Ref #TeacherfiveadaySlowChat conversations
One of the things that really gets to me is meetings, especially those meetings that you can’t really get out of, yet don’t actually get anything achieved, where you can spend an inordinate amount of time only to agree that another meeting will be needed to “further the discussion”. Time is a precious commodity. To have it wasted, knowing that you could have been more productive doing something else is, to say the least, irritating. I have been known to daydream, to doodle, taking advantage of not speaking to create thoughts on another topic. People are often too busy to notice anyway.
Why do we have meetings?
Communication is at the heart of any organisation and schools are an extreme example of this.
Information needs to be shared efficiently. There are many disparate individuals or groups who need to know what is going on, for a start and sometimes saying it is the easiest method. There are meetings for order and organisation, where essential details of times and places and sometimes personal staff or pupil issues, are shared, so that internal efficiency is improved through heightened awareness. However, sometimes written communication is a better way, although it does rely on everyone reading the notes.
There are meetings to sort things out, where several people are involved in a project and the details have to be decided. Sometimes the project is starting from scratch, so there is a need for meetings to plan, how the project will proceed, who will do what and when it will be done by. Not to do this would mean that the project would not happen. However, they can degenerate into meetings about meetings.
Meetings without a clear purpose and agenda can be easily highjacked by a few, either the “leadership” element or those of an opposite persuasion, who want to have an impact. It is possible that anyone in any leadership role will have an important personal project to undertake, which is also embedded in their Performance Management targets. These certainly require meetings and good participation, in order to be able to demonstrate impact.
In schools, there can be general staff meetings, year group meetings (including in PPA time), meetings about Performance Management, staff meetings can be training evenings and there are five further training days. If the school is involved in additional projects, these will inevitably involve further meetings. Some staff, such as the SENCo, EAL or PE teachers may be involved in local networks which create meetings. There will be some staff who are also a school Governor, which also requires a series of meetings throughout the year. Parent evenings are an essential point for home-school contact, requiring around 6 evenings to accommodate all needs. Some staff could be permanently in meetings.
- If you take a look at the school year, it is feasible to map out generally the need for meetings, so that these can be put into diaries, allowing all other meetings to be mapped also.
- How often are information meetings needed and for how long? Can they be timetabled with a natural end-point, so that the meeting has to come to an end?
- Development meetings, if embedded in a clear project outline and within a clear timetable, can have progressive purpose enabling feedback, review, and reflection, before moving on. In this, I would include all PPA time, which needs to have an agenda and be accountable. The half term is the “project”. Manage it effectively.
- Where reports have to be written, and parent evenings occur, it is possible to cancel a number of meeting slots to accommodate some of the extra time demand.
- If projects are really important to the school, it may be necessary to buy in cover time to enable key staff to have quality time together to pursue research and enquiry, leading to quality information sharing with colleagues. Projects can also be more easily costed in this model.
- This can become possible if the school is in an ITE partnership, regularly taking trainee teachers, who can, occasionally, become a supernumerary teacher; everyone benefits.
- Unless meetings are controlled, they are like Topsy, they grow and enlarge to fill the available time. Where we want teachers to also have time for personal development, all time demands have to be taken into account, if we are really convinced that teacher well-being is important.
Meetings do not solve all issues. They can be a necessary evil at times, but, just because they are easy to arrange, does that mean that they need to be held. Think twice before calling a meeting; it impacts on someone else’s time and possibly their life/work balance.