Making the most of meetings

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Most people don’t enjoy meetings. This statement is not based on research
or statistical analysis, but rather many years of workplace observation. It
seems that we are inclined to feel that we would be more productive if left
to our own devices. However, meetings can be hugely beneficial,
meaningful and worthwhile when they are planned, time-restricted and
goal-oriented.

The best place to start if you are looking to overhaul your meeting
structures, whether they are small team meetings or whole school training
sessions, is to think about what you yourself dread when asked to attend.
Draughty halls, lack of tea breaks, death by powerpoint, too much sitting
and listening, irrelevant content are all the usual suspects and relatively
universal complaints. Once you have identified these potential issues, you
are in a position to set about eliminating them and setting the scene for a
highly fruitful meeting.

Next, consider the purpose of the meeting, and naturally your attendee list
will follow. Does everyone need to be there? Sometimes the answer is yes,
sometimes the answer is no. If yes, communicate clearly to all involved the
purpose of this meeting and why it affects all the staff in the school. For
example, safeguarding should not need to be explained as an all-staff
requirement but it can help just to spell out on occasion that we all have a
duty of care to our pupils and their safety. A less crystal clear topic could be 
wellbeing training. Some less frontline staff may wonder why they are being
taken from their work that INSET day to attend training they consider to be
aimed more at teachers and teaching assistants. In these instances,
communicate well in advance the value of this training to all staff so that
they have time to accept that they will not have the INSET time as usual.

Once you know how many people are attending, carefully pick a venue.
Small, pupil-focussed meetings are often best placed in a classroom as the
environment is less formal than a meeting room and can allow for more
candid conversations which produce creative ideas and honest opinions. A
disciplinary, however, belongs in the formal setting of the meeting room. If
all your staff need to be accommodated in that draughty hall, talk to site
staff in advance about how to limit the chills, have tea and coffee booked,
and ensure that regular movement breaks are built into your meeting or
training. Water and sweets or fruit on the tables can also help in any
meeting to smooth any potentially ruffled feathers in attendance.

Send out your agenda a few days in advance once your preparations have
been made. This gives attendees long enough to think if you’ve asked them
for feedback or ideas, but not long enough to stew on a particular item.
Obvious exceptions where information should be sent earlier is if they need
to read a lot of information or come with a completed task that may require
more time. Include on your agenda the finish time of the meeting so that
people can plan childcare and other commitments, and use the finish time
as a handy reminder that the meeting needs to stay on topic so that
everyone can leave as planned!

Finally, think very carefully about how much discussion is needed on each
item. With the advent of shared drives and email systems, simple
information sharing can be done in advance of a meeting. For example,
some pastoral leaders have tutors fill in their pupil concerns on a shared
document prior to the meeting. This gives the pastoral leader time to pull
out any issue requiring further discussion and avoids the (sometimes
tedious) round-table discussion of every pupil when it really isn’t necessary.

Whatever the scale of your meeting, remember that staff (like the children
we teach) need advanced warning, an explanation of purpose and a
comfortable environment in which to work. These elements give us all the
best opportunity of making the most of meetings.

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