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Peter DeWitt's

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.

Professional Development Opinion

Are Your Staff Meetings Unfocused and Disjointed? Try These 5 Strategies

How to make them more meaningful
By Michael Nelson & Peter DeWitt — February 25, 2024 6 min read
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There are two questions we hear frequently from principals and teachers when we visit schools. Those questions are:

  • Principals: “What should I cover at today’s staff meeting?”
  • Teachers: “I wonder what today’s meeting is about?”

Many leaders tell us that it’s critical for teachers to have learning intentions and success criteria posted in their classroom so students understand what they are learning. However, many of those same leaders do not have learning intentions for their staff meetings or instructional-leadership team meetings. This is a missed opportunity. Why? Unfortunately, many leaders do not see their meetings as a place where they can learn with their staff. They see their meetings as a place where they talk at their staff.

It is critical for each meeting to be seen as an opportunity for staff and leaders to learn from one another. Staff meetings are an opportunity for leaders and teachers to work as a collective, as opposed to what really happens, which is two different groups sharing a space together. It is equally as important to have school or district priorities visible within the learning-intention and success-criteria language that leaders use during collective sessions.

For example, we have surveyed hundreds of school leadership teams across North America, and a majority of those teams identify student engagement as a main priority. When leaders co-construct learning intentions and success criteria with staff, and make sure language specific to increasing student engagement is within the learning intentions and success criteria at their staff meetings, it creates coherence between those meetings and classroom practices.

Even though some leaders say, “I don’t have time to do this process at each meeting,” we believe spending even a short time at the beginning of your meeting engaging in this conversation will help with retention of the content and transfer of learning from the meeting to the classroom. The two of us use learning intentions and success criteria in our one-day workshops but also in our monthly hybrid approach to learning, and it helps build on the learning occurring from one professional learning session to the next.

In addition to learning intentions and success criteria, we have found the following five strategies are effective ways to turn staff meetings into professional learning sessions, which helps create a deeper learning experience for teachers and leaders.

Pictorial Learning Timeline
After each meeting, select 3-4 images that represent the learning intentions. This might be a photo of a book you read, a key image from a slide from your presentation, and/or an actual photo from the meeting. In a key location of your school where your staff members walk, put up a long sheet of butcher paper with a line going down the middle. Label the timeline with the date of the meeting and attach the 3-4 images. Continue this process after each meeting.

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Using images without words allows our brains to create the story and make meaning from it. It solidifies the learning and provides a visual representation of the collective staff learning flow.

Anchor Charts
There are key moments in meetings when decisions are made. Perhaps, those key decisions were a result of a learning protocol where leaders and their staff engaged in deep conversations. Regardless of the protocol used, those key decisions need to be captured and posted somewhere that staff can refer back to over and over again. Too often, key moments in a meeting are a one and done. In reality, those key conversations should be reflected on often.

Anchor charts are created using chart paper, and they visibly display the language of the decision or group learning that will allow the staff to easily refer back to at future gatherings. The meeting date of the anchor chart is captured at the bottom of the paper. Anchor charts can be permanently displayed if the meeting room is only used by staff. They can be taken down after each meeting and put up before the next one if the meeting space is more public. Anchor charts do not have to be created for every meeting but only created during moments of key decisions or learning.

By capturing decisions and key learning in a visible form, you are creating a foundation of staff commitments and acknowledging this is important information for the learning culture of the school.

Pre- and Post-Staff Meeting Communication
An important strategy in keeping a fluid learning flow occurring from one staff meeting to the next is engaging in pre- and post-communication to teachers. The pre-learning communication contains the success criteria and learning intentions, supplies needed or items to bring to the meeting, and links to any reading or survey/poll that should be done prior to the meeting. We have found it effective to send the pre-learning communication 1-2 days prior to the meeting (click here for a sample). The post-learning communication follows up with staff members about the learning from the meeting and is sent less than 24 hours after the meeting. Within the post communication are next steps, task expectations, exit tickets, or a survey asking for feedback

Sharing the expectations prior to the meeting and the learning that occurred after the meeting supports the goal of intentional leadership. Both the principal and teacher have needed information. This strategy saves precious meeting minutes when everyone is gathered.

Interactive Agenda
An interactive agenda is “one-stop shopping.” It provides the full information for all teachers and contains such things as success criteria, learning intentions, and flow of each meeting as well as links to presentation slides, videos, and articles, etc. We have found having one interactive agenda for the school year, adding the agendas for each meeting (most recent meeting at the top) has been the most effective way to use the tool. Click here for a sample.

Often, paper agendas are put in the “round file” as soon as a meeting is done. An electronic interactive agenda keeps key meeting information in one place with past meeting materials easily accessible.

Interactions During “the Dash”
Too often, professional learning seems disjointed. Professional learning is not just about the actual dates the formal learning took place but the time in between when conversations about the learning continue. We refer to this time in between as “the Dash.” This includes the pre-and post-learning communication from above. However, it also includes the articles leaders send out that support the learning from the meetings. The Dash includes classroom walk-throughs and learning walks, as well as any focus group conversations with members of the staff.

The Dash supports the vision that adult learning doesn’t just occur during meetings but with each and every interaction. Building a school culture where becoming better practitioners of student learning is a continuous process is the desired outcome.

Keeping your school’s priorities at the forefront of the minds of your staff members is important. The consistent use of success criteria and learning intentions in your meetings and the five strategies above will support your work in meeting the desired outcomes of these priorities.

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.


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