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How to Improve School Cultures, Part 3: Better Meetings

By Dave Stuart Jr.

If we want to improve the cultures of our schools, we'd be smart to look not just at the way we lead, but also the way we meet. Whether meeting one-on-one or as a whole district, informally or formally, as a PLC or as a grade-level team, meetings create culture. Today, I want to look at a checklist I recently came across for evaluating whether a meeting is worth it. And remember: even if you're a classroom teacher like me, this kind of stuff can inform the way we approach our daily work, whether we're leading a meeting, in a meeting, or teaching a lesson.

Seth Godin's simple checklist for meetings

In a recent blog post, marketer-philosopher Seth Godin wrote a simple checklist for determining whether a meeting is worth the time. (Importantly, Godin differentiates meetings from presentations and conversations.) Here's the list:

  1. There's one person responsible.
  2. The time allocated matches what's needed, not what the calendar app says.
  3. Everyone invited is someone who needs to be there, and no key party is missing.
  4. There's a default step forward if someone doesn't come.
  5. There's no better way to move this forward than to have this meeting.
  6. The desired outcome is clearly stated. The organizer has described what would have to happen for the meeting to be cancelled or to stop midway. “This is what I want to happen,” and if there's a “yes,” we're done.
  7. All relevant information, including analysis, is available to all in plenty of time to be reviewed in advance.

–Seth Godin, author of The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) and Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, in his post “Whose meeting is this?”

I would like to say a few things here regarding the application of Godin's list to school meetings.

First, it's tricky for school meetings, especially at the whole-staff level, to meet all of these requirements. In plenty of schools, meetings are dictated by contract-defined school calendars. When you only get a single one-hour meeting with the whole staff per month, there's bound to be more than one person responsible, and there's bound to be so much to talk about that you'll cram a month's worth of things into the allotted time frame. How do we mush so much into a single, authentic, desired outcome? How do we find time to get information out to folks in advance (and if we did, would they actually read and analyze it)?

The preceding paragraph is the default for meetings in schools. It's what happens when all of us are doing too much.

This is why, in the best schools, leaders work to do what matters most while minimizing or eliminating time spent on everything else. This is at the root of making meetings the kinds of things that improve school cultures. We need to build cultures that ruthlessly eliminate pointless tasks; for tasks that can't be eliminated, we need to satisfice.

There should probably be a whole meeting at the start of each year where a staff brainstorms pointless things and creates shared understanding for how to strategically minimize time spent on these things. The desired outcome? Give ourselves space to do better, saner work. That kind of a meeting would meet Godin's #5 — no better way to move forward than to have that meeting. Prior to the meeting, you might give folks my article on pointless things so that they come in ready to discuss and argue.

Arguments, after all, make meetings worth attending. It may seem counterintuitive in an age where we can't seem to argue amicably in the public square, but that's just because we're not doing argument right. More on that next time.


2 Responses to How to Improve School Cultures, Part 3: Better Meetings

  1. masterymaker April 7, 2018 at 10:39 am #

    The best book I have ever read on meetings is Patrick Lencioni’s Death By Meeting. It goes over four different types of meeting based on scope and purpose. Much of an all staff meeting can be handled in 15 minutes or fewer.

    But sometimes a full hour needs to be dedicated to something that only gets a 15 minute slot in that big faculty meeting.

    Lencioni’s would certainly agree that a key ingredient in important decision-making meetings involves ideological conflict (his term). Ideas need to clash with each other so the best one stands on its own merits after being thoroughly explored, or a synthesis of two or more ideas can be shown to work in concert.

    Great post!

    • davestuartjr April 13, 2018 at 8:32 pm #

      You anticipated the next post in the series, Jeffery! Cheers 🙂

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