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Leading Meetings 101: Ending the Vicious Cycle 

zoom meeting

“I can’t wait to go to the staff meeting after school,” said no teacher. Ever.

 Well, perhaps that is an exaggeration. There are staff meetings that are skillfully conducted for maximum engagement and collaboration, but they tend to be rarer. In the age of Zoom, meetings have grown even more painful and often longer. For leaders to disrupt the status quo of dysfunctional gatherings, looking at what doesn’t work and examining solutions is key to creating productive change. The best way to accomplish that goal is to transform a pervasive problem into a valued opportunity by addressing each aspect of meetings that goes afoul and developing a new approach.


Too often, leaders hold the mistaken assumption that to accomplish goals in the context of a meeting, a lot of time is necessary. Every afterschool meeting I have ever attended, whether it was a staff or department meeting, is allocated at least one hour. The question is, does a long meeting equal heightened productivity, or might it accomplish the opposite of what is intended and stifle the active participation of teachers? When planning a meeting, think about what people do when they collaborate in real time vs. what they are able to accomplish independently. Reading materials, feedback processes, or anything that requires individual thought can either be sent out in advance or completed after the meeting. In addition, consider how much time items might realistically take to complete as well as what is negotiable. If each meeting has one central goal, it can probably be accomplished in fewer minutes, so focus is key. Finally, resisting the urge to pad the agenda is vital to maintaining engagement; why plan to do too much when it will just make people want to tune out? More is not better, especially when the goal is for teachers to leave a meeting understanding what just happened and why it mattered.


If we look at how meetings are structured, they often look very much like a teacher-directed classroom. Participants enter the space, are given agendas, and a facilitator (usually a school administrator) stands at the front of the room to deliver content. Oddly enough, these same facilitators often decry a construct they most exemplify, which is a learning space that one person manages rather than a collective setting that inspires shared agency. Instead, practicing as we preach makes a difference; meetings should be as learner-centered as possible. One strategy to accomplish this goal is to let teachers lead one another. As the experts who are closest to the classroom, teachers have a valuable perspective in spearheading professional development. In addition, teachers have a great deal of respect for one another’s work and are more likely to listen to a presenter who is a colleague rather than a supervisor. Another structural tweak is to avoid talking for long periods, especially at the start and end of meetings. Instead, providing active learning experiences that include choice is ideal and puts the focus on participants, not facilitators. 


Two ubiquitous resources that appear at nearly every meeting are agendas and slideshows. The value of an agenda is debatable, but slideshows are almost always counterproductive to engagement. In this Edutopia piece, I discuss the pervasive overdependence on slides that results in a less invested audience and propose some alternatives, such as giving participants the opportunity to create and deliver meeting content. Along the same lines, agendas are most effective when they are collaborative. A few days prior to any meeting, think about sending out an agenda draft to all attendees and asking for feedback or additional items. Even if it’s not possible to add suggested content for multiple reasons (time, relevance and so forth), giving people a chance to share their thoughts accomplishes a few important objectives. First and foremost, it sends a message that leaders value teachers. Second, it makes everyone’s thinking more visible; instead of guessing at what teachers wish to do, they are given a chance to tell us outright. Finally, for the items we cannot add, the process gives leaders a starting point to touch base with individuals and discuss their concerns. The ultimate result is a meeting process that far more people feel good about. 


How can teachers be expected to give their undivided attention to a meeting if leaders do not model the same behavior? Too often, there is a visible lack of engagement from meeting facilitators, either with the presence (and usage) of digital devices or with sidebar conversations. To show people they are valued, leaders must focus. That means putting away anything that pulls attention away from the work we claim is so important. Even if we have important thoughts during the meeting that should be shared with other leaders, they can wait. Urgency is often a perception, not a reality. If there is a fear that an idea will be lost, keep a notepad on hand to jot down a thought when meeting participants are engaged with one another. Otherwise, make sure that the only personal accessories available during a meeting come in the form of brains and ears. 

Meetings are often considered painful, but that doesn’t have to be the norm. Implementing strategies that ensure all participants are invested in the process and that facilitators are prepared to lead for engagement makes all the difference. When we challenge norms that lead to ineffective results, the change in status quo demonstrates to teachers that leaders are also committed to learning, to changing their methods to be more effective, and to investing in the shared growth of all. 

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

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