The Good, the Bad, but mostly the Ugly-Staff Meetings

I often refer to this Wednesday affair as a staff infection not a staff meeting.    I usually leave feeling sick, rather than inspired.  They, like most of school life, are the same the world over.  At the end of the two hours in that small cramped, airless room, I want to scream to be let out of the loony bin.

 My First Years of Staff Meetings:

When I first started teaching at a local high school in Washington State, the staff meetings were 30 minutes before school started on a Wednesday.  It was ridiculous.  The entire time you are watching the clock rather than analyzing the topic on the handout.  I could hear kids screaming in the hallway, lockers slamming, yet I was supposed to concentrate on hearing about a new school policy on this, that, or the other.

Those two years were riddled with the development of new policies that never came to fruition.  “What was that?  I’m supposed to take my 4 blue circle stickers and stick them on the posters next to the topics that I think are the most important, then we will discuss the data further at the next meeting?”  Well those posters never returned, the data was never compiled, but new posters and more stickers appeared almost monthly.  Week in and week out we planned for a new schedule, discussed the new wave of school shootings, discussed a new bullying policy, but nothing ever came of these discussions, nothing changed for the better.  And then there was THAT woman.  There is one on every staff, the woman who says that thing that fires everyone up right before the meeting ends….  It would take me 2 to 3 periods to shake off my angst.

Same Stuff Different School:

When I moved to another school not much changed.  “That woman” was this time “that guy”.  But as I grew up as a teacher, I realized how unnecessary some of these meetings were.   I began to loathe that moment when my principals would get up in front of the group to give a few “reminders.” Really?  Like I need to be reminded to stay on the job until 4:00pm.  I was usually there until 4:30 or 5.  Like I needed to be reminded to supervise the hallway, kids were screaming at each other and ripping out hair.  Like I needed to be reminded that attendance at staff meetings was required.  Why are you reminding these people sitting here?  We are at the meeting!

I termed these reminders as the “blanket statements.”  I got a little feisty toward the end of my time there.  I would raise my hand and say things like  “Hey Bill?  Are you talking about me?  So if it is not about me, then who are you reminding?  Maybe you should have a one on one conversation with that person rather than making a blanket statement to all of us sitting here.”

In the 10 years I was there we saw many changes, most of them not good.  We used to say our school motto was “__________ Jr. High, Where Good Programs Come to Die.” And in 10 years I don’t think there were many staff meetings that I left thinking…wow…that was great…I am so encouraged and empowered to walk back into my classroom tomorrow.

Wait a minute…it’s the same across the Atlantic too?

And moving abroad…I don’t know…I thought things would be different.  Meetings are different…to a point.  I appreciate that we have two hours each week to discuss issues.  We have moments that are great.  We feel inspired by the discussion, feeling like the first time we are getting somewhere, and then…..Nothing.  No further discussion.  At some point we begin to resent being called to a meeting where it seems like we are sucked into the continuing downward spiral of unending discussion that leads to nowhere.  At around 2:25 on Wednesday…you can begin to hear through the halls a slow yet growing sound of teachers grumbling.

Things have gotten so bad that now when someone does get up to speak to the group about a pressing matter, they are eaten alive.  When a person gets up to share a little praise, a little thank you, they are ripped apart by the dinosaurs. The staff has too often had their time wasted, their time misused, their words stifled, their spirits crushed. “Who the hell cares about little Jimmy and the Learner Profile!  Give me heads, bodies, give me my pitchfork!  Burrrrrrrrn them!”

The Solution:

How can schools make the “Staff Meeting” more of a happy place?  Give the teachers time to do what they want.  That’s right….FREE TIME.  Google (the corporation) is famous for doing this.  20% of their work time is free time.  The employees have very few restrictions on how this time is used, but what the corporation has found is that the employees are most productive during this time.  Because they have the free time to think about a variety of other things, they end up solving problems and creating new products.  They actually have time to innovate.

Lets use staff meeting time to meet and collaborate on lesson plans.  Lets use the time to meet and collaborate on student pastoral issues.  Lets brainstorm ways to make orientation days better.  Lets drink a beer in the café, sit outside, laugh together, and inspire our colleagues with stories of the things that are going right.

What is it like at your school or work place?  What are you meetings like?  Do you get free time?  Have you found other solutions to this problem?

9 replies

  1. The times have changed! We rarely have staff mettings anymore and , when we do, they are intentional and brief. What we do have , every week, is department collaboration time. We start our week with it, for 1 1/2 hours or more. The best thing to come along in a long time.

    • Good to hear. That is how it should be. We have one hour a week in departments to discuss and collaborate, but sometimes this becomes more about admin tasks rather than student learning.

    • There is also this need to control. You become an administrator to administer something…they cannot let go of the meeting. They know they are wasting our time, but they feel we must meet. If they let us have free time, then they are not in control anymore.

  2. Hi Kathleen, I teach at an international school in Germany too. I just came across your blog and have been reading my way back through it. At my current school we have 1 hr staff meetings once a month. On the three “free” weeks teachers rotate through department, grade-specific or collaborative planning meetings. It works (I think) really well. At my previous school in Canada they had done away with full-school staff meeting altogether – everything was just disseminated via the department heads. That system had both pros and cons. I think the current one is ideal.

    • I teach at a different school now that has very few whole school meetings. Most of our time is spent in pastoral meetings in grade level groups or collaborating in our department. I would say on a whole my time is not wasted. Sure there are still moments of frustration, but not like my previous school.

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