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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

3 Reasons Why Faculty Meetings Are a Waste of Time

By Peter DeWitt — April 10, 2015 3 min read
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Many school leaders walk into a faculty meeting with a single idea of how they want to move forward and walk out with the same idea. That’s telling...

John Hattie talks a great deal about the Politics of Distraction, which means we focus on adult issues, and not enough time...if ever...on learning. That is happening around the U.S. for sure. Recently the Assembly of NY State only furthered those distractions, which you can read about here, which means that school leaders and teachers have to work harder to maintain a focus on learning.

Quite frankly, well before mandates and accountability, school leaders focused on the politics of distraction and not on learning. Compliance is not new in schools. Faculty meetings were seen as a venue to get through and something that teachers were contractually obligated to attend.

During these days of endless measures of compliance, principals can do a great deal to make sure they don’t model the same harmful messages to staff that politicians are sending to teachers. Jim Knight calls that “Freedom within form.” In Talk Like Ted, Carmine Gallo quotes Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) when he writes,

Creativity is often misunderstood. People often think of it in terms of artistic work - unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. If you look deeper, however, you'll find that some of the most inspiring art forms - haikus, sonatas, religious paintings- are fraught with constraints. (p. 190)"

Clearly, constraints have a wide definition. There is a clear difference between the constraints of compliance. As we move forward, principals still are charged...or at least should be...with the job of making sure they offer part...inspiration, part...teacher voice...and a great deal of focus on learning.

There is never a more important time than now for school leaders to change the structure of their faculty meetings, but unfortunately most won’t do it because it’s too hard. They expect teachers to take risks but rarely practice what they preach.

To me, there are 3 reasons why faculty meetings are mind-numbingly boring and a complete waste of time. I usually try to find common ground with any situation, but faculty meetings (and most teacher evaluations) don’t seem to provide one.

The 3 reasons faculty meetings are a waste of time:

Summed up in an e-mail - Dates, times, compliance, compliance, compliance. Do your faculty a favor. Send it out in an e-mail so they don’t have to seem engaged and interested. They’re teachers, not children, and can read more easily than they can possibly hear when it comes to the typical faculty meeting information.

Teachers didn’t help co-construct the meeting - Why are teachers so negative? Probably because they have to show up to another venue dictated by school leaders where they didn’t have a voice in the process. Many school leaders walk into a faculty meeting with a single idea of how they want to move forward and walk out with the same idea. That’s telling. If you walk in with an idea and walk out with the same one you’re either insecure, a tyrant or clueless. Our teachers can help make any idea better. They spent as much time in education classes as you did. Do them a favor...respect them and ask them for input. The best school leaders always do.

It didn’t focus on learning - Look at your mission statements. Do you have an aspiration for your school? Do teachers know what it is? What about parents and students? Is the word “learning” anywhere on there? If not, it’s probably not at the focus of your faculty meetings either.

Flipping leadership sounds like a gimmick but it’s not. Co-construct the meetings with staff and make sure there is a focus on learning. Decide what the learning focus is together. Look at data, listen to the discussions and questions that go on around the school. There is so much to focus on in education that revolves around learning.

Find some articles, blogs, videos or any resource that revolves around that topic and send it to staff before a meeting. I promise that you, if done correctly, will have the most productive and thought-provoking faculty meetings that you have ever had and most of your staff will appreciate it.

In the End

We keep looking at the outside influences that seem to waste out precious time and focus on learning, but we also need to take time to look within and see if leaders are contributing to that waste of time. I’m not innocent in this process. As a school leader I shortened my faculty meetings to 20 minutes so I didn’t waste the time of the teachers.

That was flawed thinking.

A few years ago I realized that what we needed to do was co-construct meetings together and focus on learning. I loved my staff. We debated, dissected and discussed information, and I never walked out with the same idea I walked in with, and that was not due to weakness but due to the power of collective thinking. We need to change faculty meetings so that they focus on learning and not the politics of distraction.

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Thanks to Will Bryant for the photo.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.