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October 1, 2005
Vol. 63
No. 2

The Principal Connection / Faculty Meetings Can Be Worthwhile

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When is the last time you heard someone talk about attending a "great faculty meeting"? That's a silly question, right? Regardless of the kind of school in which we work, the consensus—even among those who lead the meetings—seems to be that faculty meetings are not a good use of time.
Too many principals fall into the trap of using faculty meetings to inefficiently convey information. Rather than open up a dialogue or invite discussion of important topics, we read information to teachers. Even worse, we sometimes have faculty meetings because, well, we think we should have faculty meetings. We believe that there is some merit in bringing everyone together, even if the agenda is flat. That is nonsense.
Information that doesn't require any discussion or learning—important as it may be—should be shared in writing. Reading off a sheet of paper to teachers can be insulting, and simply announcing something doesn't guarantee that it will be heard. Similarly, holding a meeting for the sake of holding a meeting not only wastes everyone's time but also reinforces the notion that meetings aren't worthwhile.
It doesn't have to be this way. If well planned and wisely executed, faculty meetings can benefit everyone. But first, we need to redefine the purpose of these meetings. At the New City School, we have designated faculty meetings as a time for learning and as an opportunity to celebrate victories and congratulate colleagues.
Employees who work in high-functioning organizations continually learn with and from their colleagues. In such a setting, knowledge is not bound by hierarchical lines but stems from and is enhanced by collegial interactions. Principals can foster such a climate by encouraging meeting participants to think deeply and collaboratively about a given topic. We need to raise issues, ask questions, and give teachers time for discussion. Why and how are better beginnings than what and who. Maybe some of the issues won't be resolved by the end of the meeting, but that's OK. Participants will leave with new ideas and different questions, and the dialogue will continue in other settings.
A good way to facilitate this kind of meeting is to divide participants into small discussion groups that allow—indeed, compel—everyone to participate. Teachers should also be able to offer input about discussion topics. It is important that the meeting belong to everyone, whether that means writing the agenda on a dry-erase board in the teachers lounge a day or two before the meeting, formally soliciting agenda items before the meeting, or simply beginning the meeting with, "Who has an issue that we should discuss?" Teachers should be active participants, not members of an audience.
Faculty meetings should also be times for celebration. Too often, we focus only on what didn't go as well as we had hoped. I like to open faculty meetings by relating a positive comment that I heard from a student's parent. Other times, I'll say, "Turn to a neighbor and tell him or her what worked for you this week." Taking the time to share our successes does wonders for those who are recognized and establishes a positive tone that benefits everyone.
  • Take time to break the ice—not just in August, but throughout the school year. Asking questions like "What teacher do you remember from your days as a student, and why?" or "What book would you recommend to a friend?" helps create a friendly, comfortable atmosphere. We need to take time to know and appreciate one another, because congeniality is the foundation of collegiality.
  • Spread the air time. It's not a good sign when administrators do all the talking. Principals need to ensure that everyone gets a chance to contribute.
  • Vary the location of the meeting. If space allows, holding meetings in teachers' classrooms fosters a climate of sharing. Ask the "host" teacher to talk a bit about how he or she decorated or designed the room for learning.
  • Focus meetings on particular topics. Principals can set a tone of collaboration by announcing a meeting's topic beforehand and asking teachers to come with two or three suggestions.
  • Bring food! Regardless of when meetings are held, munching on fruits, pretzels, or pastries makes them more pleasant.
It's time to transform our faculty meetings from static, dull reading sessions into opportunities for rich interaction. Who knows? You might just hear your teachers talking about that "great faculty meeting" they just attended!

Thomas R. Hoerr retired after leading the New City School in St. Louis, Missouri, for 34 years and is now the Emeritus Head of School. He teaches in the educational leadership program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and holds a PhD from Washington University in St. Louis.

Hoerr has written six other books—Becoming a Multiple Intelligences School, The Art of School Leadership, School Leadership for the Future, Fostering Grit, The Formative Five, Taking Social-Emotional Learning Schoolwide—and more than 160 articles, including "The Principal Connection" column in Educational Leadership.

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