7 ways to make sure staff meetings impact student learning

By Colin Sloper and Gavin Grift

Traditionally, whole school staff meetings have been a convenient way of communicating and sharing information with a large number of people at one time.

But even with the best of intentions, meetings can easily turn into time-wasting ‘talkfests’.

In a high-performing professional learning community (PLC), it’s vital that staff meetings focus on the learning needs of collaborative teams and the teachers who serve them.

Here’s seven practical strategies you can use to ensure staff meetings have a real impact on student learning.

1. Embrace inquiry over informing
Ensure the leadership team understands that every staff meeting should focus on inquiring into what the teams need to succeed in achieving high levels of learning for all students – rather than simply sharing information.

The leadership team must recognise that the collaborative team process is the central school improvement methodology for the whole school, not just part of the work.

2. Each agenda item must help educators improve student learning

One strategy is to always refer to this question when planning a meeting: How does this agenda item support our educators’ teaching practice to improve student learning?

Professional learning should support the action research process that each team is implementing. In this way, staff see that meetings are supportive of their professional learning needs, and directly related to school improvement.

3. Have a clear and purposeful agenda
The content of the meeting should be entirely dependent on the feedback the leadership team is receiving on the struggles that teams are having with the collaborative team process.

This feedback could be via informal or formal conversations between executive leaders and middle leaders. Or the executive leadership team could ask middle leaders to share their thoughts and challenges.

4. Ensure each agenda item is timely and addresses the team’s needs

Your school’s leadership team needs to be responsive.

If they discover teams are struggling with an aspect of their assessment practices in the inquiry cycle, that needs to be addressed immediately through the staff meeting, or a series of staff meetings.

5. Give yourself time to pre-plan
Ensure that whoever is responsible for the staff meeting gives themselves the luxury of time to pre-plan the meeting properly.

One way of ensuring this pre-planning occurs is making sure the pre-planning aspect is a standing item at the leadership team meeting – or whichever meeting or forum takes the responsibility for planning the staff meeting.

One school we’ve worked with simply has a standing item on their leadership agenda that asks: How might we support the needs of our collaborative teams to thrive?

6. Include regular standing items
Ensuring the same standing items are included on each agenda will help leadership teams stick to their intended meeting purpose.

One standing item on all agendas could be about revising meeting norms, to remind everyone of the standard of behaviour expected in the meeting – such as sticking to allocated times or letting people finish what they’re saying.

Something as simple as adding a question mark as a standing item on a blank agenda can also remind us that what we’re trying to do is explore.

7. Maximise meeting times by using other communication channels

Educators have seemingly endless tasks to tick off, but the trick is not to let these infiltrate a staff meeting and use up precious time that could be better spent learning from one another.

Some ideas to help keep staff informed outside of meetings include:

– Daily bulletins

– Targeted emails

– Staff newsletters

– Vimeo or YouTube updates

– Pigeonhole updates

– Five-minute morning briefings

When leaders appreciate that the majority of time at a staff meeting needs to be devoted to supporting staff within their professional learning, they become very creative to ensure less time is wasted at meetings.

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