Why Teacher Staff Meetings Suck–And How To Make Them Better

How To Improve Teacher Staff Meetings

by Terry Heick

Time for a staff meeting?

Need an idea? Something that engages teachers? Shake things up a bit? Start the year off right?

Lessee. Maybe you group teachers somehow–something cool. By birth month or favorite Jimmy Buffet song.

You could play an inspiring video from YouTube. (Maybe stream the video from your phone to make it seem all high-tech and whiz bang.)

Maybe use an ironic or inspiring quote as a writing prompt to discussion point. Maybe add a pile of candy in the middle of the table and see what goes first, their attention or the Jolly Ranchers.

You could play music. Break the ice by letting them watch you whip, whip, then watch you nae nae.

You could even encourage teachers to get up and move around the room–maybe modeling a literacy strategy like a vocab stir or a gallery walk of some kind that uses their phones.

Or you could do a Hawaiian shirt day. So fun! All the shirts with palm trees and sunsets! So much thematic unity! Who doesn’t like to have a little fun?!

But if the above doesn’t change the culture in your building–and thus your staff meetings in parallel–you may need to think more ambitiously. You may need to actually get at the root of what makes teacher staff meetings so unbearable.

Problem: They don’t help anyone.

Solution: Ask them what they need.

It may not be true that they’re useless–they’re good for to keep the gears of the school twisting–but rarely do they meaningfully impact the learning and lives of students. Think about your average staff meeting and what happens–the work and the lasting impact of that work. How much of it changes lives?

There are undoubtedly school and district policies that dictate much of what happens in staff meetings: how often you meet, how long you meet, and so on. But if you’re able to start with the kinds of things teachers actually need, rather than what the school or district needs, engagement–eventually–should improve. If not, check for pulses.

Some schools have adopted workshop and PD-style staff meetings, but teachers still can often lack any sort of input or control, which doesn’t solve the problem of them being school and district-centered instead of teaching and learning-centered.

Problem: They focus on minutiae and ‘housekeeping items.

Solution: Prioritize those ideas that most meaningfully impact students, then use social media for the rest.

A key theme in staff meetings is data–events, priorities, scheduling issues, general feedback, etc. Having everybody in one room allows information to be exchanged, enabling a lot of “housekeeping items” to be checked off. It can also promote collegial interaction and allow for group work within grade levels, teams, departments, or even intraschool and interdistrict functions. But so can the internet–social media, closed Edmodo, facebook, or Google+ communities, and more. Flip your staff meeting.

Then for the in-person bit, establish mission critical goals, break down how to achieve those goals, and do things that engage the genius in (rather than the endurance of) your teachers.

Problem: They’re often held after long days.

Solution: Don’t hold them after long days.

Again, this one depends on local rules, regulations, policy, and other matters of bureaucracy likely beyond your control. While some districts have calendar-embedded “PD days” or partial days where students aren’t in the building so they can get stuff done, this is different than the weekly staff meeting.

So why not pitch a new way of thinking to the superintendent about a different approach? Something that teachers won’t dread, and doesn’t depend on their attendance, compliance, and fatigue, but rather their expertise, craft, and professionalism. This will likely look different from one school to the next. Decide what works for you, package it, pitch it, and make the decision to innovate easy for those above you. Innovate!

Problem: They lack compelling interaction.

Solution: Help educators interact compellingly

One idea? Consider technology. The days of rolling in the TV cart or pulling down the projector screen to get pulses racing are over. So have them BYOD and pick their favorite app to record snippets from their classroom, share within their table, and then stream to a Apple TV or Chromecast-equipped screen the whole staff can see. Then maybe cobble the best bits together and release to YouTube or parents or the local community to get a weekly glimpse into your school–or have the students do so. That’d go a lot further in impacting “student achievement” than your laundry list of “talking points.”

Final Thought

Engagement isn’t magic, but after years and years of sit-and-get many teachers are justifiably bored with it all. Administrators are as well. Yet somehow, we continue beating our collective heads against the same stack of bricks.

If teachers are meeting to do work they see as meaningful with people they respect, the engagement won’t be a concern.

Why Teacher Staff Meetings Suck–And How To Make Them Better; image attribution flickr user officenow