You may have seen one of several memes about how a staff meeting “could have been an email.” Collaborative meetings where the voices of educators are heard are, however, essential to improving learning experiences for students. But what can we do to ensure the participation and productivity of a group that does not always see the value in meeting together to discuss and address important issues? Just as rules are crucial to establishing a healthy classroom culture, meeting norms for teachers can help them find fulfillment in true teamwork.
To earn buy-in from participants, meeting norms should be discussed and agreed upon. Below are some ideas to get your team started, along with why each is important and how they can be honored.
1. Come with an Open Mind
Why? Education can be an emotionally charged career. Ideally, people enter the profession out of their love for children and a passion for helping students become the best versions of themselves. So many things that are out of a school employee’s hands can get in the way, which may leave educators feeling drained and even defeated. It’s also natural for people to see the world through the lens of their own experiences. For a meeting to be productive and lead to actual change, participants need to be willing to hear about the problems others are having, and the solutions they may present.
How? Having an open mind might look like knowing other people may feel differently than you. They may even disagree with you, and that’s OK. Listening and showing others you are hearing what they are saying can go a long way to coming up with solutions that benefit all.
2) Assume that we are all here with good intentions.
Why? Everyone in a school is there to work for the benefit of children. They may have different priorities, different teaching styles, or different personality traits than you. But when we are at least on the same page regarding helping students, then honest discussions can occur.
How? This might look like hearing someone through before deciding what they mean or where they’re coming from. It might mean asking clarifying questions. It also means understanding that administrators and classroom educators are working together in collaboration, and avoiding (or eradicating) any “us versus them” inclinations.
3. Consider Intent Versus Impact
Why? If we are given the benefit of the doubt in terms of our intentions, we also need to think about what we say before we say it. Our intentions don’t matter if the impact is harmful to others.
How? One simple way to consider impact is to think about how you’d feel in someone else’s position. Would you want to open up further, or would you shut down? Also, think about voices that have historically been ignored or even actively silenced. Are we considering different points of view? Empathy is essential here.
4) Treat one another as professionals.
Why? While meeting norms for teachers are important, they are not the same as classroom rules or lesson objectives. Educators are not students; they are professionals. To contribute, they must be respected as stakeholders and know that their voices and experiences are valued. This is not the place for power dynamics to be played out; it is a place for a meeting of the minds.
How? More than with any other norm, this should be decided by the faculty as a whole. On one hand, educators are adults and should be trusted to check their phones, sit comfortably with their colleagues, etc. On the other hand, the group might decide that being present looks a certain way and requires more specific guidelines. In any case, this should be determined together rather than demanded by an administrator.
5) Be transparent.
Why? A school’s issues can be sensitive and difficult to discuss. There are many contributing factors to these challenges, often originating or occurring outside of the classroom. The more open and honest all faculty and staff can remain, the more can be done. While we are practicing open-mindedness with others’ thoughts and experiences, we must be transparent with our own.
How? This might look like getting to the point. Can we use a respectful tone? Absolutely. Does it help to beat around the bush? Not if we want to effect change. This may also mean that an administrator lets the faculty know that a mandate, curriculum change, etc. is coming from above. Then, everyone will understand that this particular thing is, quite simply, happening and that it’s time to move on to the next topic.
6) Respect everyone’s time.
Why? Not to state the obvious, but educators work tirelessly. They also have lives outside of school. While they may see some value in meetings, these (often contractually mandated) gatherings should start on time and end on time. If individual educators are not respecting that norm (in other words, not completing a requirement of employment), it should be addressed one-on-one rather than in a group setting.
How? Meetings should begin even if everyone is not there, and they should end on time regardless of what’s happening. Unfinished items should be tabled for later, and time should be given in later meetings for those items to be addressed.
7) Provide (and stick to) an agenda.
Why? Like meeting times, agendas may be a requirement of your contract. In any case, a clear agenda should be sent to faculty at least 24 hours in advance. This gives educators time to prepare any questions, comments, and solutions to the topics at hand; it helps facilitate true collaboration rather than devolving into a lecture or Q&A session. An agenda not only increases transparency; it also helps respect all participants’ time. When the agenda items are complete, the meeting is over!
How? A meeting agenda could be as simple as a bulleted list. Giving educators access to all meeting materials beforehand, however, is ideal. It gives them a chance to consider anything they’d like to discuss at the meeting, making that time even more productive. A presentation meeting model often leaves little time for valuable discussion.
8) For every complaint, suggest a solution.
Why? Meetings should include open minds and transparency; this doesn’t mean a venting session. Faculty meetings should be informative and cooperative. They should lead to positive change and contribute to a healthy school culture.
How? For every problem you share, what’s one solution? Or, if you don’t have one, can you ask your colleagues for help? Every issue that’s brought to the table should be, at the very least, potentially solvable.
We hope this post helped you find some useful meeting norms for teachers! Don’t be afraid to add, subtract, or adjust norms. They are there for the benefit of meaningful, successful meetings which, in turn, benefit all of the students in your building.