Meetings as Unusual

(Image from Blending Leadership)

Schools love meetings even as many school people say they hate them. Partially, this contradictory state results from the good hearted, collaborative nature of many teachers. They like to tackle problems together, in the same room. Partially it’s a result of status games. If you’re in the important meeting, you must be important. Partially, it’s just an inherited default — you meet because, when you were a newer teacher or administrator, your mentors and predecessors met. They shared agendas and minutes and rules written by a guy named Robert. These pioneers and their descendants seldom, if ever, asked if meetings were the best way to solve the problems to which they were being applied as cures. 

Interestingly, then, the mode that schools love, hate, and have failed to fully interrogate for usefulness has come into question during the COVID-era. Whether we are remote or hybrid or full-capacity, we simply can’t meet the way we used to, the way we’d like to, the way we complain about, the way we know. 

In a meeting where senior admins at my school were discussing our typical after-school meetings — and how we would or would not hold them — it occurred to us that we needed to set some new ground rules. 

The first one was simple. We’re clearing our school buildings by 3:30 to allow for deep cleaning, so we can’t have meetings on-campus after school. If people need to meet after school, they must do so remotely, and at a time that allows a commuting and pick-up-the-kids-if-need-be buffer. 

Some colleagues will love this. They can end their on-site responsibilities for the day, drive home, get comfortable, and join a remote meeting. But the first problem borne of this solution is that, once colleagues with children are home, their attention is often, appropriately, consumed by the needs of their children. Those parents and caregivers should have a choice to “dial in” to meetings; they should have a choice to participate asynchronously; they should have a choice to not participate if it means that they have to “catch up” at odd hours; and they should not always have to choose between participation and their childcare responsibilities. 

Conundrums abound, and that’s putting it nicely.

I decided to call a meeting of my own to try to generate some additional solutions to our original problem — to meet or not to meet, and when. It was a simple meeting, comprised of a brief agenda, engagement by people whose collective energy and intelligence ensured an outcome better than one I could generate on my own, and finally, a set of notes. (Another way of saying this is: I tweeted a question at a group of smart, generous educators. Then I went on with my day. A few days later, once the responses died down, I pulled together the notes. They are presented as they were written and shared on Twitter. I mention that only because some of the words are clipped to fit Twitter’s character limit.)

Agenda:

What are after-school meetings looking like at thoughtful schools this year? Business-as-usual or rethought completely?

Notes:

@emilymccarren wrote first:

Rethought! Weekly q&a / office hours for pop in (some folks just come and hang). Weekly full faculty meetings are asynchronous modules in LMS. Group discussions, shared creation, can hear from everyone… (about 1 hr of engagement over the week). Will never go back!

@cinehead responded next:

We now have 2 hours of collaboration time built into our new block schedule each week! It takes place on our #SEL day that also includes office hours for Ss.

@wmstribling amplified some prior ideas and underlined our considerations with an important concern:

In our division, still working on details. Timely question as we just discussed this today. Don’t think we’ll have after school meetings and am loving these ideas! Open office hours a possibility with Q/A time. Wary of the load/duties of staffulty…

@ejhudson added some analysis and additional thoughts:

Emily’s model is a great one. Allows for personalized, on-demand learning for both educators and students. And: Online “hubs” for teachers to share great examples of curriculum/online strategies. Slack (or the like). Synch time for peer-based tackling of problems of practice.

@NicoleFurlonge added a better question than the one with which we started:

Fewer meetings. Ask the question: Do you need humans to come together to unpack these issues? If not, share info via email instead of meeting.

Shortly after, she added some additional suggestions:

Also opp to make room for mtgs as adult community bldg spaces. Suggestions: listening salons, storytelling sessions, talent shares. Share Ts practices. Lastly: ask for feedback on the mtg agenda to inform design of next mtg towards creating a culture of co-creation & feedback.

I (@sjvalentine) shared with the group a meeting innovation I’ve been using lately, though I admit it was a bit off topic because it is meant to disassemble a traditional meeting from the inside rather than rethink traditional meeting structures.

@crottymark chimed in next, looking more deeply into the future as he often does:

As I’ve been seeing all these, I see the possibility of the traditional weekly staff meetings morphing into ongoing, asynchronous growth experiences. Much more momentum and thus progress!

@NicoleFurlonge returned to the concept of listening salons, tying the mode to the essential functions of joy and community:

I’ve been hosting #listeningsalons for the past few months for different groups. Such an enjoyable and powerful space in which to build community through #listening.

I invited @reshanrichards to the meeting, but he declined, which is also a kind of meeting innovation. (It’s only effective in high trust environments, so apply with caution.) I know him well enough to know what he was thinking: 

“I’ve already written down and distributed my thoughts on meetings, so I don’t need to attend the meeting that you’ve called. I have nothing new or different to add except that good documentation can often preclude the need for a meeting.”

You can find his documentation — and mine — re. meetings here and here. It turns out, in the pre-COVID days, we had a lot to say about meeting structures and modes and purposes. In the post-COVID days, maybe we’ll be able to say less. 

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