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Leaving the Whatnot Out of Teacher Meetings

Bronx Classroom Tales

Teacher Meetings/I have a confession to make: I love teacher meetings and I don't care who knows it!

After a recent new teacher check-in meeting, we did an exercise where we had each of them write down one thing that they could really use right now. We were quick to follow up on each request and found some to be easier than others.

One teacher wanted a desk in her co-teacher’s classroom and had already tracked one down in the building. She simply needed it moved. No problem. Others were trickier.

To the music teacher’s request for his own classroom, I replied, “I’m really sorry man, but probably not this year.”

Another teacher expressed concern over the amount of time which was expected of him for “meetings and whatnot.”

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Now as a lover of meetings, I resented this teacher’s casual association of them with “whatnot.” I remember in college, I daydreamed of becoming a non descript do-gooder who met at family-owned breakfast places with city officials for an early morning meeting, then colleagues for a brainstorming lunch around 11:30 and later ending the day with a progress meeting with the boss before clocking out.

I love coffee, I love yellow legal pads and love the idea of getting together to discuss problems and their solutions. While I do see the danger in having a meeting culture where problem solving takes a back seat to cappuccinos and gel pen doodling, I found that a carefully prepared agenda and the expectation of a product are two ways to keep your teacher meetings far from the realm of “whatnot.”

How We Make Our Meetings Matter

This year, we began preparing our agendas as we do our lesson plans as a school.

There is a focus question that we are looking to answer by the end - for example, what do our diagnostics exams tells up about cohort P’s academic strengths and weaknesses?

There is a mini lesson - teachers share out with each other what their test data yielded, modeling data analysis simultaneously.

There is time for group work - we decide on a skill that we can target across curriculum to increase student’s critical literacy and a strategy to teach that skill.

Finally, there is homework - bring back your target students’ assessment data on that skill after trying the strategy for a week.

What else are lessons other than meetings? People getting together to solve problems, be them literary or scientific? The way meetings become associated with the term “whatnot” is when people are spoke to, not spoken with, for an extended period of time and the only product is a Kindergartener’s caliber sketch of a beach and palm trees on the back of the agenda.

While I couldn’t give this new teacher direct support for his concern, I did tell him that I would try to make sure any meeting I was a part of allowed him to leave with something that would improve his own teaching or the effectiveness of the school overall. I also reminded him that lunch meetings got him out of cafeteria duty, to which he suddenly remembered and replied, “Actually, meetings are a refreshing engagement of my time.”

What does your school do to make sure your faculty meetings are as productive as possible? Share in the comments section below!