Papers shuffling, surreptitious glances at the clock, pens tapping on the table – all signs that your meeting is rapidly going downhill. Shoulders slump, eye contact drops – perhaps it’s simply gone on for too long. Maybe colleagues are losing interest because the discussion’s veered off topic.
It’s a given that we’re all busy in schools, and the pace seems to increase every year. With concerns over workload continuing to make headlines and more demands on our time than ever, it’s imperative that any hours set aside for meetings are used effectively.
Start with why
Over time, patterns are formed and meetings can end up taking place habitually. It’s easy enough to pull an agenda together, but we should perhaps evaluate whether a given meeting is actually required at all. The rhythm of the school year lends itself to certain discussions at key points – pupil progress and attainment once data is available, SIP and SEF, whole school events. Consider whether the proposed agenda items require a forum – are they relevant to all members of the team?
Do they need discussion and debate? If not, save the meeting time for discussions that will have a direct impact on pupils, raise standards or move the school forward.
Stick to your start time
Starting ‘a few minutes’ late can be a frustrating waste of time. For a six-member team, a weekly 10-minute delay will add up to a loss of six hours every half term – that’s approximately six school days over the course of a year.
Of course, some delays are unavoidable – a safeguarding concern or urgent phone call for example. The key is to minimise regular slippage, perhaps by assigning a different chairperson each week. Sharing the agenda and any accompanying materials a few days in advance will allow colleagues to formulate their responses and further ensure that the time’s used efficiently.
Control the pace
Meetings can overrun for various reasons – too much on the agenda, endless incomplete actions from previous meetings or reminiscing about ‘how we used to do things.’ The chairperson has a vital role in ensuring that discussions stay on track. Rotating the responsibility of leader or timekeeper is a good way to train others in maintaining focus and momentum.
There’s a time and place for anecdotes and debates about the colour of the exercise books, but pressing on with the agenda will ensure that all participants remain engaged and that the meeting ends on time. Timed agenda items and simple reminders about the agreed finish time at regular intervals should be sufficient to keep the discussion rolling at a good pace.
For teams that meet regularly, an agreed set of ground rules can help ensure every meeting is useful and has clear outcomes. The specifics will vary depending upon the team dynamics, but could include:
- Be aware of impact
- Be positive and avoid personal criticism
- Complete agreed actions – or ask for help if needed!
- Remember the vision and core purpose
Meetings can be a powerful tool in driving school improvement. They have the potential to energise, enthuse and effect lasting change. A few simple tweaks could be all it takes to ignite inspiration.
Farihah Anwar-Simmons is a deputy headteacher; follow her at @FarihahAnwar.