Do you run your staff meetings like press briefings -- that is, read the news and run? More principals should use faculty meetings as opportunities for problem-solving and professional development, according to Sheila and John Eller, authors of Energizing Staff Meetings. Included: Suggestions for energizing staff meetings.
Many administrators have a hunch that their teachers dread staff meetings. Their suspicions loom large because they dread them, too.
Thats probably because, typically, staff meetings are called to announce new mandates or regulations and not to give faculty a chance to express concerns or participate in developing programs or polices.
When administrators abandon the idea that staff meetings should merely be news briefings and instead use them as a means to boost morale and collect teacher input, chances are people will stop scheduling their dentists appointments on meeting days.
I think faculty meetings are often underutilized, John Eller told Education World. We do a lot of work with people around the country and this is an area that can be challenging to principals -- a lot have never had experience with this. Its difficult because you have to let yourself go and trust that the group is not going to get out of control.
Sheila Eller, principal of Chippewa Middle School in North Oaks, Minnesota, still relies on the strategies she and her husband developed. Ive been a principal for 11 years, so it was a really easy book to write, because Ive been using these ideas all these years, she told Education World. The activities are things Ive done with staff.
We tried to have an emphasis [in the activities] on thinking, processing, and celebration, added John Eller, a former principal and now an assistant professor in the educational leadership and policy studies program at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center . I learned early in my career not to just read notices [at meetings]The biggest mistake principals make is holding on to too much control -- administrators can be nervous and think the meeting will fall apart, so they make announcements and get out.
Sheila Eller uses her staff meetings strictly for professional development. I dont do any updates -- those are all done through e-mail, she noted I dont believe in having a meeting to just tell them whats going on.
Sheila Eller likes themes for her meetings -- in keeping with that, the Ellers have played inspiring music that fits the theme as people enter the room. They also suggest devoting the first ten minutes or so of a meeting to allowing people to share positive things that happened to them.
When you first start this, you might want talk to a few people ahead of time, and make sure some people have good news, John Eller suggested. After a few meetings, people usually are eager to contribute. It takes on a life of its own -- people start sharing good news about their colleagues, and it helps develop a positive culture.
Among the topics Sheila Eller has covered at staff meetings are collegial coaching, cognitive coaching, and using data in the classroom. She encourages people to talk about different strategies and intervention programs that are working for them or not working for them.
Teachers also have been called on to give input into potential curriculum or scheduling changes. In some cases, Sheila Eller has introduced several proposals at staff meetings and asked faculty members to recommend which alternative they thought would work best. My goal is to hear all voices.
Another way to involve teachers in decision-making is to have them play different roles in examining a certain issue. In the case of altering an aspect of the school schedule, for example, teachers can be divided into small groups, and each group assigned a role -- such as parents, community members, or teachers -- for the purpose of discussion, John Eller said.
Groups of teachers also can be assigned a subtopic of an issue to explore, such as a section of a school improvement plan, and then rotate to other groups to share what they have discussed.
To encourage teachers to work with people with whom they might not normally interact, the Ellers have used playing cards to mix up the crowd. They deal out cards as people enter the meeting, and ask everyone to find people with cards of the same suit or the ones to make a winning poker hand in order to form a group.
When it comes to changing the tone and purpose of staff meetings, the Ellers recommend starting slowly and not giving up too quickly.
The most important thing is to be yourself, added Sheila Eller. And dont try everything at the same time. But give yourself permission to try new things. You want to be part of the staff meeting.
Principals should avoid trying to handle all aspects of a meeting. In some cases, weve had small groups of teachers implement activities, John Eller noted.
Also, try to link staff meeting activities with plans or proposals that need to be addressed, he advised. In some schools where the strategies didnt inspire the staff, administrators failed to tie them in to something concrete, like the school improvement plan. We try to show people how to use these ideas to help them with things that have to get done anyway.
In other places where the strategies fell flat, principals may have tried isolated activities that were entertaining, but did not do much to change the school culture. You need things that are fun and also build cohesiveness.
Prior to adopting staff meeting changes, the Ellers recommend creating a culture of trust in the building so teachers feel free to express their opinions in public. This is Sheila Ellers first year at Chippewa, so she started the school year by meeting with each staff member individually for 30-40 minutes.
Administrators should strive to establish an atmosphere that encourages people to talk and have opinions, added John Eller. Sometimes people have pent-up things they need to get out -- and youd rather they get them out when you are all together than in the parking lotYou want to energize staff meetings, but also de-escalate anger and anxiety.
Sheila Eller also scheduled a get-to-know-each-other faculty meeting early in the year, and at the beginning asked all the teachers to share something of which they were proud or that their colleagues didnt know about them. Another ice-breaker-type activity she has used involves handing out blocks with each teachers name on one -- and then passing them around so everyone can write one positive thing about that person on his or her block.
Memories of some of the faculty meetings she endured inspired her to try different approaches. I had attended a lot of meetings myself, and I use to think that I wanted to get more people involved and engaged, Sheila Eller said.
Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Copyright © 2009 Education World
Originally published 03/17/2008
Last updated 02/24/2009