High Five the First Days is a series of blog posts aimed at new teachers, or teachers just looking for ideas or reminders. The purpose is to help in the establishment of a solid foundation on which you can build an awesome school year. This is by no means a definitive list. The best way to fully prepare for the year ahead is read as much as possible, open your mind, commit to the idea of change, and to proactively seek out experienced colleagues willing to share their best practices. Hopefully, the ideas below will be one of the steps on your road to awesomeness! Hi 5!
In addition to death and taxes, another inevitable aspect of teaching is meetings. You will go to many (and likely too many) meetings this year. In order to get the most out of meetings, spend some time at the beginning of the year getting your colleagues on board in terms of running effective meetings.
At your very first meeting of the year, establish some meeting norms. For example:
Punctuality – get everyone to understand (and agree to) the need for being on time. How many times have you had to sit and wait for everyone to turn up before your meeting got started? We don’t have much free time in our days and spending that time waiting for someone can be extremely frustrating. Get everyone to understand the importance of punctuality and have them understand that meetings will start on time, whether someone is late or not.
Purpose – again, time is at a premium for teachers. So, discuss with your colleagues the reasons the necessity of meetings. For instance, don’t organize a meeting to simply deliver information. There are better ways to tell us something, like an email. Instead, ensure meetings are organized for specific purposes, such as deciding on a course of action.
Conflict – not everyone will agree on the action options being discussed at your meeting. And that is okay. Take some time to discuss the right and wrong kinds of conflict for your meetings. Last year I attended a workshop led by Greg Curtis, Curriculum Director at the International School of Beijing, and the author of Leading Modern Learning: A Blueprint for Vision-Driven Schools. Greg talked about two kinds of conflict in particular: Cognitive and Affective. Affective Conflict is the interpersonal/disruptive conflict. This is the stuff I hate. Cognitive Conflict, on the other hand, is (believe it or not) a necessary kind of conflict. It concerns simple differences in opinions – conflicts concerning issues, not personal traits. Cognitive Conflicts, among diverse groups, are inevitable. Different people, when they get together to discuss important issues, will not necessarily agree on what the issues actually are or how to solve them. What is critical is that the group solve the issues as Cognitive Conflicts without slipping into the ugly Affective mode.
Greg gave us a list of conversation stems – ways of disagreeing without being negative or personal. Here are a few that might be useful in your next meeting:
- “Here is a related thought….”
- “I hold it another way…”
- “I see it differently…”
- “Hmm, from another perspective…”
- “An additional idea might be…”
- “An assumption that I am exploring is…”
- “And, taking that one step further…”
In general, “and” is always preferable to “but”.
As a teacher, avoiding meetings is unlikely. But, if you and your colleagues take some time to set norms and understand each other at the beginning of the year, you might just make those meetings a little more effective.