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The Danger of Meetings

Meetings are often terrible. I bet you can think of many examples of horrible meetings that you’ve experienced. These range from whole staff meetings to large group professional development to grade level or content team meetings. They’re often boring. We don’t get anything out of them, and, worst of all, they waste our time. One of the strangest phenomena in education is the perpetuation of poor meetings and professional development sessions. How can a profession devoted to the best methods for learning, engage adults in such poor practices?

You might be thinking: “They are what they are. Meetings are just terrible, but we’re stuck with them." Or, maybe: "We have things we need to cover, so they have to be that way." Here’s why would need to focus on changing our meetings NOW:

  • In a recent study, ineffective meetings make professionals lose 31 hours per year. I think it might be more in education. Not only is this lost time that could have been spent doing something else, but it is also a huge lost opportunity for us to build collective teacher efficacy, model best practices, and support teachers in their work.

  • We know meetings and professional development sessions can be powerful learning places that develop teacher skills and collective teacher efficacy--probably the most powerful influence on student learning--if done well. This is the opportunity lost. What’s worse, is that when not done well they have a negative effect. Collective efficacy can DECREASE as well as increase. In that case, it would actually be better not to meet.

  • Perhaps worst of all, when we lead poor meetings and professional learning sessions, we are subconsciously affirming that teachers should teach in the same way. How can we expect teachers to engage students in powerful learning experiences, when we model really poor learning experiences? It's like when your college professor lectures to you about not lecturing to students.

What to do about it:

  1. Get clear on the outcomes for meetings and professional development sessions. If our goal is to increase collective teacher efficacy in our collaborative teacher teams, then we should evaluate existing meeting practices with that in mind. What practices would lead to increased efficacy? If we want teachers to leave professional development sessions motivated to try out new practices, then we had better use best practice for adult learning. Changing a practice is a very different goal than “learning new information.” Getting clear on the outcomes and then carefully evaluating if our plan/actions will get to that outcome is critically important.

  2. Use effective meeting practices. We can dramatically increase our efficiency and our effectiveness by having clear agendas, using roles, staying on task, and having protocols that support that work. These practices help us scaffold into being effective teams.

  3. Model, model, model--we never have enough time to support teachers. Principals struggle to give feedback to all teachers, because they can’t be in rooms as much as they would like. Coaches can’t possibly engage in coaching cycles with everyone on the staff. Time during meetings is one of our greatest opportunities to engage in instructional leadership by modeling effective practices. We have the opportunity to support multiple (if not all) of the staff at the same time. We should model what we want teachers to do with students any time we have that opportunity.

We spend a lot of time in meetings--staff meetings, team meetings, professional development sessions, and many more. Not only do poor meetings rob us of a lot of time we could be doing other things, but they rob us of the powerful opportunity that effective meetings and professional learning sessions can be. Worst of all, poor meetings don’t just have a zero effect. They can increase disengagement, foster disenchantment, and decrease collective efficacy. Having effective meetings that build collective teacher efficacy and support teachers in improving their practice should be one of our top priorities.

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