Avoiding the Information Trap
Purposeful meetings wanted! Leadership teams within a school often serve as conduits for information. Weekly or monthly meetings are established for a variety of reasons that range from updates and changes to the school’s instructional focus. Teachers convene to hear from department heads or administrators around such topics as technology needs, upcoming trainings, schedules, data discussions, or student affairs. How and in what forum these topics are communicated is just as important as the message itself. Administrators need to evaluate what needs to be communicated and if they are going to rely on teacher leaders as messengers. If so, they need to train them on how to run effective meetings. The information and the message are two different aspects of communication and both require a skill set. Too much time is lost due to ineffective meetings being run poorly and hijacked by the participants. In an educational age of daunting pressures, high stakes, and lofty goals, administrators and teacher leaders need a set of skills beyond the once typical school setting . If schools are going to thrive and focus on instruction, the minutiae that snares time needs to be filtered and handled appropriately. I’ve witnessed brilliant teacher leaders run department meetings with precision. Important, but management laced content remains a constant, but well-managed meetings simply keep this information as an update and then swiftly move the conversation into instructional student-centered conversations.
Meeting times may vary, but the one I witnessed was a thirty-five minute meeting that was highly structured with less than ten minutes devoted to important, but non-instructional material. If teachers questioned some of the news and updates or had an issue with what was being discussed there was a recorder that detailed the conversation. The structure allowed for free flowing conversations, but an assurance that certain questions would be answered at a later time. If a question arose and could not be answered quickly, it was placed in a “parking lot” to be handled at a later time. In talking with the teacher leader, she relayed the norms that guide the meeting, but emphasized their culture of trust. Teachers knew the agenda, realized the purpose and focus was instruction. In this elementary setting, the teachers embraced their time together and enjoyed the professional discourse and camaraderie. The conversation–writer’s workshop, reading/ELA, and math. With a department of eight, the group plays on everyone’s strengths and common schedule. So each each team within the group shares the following: the lesson objective, the lesson essential question, suggested activities and how they relate to the standards. Each resource is disseminated, reviewed, and discussed. This weekly process maximizes collaboration, minimizes lesson preparation, and improves instruction. Best of all, they also find time to reflect and talk about what worked and what didn’t, particularly around new activities. Challenges are ahead and the goals schools are working to achieve are impressive. With limited time to meet, highly structured, instructionally focused meetings are critical and celebrated by teachers.