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Sharing Ideas for
Effective Staff Meetings


One meeting activity that principal Pat Green used last September was aimed at capitalizing on the excitement, energy, and new ideas with which many teachers start the school year. She gave each staff member a sheet of paper, a pen, and a legal-size envelope. She asked them to write down three goals they had for themselves for the year. She asked them to write

  • one goal they really wanted to accomplish in the area of home/parent communication;
  • one personal-wellness goal; and
  • one colleague-support goal.
Teachers and other staff members wrote their goals and sealed them in their envelopes. They then wrote their names on the outside of the envelopes. "I kept the envelopes -- unopened -- in my office until the start of the second half of the year. Then I brought them out again and asked the staff to review their three goals and consider what they've done to accomplish them. I have them note actions they hoped to take toward their goals in the second half of the year. The envelopes get sealed up again and pulled out at the end of the school year for individuals to review. This approach gave staff a chance to set goals, get re-focused mid year, and then review their commitment at the end of the year. I never read the goals or the notes about progress, but I used this tool as one way to help folks keep themselves focused and accountable for three positive things."

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Many principals use the first meetings of the year to help them establish and cement a yearlong focus. For principal Lolli Haws a school-wide focus on Six Traits of Writing started on the first day of school. "We started our planning based on the belief that we have much to learn from the 'experts' teaching in our own building. Teachers met twice each month -- once for an hour and once for an entire afternoon -- with grade-level (primary or intermediate) colleagues. The themes for each meeting were structured around topics such as looking at Six Traits resources, sharing writing ideas, discussing Six Traits literature, and practicing how to use the program's rubrics to score students' writing. At the start of the year, teachers had many different ideas about what makes quality writing. Their expectations and their evaluation procedures were all over the park. By year's end, each teacher had a very good idea of exemplary, quality writing expectations for their own grade level. During the year they all kept notebooks full of ideas. They had time to share, laugh, discuss, and learn from one another. Best of all, data showed tremendous growth in virtually every student's writing ability from our fall to spring writing assessments. The key was having time to learn and talk with each other!"

Principal Jeffrey Castle led his staff through a yearlong focus on analyzing student work. "Each teacher took a turn to present a piece of writing, an open response question and student answer, or a student project. Teachers reviewed student work and analyzed it. They talked about the kinds of feedback they might give students and how they might improve their own instruction to result in better student work." As teachers worked together to develop common assessment practices, this experience became a real community builder, Castle told Education World.

As head of a middle school, principal Ken Rogers likes to take time at the start of each meeting to list some of the best things that have happened in the school. "The 'Kudos' section of our meetings even appears right at the top of the meeting agenda. Kudos might be handed out for the band's latest concert, an art show, a successful service-learning project, or someone who has just finished an advanced degree." Rogers keeps an envelope in the main office with Kudos note cards next to it. Teachers nominate each other based on work they have done to make our school a better place. Notes say things such as Ms. D. has such a great sense of humor with kids or Mr. J. did an excellent job introducing the new math program on Parents' Night. Most of the cards are anonymous. Rogers reads them aloud. Then he draws a random card. The person noted on that card is the recipient of a plastic school bus, which gets displayed in his or her classroom until the next meeting. The school bus award is affectionately known around school as the "Rosa" award because it celebrates "on the bus" behaviors and spirit, Rogers explained.

The most beneficial meetings are those that are based on "best practices," principal Ernest Elliott told Education World. "We hosted a best-practices session during one of our planned late-start days. At that meeting, five staff members shared approaches that worked for them to increase student achievement. The presentations ranged from one teacher who shared a unique approach to preparing students for state writing assessments to a math teacher who shared her no-homework policy. It is very refreshing for teachers to see how other staff approach their subject responsibilities, and the level of success that each approach brings. The best-practices sessions led by colleagues were successful, time-well-spent sessions."

Take Five more to read this entire article from Education World's "Principal Files" series:
"Principals Share Best Meetings of the Year"
(Education World -- August 10, 2004)