Pondering Meetings: Who is at the Table?

Meeting Room Stencil Graffiti
By Richard Rutter http://bit.ly/jRWxgJ

While reading Carol Dweck’s “Mindset“, I came across this great quote from Lou Gerstner:

“Hierarchy means very little to me.  Let’s put together in meetings the people who can help solve a problem, regardless of position.”

Dweck also adds that from the view of the “…growth mindset, it is not only the select few that have something to offer.”

How many meetings do we have per year that do not include the voices those that have something to offer? Students? Parents? Support staff? Teaching staff?

How many decisions are made without those who the decisions have the greatest impact (ie. How many decisions are made about teaching that involve those that do not teach)?

It is time we move away from the traditional structure of admin meetings and staff meetings to a model of learning conversations that include those who choose to be there and those that want to see action (similar to the movement toward EdCamp model for professional development). What if, instead of a certain number of staff/admin meetings per year, we lessened those and added meetings that were open to engaged parents, students, community members and the dialogue focused on a specific area of interest?

Can we move away from the hierarchical structure to one that welcomes the voices of those that choose to be there – those that are engaged and want to see solutions – and away from the structure that includes only those with certain positions?

I would love to hear from any people that have changed the traditional structures of meetings in their school/district to a model that works to flatten the hierarchy and include more voices of those that “can help solve a problem, regardless of position”.



  1. Ed said:

    My admin (head of Grade 4-6 campus) is a master at this. He attends the ‘leadership meetings’ (principal of school school, heads of other campuses) then comes back and talks to ‘his people’. He includes whoever he feels is a stakeholder, whoever he thinks has something to contribute. He makes every member of the school community feel valued. He achieves a huge amount through ongoing individual and group conversations. He targets teachers and students who might add value to a particular discussion and brings them in.
    i wish he would get online and talk to you!

    May 14, 2011
    • Chris Wejr said:

      Thanks Edna! Some of the best dialogue that we had involved the informal or optional get-togethers around a specific topic. Get the passionate people together, regardless of position, and make things happen!

      When you say “he targets”, does he also open it up to all people?

      May 14, 2011
  2. Angie said:

    We have restructured out staff meetings to include much more sharing among staff and time for collaboration. I can communicate through social media about the “to-do’s”. I much prefer the time to share and learn from one another. We have structured PLC groups and our staff also use what we call a “writer’s notebook” to collect thought and to answer enduring understandings that we will discuss in small groups at all staff meetings.
    Fortunately, all of our staff have become very passionate about what they do….it is a great environment.
    Dream Big!

    May 14, 2011
    • Chris Wejr said:

      Thanks Angie! Our meetings have moved away from business to more dialogue and I cannot speak for the staff, i love it! I am going to look at PLC models for next year too. Thank you!

      May 15, 2011
  3. Shira Leibowitz said:

    Our school has been working very deliberately in the past months to bring more voices around the table to engage in learning conversations and to make decisions impacting learning collaboratively. Staff meetings used to be presentations (sage on the stage) and we have systematically changed the format. Now faculty members sit in circles and work collaboratively on substantive issues impacting the school. On our last professional development day we tackled engaging parents and developing our professional learning community. Our last two faculty meetings have been dedicated to collaboratively writing our new report cards. There are many more opportunities for faculty leaders who have far more decision making authority and responsibility than in the past (organized by grade level, by discipline, and by particular interests and needs). We have also been creating groups of parents and teachers to work collaboratively on numerous programmatic areas. Trust is deepening and we are step by step breaking down barriers between different groups (administration and teachers; educators and parents; special ed and general ed, etc.) My most recent blog post addresses engaging parents in learning conversations: The Homework Parents Give Me: A Deepening Dialogue Between Home and School http://tinyurl.com/3kazecd
    We by no means have all the structures for flattening hierarchy that we would like worked out, but we are on the road and finding the impact on student learning and community building to be very positive.

    May 15, 2011
    • Chris Wejr said:

      Wow… thank you so much! This is the direction I would like to see us go. Also, thanks for the link to your blog as it added even more to this dialogue.

