One of the more humorous definitions of a meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours are lost. In education we have a lot of meetings and a culture of ‘meetingness’ is deeply embedded into our regular practice. We have staff meetings, divisional and department meetings, not to mention the meetings we have with parents and other professionals. A meeting can actually a good thing, people come together, decisions are made and things get done…usually. Except, (to quote Dr. Suess) when they don’t.
I’ve been thinking and reflecting about the meetings I have a role in, wondering am I doing everything I can to make sure the meetings I lead are important, efficient and purposeful. I think that schools often approach meetings like families approach cultural traditions~ “we always have Thanksgiving at Grandma’s.”~ and are are loathe to change their format, structure or content. Unfortunately, this tradition and sameness may be part of the current status that is keeping us from making the changes we need to in order to adapt and make the time we gather together matter.
I like to think of meetings as a combination of a dinner party/movie. Our dinner parties usually involve my wife and I assembling a group of interesting people with a few things in common and a few differences, lots of conversation, lots of laughter and playful banter with everybody bringing something to the table (literally). I think it’s important to note that there’s a big difference between a dinner party and a banquet (we don’t do banquets at our place). How can I, as a leader, make sure that the meetings I lead are dinner party’s, not banquets. Are the tables arranged facing the head table? Is there a mix of interesting and diverse people at the table and is there time to talk, banter and laugh? These are the considerations I make as I plan the meeting (along with food-yes and wine-no).
And the movie part? Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni wrote a great book a few years back called Death by Meeting. In the book, he reminds us that the every meeting, like every movie, has a few basic elements. A plot that has a beginning, middle and end that is contextualized as a conflict. He reminds us that the conflict in the movie is an essential part to the resolution of the problem in the plot and that we, as viewers, draw our satisfaction from this resolution. How can I, as a leader, build in some productive conflict into the meetings I lead? Not the arms crossed, “I’m calling the union” conflict, but the respectful consideration of different perspectives to arrive at a satisfying ending kind. These are the considerations I make as I plan a meeting.
I’m working on these ideas because I think they are important. Building a sense of professionalism and teacher efficacy is a big part of the work I do, and meetings, big and small are a big part of this process.