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Organizing Staff Meetings Even You Want to Attend

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.

Sticky Note
Ripple Effects

Sheila and John Eller shared this activity from their book Energizing Staff Meetings.

This is an activity designed to assist groups in working together to solve problems and to look at the eventual impacts of their recommendations. It can be used in a wide variety of situations. For example, you might employ it when discussing possible changes to discipline policy, considering changes to the daily schedule, or deciding whether to implement student-led conferences. Here are the steps involved in the process:

* Post a picture/drawing of a pond on a wall. Write in the center of the pond the topic or possible decision/recommendation being discussed.
* Issue four or five sticky notes to each group member.
* Invite each group member to write on one or more sticky notes a brief statement of a ripple effect that implementing the suggestion/idea might cause to the pond.
* Ask participants to position their sticky notes on the wall chart at the relative distance from the center of the chart based on their impact. Immediate ripple effects should be placed closer to the middle than impacts that may take some time to unfold.
* After all of the sticky notes are posted, engage participants in a dialogue about the ripple effects.

Possible discussion topics might include:
* What trends and patterns do you see reflected here?
* Looking at the items in the first two ripples, what strategies do we need to implement in order to deal with them?
* What are your thoughts about the impacts in the first two ripples? Can we live with those impacts/ripple effects?

By trying ideas such as having teachers share good news and pumping up the crowd with music, educators and authors Sheila and John Frank Eller III were able to invigorate their staff meetings, get teachers involved, and turn them into professional development sessions. Between them, the Ellers compiled so many activities that they decided to write a book, Energizing Staff Meetings (Corwin Press), and now speak at conferences and consult with administrators to help them re-tool their faculty meetings and build morale.

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 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.

Sometimes principals wait until there is controversy, and then have an activity that is cutesy, and there is resentment, John Eller said. Try to keep the strategies simple and not too goofy. Dont do anything embarrassing.

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.

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 lot.

I got to know them and I asked them for ideas and their goals for the school, she told Education World. They even picked the spot -- I met some at a coffee shop, some at their homes, and some in classrooms. I didnt want it to be a typical principal office meeting. The location is really important.

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.


  • Instant Meetings Archive

    Article by Ellen R. Delisio
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2009 Education World

    Originally published 03/17/2008
    Last updated 02/24/2009