I have been an educator for over 20 years. I have spent significantly more than 20 hours in my career, probably in each school year, sitting in meetings and being talked at. We often call these meetings the “Sit and Get” meetings. Today I am here to PLEAD with my fellow educators to find other structures for meetings beyond the old sit and get.
I believe that we, as educators, are rule followers and by nature are compliant. If our boss asks us to attend a meeting, we will attend. If the presenter(s) talks at us for the entire meeting, we will sit quietly, sometimes taking notes. The outcome of meetings such as this is often continued compliance.
But as a leader I want much more than compliance.
- I want to transform our educational systems on behalf of each learner we serve.
- I want to inspire others to be their best.
- I want each person with whom I work to discover their own strengths and how they can use those strengths to enhance our collective work.
- I want to collaborate because two minds truly are better than one.
I know that as leaders and content experts, people often feel that the best way to share information is to tell people all that we know, often in a lecture-style with PowerPoint slides FULL of text. A sit and get meeting structure does not lead to the educational transformations mentioned above. However, there are other structures that can help us get to those big ideas.
Read & Discuss
Professional readings and discussions can help us come to a common understanding about a key concept, understand a need for a change, or delve deeper into curriculum and instructional information. A facilitator can send out a reading assignment ahead of time and encourage people to read the text and come prepared to discuss it. Sharing a few reflective questions or asking people to bring a favorite quote can help the reading be purposeful. Having a protocol for the discussion during the meeting can make the time useful for all members, as with a protocol everyone has a voice and a role.
Share & Collaborate
If we believe that two heads are better than one, we want to create structures that allow for our colleagues, our stakeholders, to collaborate with us on work that will directly impact them. For instance, if a district level director develops a discipline plan in isolation, he or she has missed an opportunity to collaborate directly with the site administrators who handle student discipline issues day in and day out. There are a number of ways we can build in opportunities for collaboration into meeting structures.
Similar to the idea above, we can send out a draft of a discipline plan a week before a meeting, asking our site administrators to review the draft and to come to the meeting prepared to share one item they appreciate, one item they have questions about, and one item they are concerned about. We can guide participants through a collaborative discussion protocol at the meeting, where the ideas are shared and collected as feedback to enhance the discipline plan draft.
If we want to collaborate with our staff to make a decision, we can guide them through a dot voting protocol and discussion (here is a thread describing a few options). Dot protocols provide each staff member with a voice in the decision-making process. It’s important to note that a leader should only use a voting protocol when they are truly prepared to honor the vote of the majority. If you ask people for feedback and then ignore you, you risk losing trust and respect.
Another way to gather feedback or to move a group towards greater understanding is to use the Affinity Mapping Protocol. This is a SILENT but interactive task, that requires collaboration and shares thought process. Getting people up and moving around helps with brain flow as well as overall health!
Mix & Mingle
Sometimes we just need to get up and move and talk in a meeting. As a facilitator, it’s important to read your audience and know when they need a mental or physical break. You can build these into your meetings as brain breaks or as a way to transition from one topic to another. For instance, after reviewing a new initiative overview, a leader can ask everyone to stand up and find a partner from a different team, content area, or table. The pairs can discuss what they heard and what they wonder. The facilitator can give 3-5 minutes for one discussion, and if time permits, ask participants to find another partner to discuss the same ideas or an additional idea (such as what resources they need to begin implementing).
You can also add a mix and mingle as a community builder in as you prepare to take a break in a longer meeting. The facilitator says a prompt such as, “On your way into this 10 minute break, tell one person what you appreciate about him or her.”
I love including a speed dating option in any meeting I can. I learned this idea from my friend and colleague Shelley Burgess, who described it in her book Lead Like a Pirate. In the past I have asked meeting participants to line up in order of years of experience as an educator or by their birthday month. I then fold the line in half (like a taco) so that the educator with the most experience is facing the educator with the least experience. I provide a discussion prompt and give participants an opportunity to speak. After an appropriate amount of time, I will ask one row of the taco to move down a few spots, so that everyone has a new partner to talk to, using either the same or a new prompt. Every time I use this activity, I get amazingly positive feedback about how fun it was as well as being a powerful way to ignite discussion between very diverse pairs.
The structures above are just a few ways to build in opportunities for participant voice within a meeting, thereby avoiding the dreaded sit and get… compliance. I look forward to moving beyond compliance and into transformation with each of you. Please share additional structures you have found successful in the comments.