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The Teaching Space Podcast

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Jun 8, 2018

Episode 23 of The Teaching Space Podcast explores seven ways that teachers can rethink their approach to meetings.

Podcast Episode 23 Transcript

Welcome to The Teaching Space Podcast, coming to you from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. 

Hello, it's Martine here. Welcome to Episode 23 of The Teaching Space Podcast. It's wonderful to have you here with me.

Today's episode is all about meetings. I'm going to share seven ways teachers can make a start at rethinking their approach to meetings, but why are we talking about meetings? What's the problem with meetings? Well, I'm going to be blunt. They suck up an inordinate amount of teacher's precious non-contact time, and that is simply not okay.

What makes it worse is that many of the meetings we teachers attend don't actually need to be meetings. There is usually a more efficient way to handle the things discussed in the meeting.

Meeting Strategies

Now I appreciate you might not be responsible for setting your school's overall meeting strategy. By the way, that is a thing, a meeting strategy. Nevertheless, you can make a difference with the meetings that you organise. You can demonstrate best practice to your colleagues with meetings that you have to organise.

You can also, if you're feeling brave, propose a meeting strategy to your senior leadership team. It is a thing. People have them. I think it would be really easy to go, "You know what, Martine? I don't have an impact on this sort of thing. I've got plenty of other stuff to handle," but you really can make a difference with this. 

I'm going to try and convince you with the following seven suggestions.

1. Is The Meeting Necessary?

Think very carefully about why you are calling a meeting. Is it necessary? Are you simply communicating information? If that is the case, do you need a face-to-face meeting? Perhaps email would be more appropriate?

If you need to have a discussion and decisions need to be made, then perhaps a meeting is necessary, but ask the question why am I calling a meeting? If your reason for calling a meeting is that it's a regular weekly meeting, for example, that's not a good enough reason. There has to be a better reason than we have one every Monday.

2. Consider Who Needs to Attend

Think carefully about who needs to be there. Does everybody on the list need to be there? What is their role in the meeting? What position do they take? Are they going to contribute something that will move the meeting along? How are you expecting the attendees to participate?

3. Time Allocation

How much time do you need for this meeting? How much time are you going to allocate? What I find tends to happen is that if you are organizing your meeting using Outlook meeting requests, if you've got it set up so that your default meeting slot is an hour, you will schedule an hour-long meeting, but you might not need that hour.

It might be okay to have a 20-minute meeting, but if you block out an hour, it will take an hour. According to Parkinson's law, activities expand to fill the time allotted to them. What's wrong with having a 22-minute meeting if you've calculated that that's the time you need? Schedule a 22-minute meeting.

Remember Parkinson's law. With this in mind, why not use a timer? We all have a timer in our pocket. There's a timer on your mobile device. Use it. It will seem novel at first and some might find it a little intrusive, but you've all got limited time. Use a tool to help you stick to the time you've got allotted. Also, again with this in mind, start the meeting on time.

The more you do this, the more punctual your meeting attendees will be.

4. Meeting Organisation

Give consideration to how you organise the meeting. I mentioned Outlook meeting invites earlier in a slightly negative light, but actually it's a great tool and it's absolutely essential to ensure that everyone has the meeting on their calendar. They're a great thing. They just need to be used correctly.

The other thing you could do if you use Outlook, and you can do all of this with Google Calendar and other tools as well, is you can share calendars with each other. When you are trying to set up a meeting, you can have a look to see who's available when.

This is going to cut down on a lot of email traffic when you're organising your meeting. Make meeting organisation simple.

5. Using Technology For A More Efficient Process

Can you use technology to make the whole meeting process more efficient? Here are a few examples. It might be that in the meeting somebody types up the minutes in real time. You could use a Google Doc and share it with all of the meeting attendees there and then so there's no need to email the minutes out afterwards. You've got no one sitting there with a notepad and then typing them up afterwards. Taking minutes in real time speeds things up really well.

Another example of how you could use technology to make a meeting more efficient would be to use a Google Hangout rather than an in-person meeting. You still get that face-to-face interaction. You can still feed off each other's body language and that sort of thing, but what you do is you remove the time it takes to get to the meeting. If you are for example split across different campuses, different locations, then this can make things far more efficient.

6. Agenda

I have three words for you, agenda, agenda, agenda. Never have a meeting without an agenda. It's like going into a teaching session without a session plan.

Okay, maybe a bad example, but you take my point. You are going to waste time if you do not have a plan. If you don't have an agenda, you can't work out how long you need to allocate for the meeting. It is not possible to have an efficient meeting without an agenda. Spend more time here on the agenda to waste less time in the meeting.

7. The Format of The Meeting

Finally, number seven, vary your approach to meetings. You might have a standup meeting. You might try a walking meeting. These are just two ways you can change things up a bit and hopefully make your meeting more efficient.

Funny story. I used to watch The West Wing, and they had lots of walking meetings and they looked really efficient.

I have tried them on multiple occasions. I will just say that if you have anything confidential to discuss, a walking meeting isn't always the best option. However, a walking meeting could be a great option if you're coming up with creative ideas for a new project or something like that.

Wrap Up

Those are my seven ways teachers can rethink meetings. What do you think? Have you experienced this frustration with meetings in your organisation? Does your organization do something different with meetings? How do you handle meetings? I would love to hear from you.

The best way to start a conversation about meetings in education is to hop over to The Teaching Space Staff Room, which is our closed Facebook group. Just ask to join the group and I will approve you ASAP.

Right. That's all from me today. I hope this has been handy, and I thank you for tuning in. I hope you'll join me next time.