      May 15, 2011
  4. Morgan said:

    We are currently working on a Continuous Improvement Plan for our school and district. Our school team (made up of 4 teachers and the principal) has opened up the process with optional meetings for teachers, guidance counselors, etc. that want to share their ideas as well. The principal has taken himself out of the equation for these meetings, leaving it to the “team” to come up with the goals and measurable objectives for our CIP. Incredibly, this has been working!!!

    Next year, our PLCs will be implementing the CIP without the ruling hand of an admin. at every meeting.

    May 15, 2011
    • Chris Wejr said:

      Thanks for the encouragement to step back, and give the teams the autonomy and purpose to do great things!

      May 15, 2011
  5. Brian Kuhn said:

    Hi Chris – it is odd (I think) how common a hierarchical meeting still is. Heck, I’m guilty of this too – must change! I wrote this piece a few months ago about this: http://www.shift2future.com/2011/03/technology-powered-meetings.html and will be starting a convo with a few principals about how to change things up in meetings. Should be interesting.

    As to “completely” removing hierarchy… that may be tricky. As people move into formal leadership roles they will usually assume formal practices to some degree – almost seems to be a natural tendency. But it boils down to trust and confidence in self and others. How evident that is depends on the culture. Most work place cultures are not high trust environments for right or wrong. I think when you can achieve high trust environments then the meetings could more easily be flattened… so I guess it really depends…


    May 15, 2011
    • Chris Wejr said:

      Thanks Brian… trust is huge. So many of us let the “control freak” take over and by doing this, we probably alienate those that might have more to offer. I look forward to hearing more about SD43 and the direction they go with this!

      May 15, 2011
  6. Hi Chris,

    Every time I read your articles, I have to remind myself that you and I live on the same planet. The irony is that our schools are not that far apart, “as the crow flies” and our two school districts border each other however, they are worlds apart in so many other ways. At least through your writings, I have a window on what’s possible, what could be, even if I’m not around to see it.

    Thank you.

    May 15, 2011
  7. Tara Ehrcke said:

    How funny that you used a quote from Lou Gerstner! I worked at IBM when he was CEO. There were 11 layers of management between him and me. I remember very well the day that I and 400 colleagues were told our project was canned without so much as a discussion. After five years at IBM and the feeling that nothing I worked on would ever see the light of day, I quit and went into teaching.

    The problem with staff meetings isn’t the format, it’s the content and purpose. Some administrators see staff meetings as a mechanism to impose ideas, rather than explore ideas. That won’t change by moving online. The underlying hierarchy has to go in order to change the effects that surface from it.

    May 15, 2011
  8. Sheila Stewart said:

    Great proposal, Chris, and good dialogue and practices shared here! I really liked the thoughts in the link that Shira shared as well! She really touched on some important points and I like the reference to a “shared responsibility” in the last few lines.

    Always important questions: Who is at the table and who needs to be? I think there is variance from culture to culture, organization to organization, committee to committee etc., as to the degree that hierarchies impact the process.

    I think it is important to clearly articulate goals, and create a team as well as including the necessary participants and conversations around the plans for the goals—no title needed as criteria! If we don’t, I worry we might miss huge opportunities! I guess that also begs the question of who sets and decides the goal(s). Hopefully this can also be done in the same collective way—a shared clarity of purpose and goals to guide. Yes, may be easier said than done, but worth the time and effort, I think.

    I fully understand and recognize how opening up to this idea can be threatening and challenging. We worry about potential conflict…..too much? It certainly does involve a fair bit of “letting go” for those wearing the leadership title or who are at the top of the hierarchy. Accountability is often the pressure on the topmost layers, and very important for all to appreciate. But again, how much does that accountability pressure from external sources result in missed opportunities for collective leadership and truly authentic strategies and solutions?

    Without thinking about the number of meetings I have attended :), it seems there is always the “what we are supposed to be doing” agenda, but I think we need to be sure we are also allowing and facilitating for the conversations that matter to our team/community/stakeholders and including all who are impacted by decisions.

    This quote speaks to me and I hope it helps here, “We are longing for profound renewal and change in our collective structures and institutions. We have been waiting, consciously or not, all our lives. And now, it seems, a window is beginning to open.” — Otto Scharmer

    I was also inspired by this article today: http://www.rockyviewweekly.com/article/20110513/RVW0807/305139994/school-division-holds-public-meeting-on-three-year-plan

    Thanks for starting this topic and conversation, Chris!

    May 15, 2011

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