prior to arrival. It certainly keeps you accountable and alleviates wasted time. You’ve given me something to think about and consider bringing to our meetings. Thanks!

  6. Kristen 23 July 2018 at 6:42 am #

    Thank you, David for sharing your interesting post.
    Being a new academic year and beginning the process of establishing professional meetings within our school, your article was food for thought. With new incoming administration and teachers, there is a great opportunity for establishing agreements and formats, through group discussion, to promote meaningful and purposeful meetings. Some key ideas in your article resonate with, I suspect, many staff meeting attendees: prioritizing items, awareness of purpose and required attendance.
    One practise that has been valuable, is the shared planning to outline meeting focal points based on the school calendar (eg. student led conferences, reporting schedules) and collective staff suggestions. Although an organic outline, it is a quick reminder of upcoming agendas. The idea of publishing collaborative agendas takes this a step further and sounds like a great platform for collaborative thinking prompting deeper, meaningful discussion. I would be interested in learning your reflective thoughts on this strategy since implementation? What successes have arisen and what, if any, challenges have come from the format (eg. staff participation)? I am excited to bring some of your thoughts from this article to our initial meetings during our beginning of year meetings.

  7. Didem Şiranur 4 September 2018 at 10:36 am #

    That’s a good idea! I’ll search them.

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