Monday, March 6, 2017

Do Meetings Have Value?

Do your meetings look like this?

If meetings (and this includes staff meetings) look a little like this, then why do we bother to have them?

I had three meetings this past week - one for LC3 (Toronto District School Board Learning Centre 3) area Teacher-Librarians, one for OSLA (Ontario School Library Association) council, and one with the organizers of the MakerEdTO conference.

Our meetings were mostly productive, but I'll admit there were times that I tuned out mentally. As I sat at my computer desk contemplating this blog post and reflecting on the various meetings, I turned and saw two books on my now-tidy book shelf that really offered some practical solutions and guidelines.

I should make it a point to re-read these books at least once a year, if not more, to remind me of their key points. For instance, in Unlocking Group Potential to Improve Schools, Garmston and von Frank list five standards for effective meetings (page 17).
  1. Address only one topic at a time
  2. Use one process at a time
  3. Balance participation and make meetings interactive
  4. Use cognitive conflict productively
  5. Have everyone understand and agree to meeting roles
I often think back on how well or poorly a meeting went, but I don't often use this helpful criteria to guide my evaluations. Many of the strategies this book suggests are already in play in the meetings I attended (e.g. establish an agenda, assign clear roles, etc.). Some interesting suggestions to creating "smarter groups" include (page 69) increasing the social sensitivity of the group and turn taking. Norms of collaboration like (pages 84-88) pausing, paraphrasing, posing questions, placing ideas on the table, providing data, paying attention to self and others, and presuming positive intentions can be incorporated more frequently in all my meetings, by me and others.

Whose job is it to ensure that meetings are worth the time? Garmston asks a similar question. "Who is responsible for keeping the group on track - a facilitator or group members? The answer is both." (page 17) I thought it was both bold and brave for one of our council members at the end of our lengthy meeting to suggest we revisit how we structure our time together, recommending we look to shortening information items and breaking off into smaller groups for discussion items so our energy does not lag. We still have to follow Robert's Rules of Order and obtain group consensus through voting as part of our council deliberations, but it doesn't mean that the meeting must be dull or drag on. My colleague's suggestion meant that he valued the time we had together - we only meet four times a year face to face - and he wanted that time to be as productive as possible. How would principals react if a teacher requested a change to the staff meeting traditional format?

I was only the meeting "leader" for one of these three events; I think it'd be fascinating to do a debrief to see how well we met the standards and how we could address them more effectively in future meetings. Often, this meta-reflection gets left out or is done in whispered asides by pairs of participants as the main purpose of the meeting takes center stage and tasks get assigned and deadlines get established. If I had to answer my own question title, I'd say that meetings do have value but can be even more valuable when carefully crafted with attention to process as well as content.

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