Team meetings in the FE sector are rare and precious, so surely the most important thing a manager can do is to make them count towards improving learner achievement. Yet many curriculum meetings are bogged down with administrative, bureaucratic tasks and simple information transfer. I think this is a poor use of valuable time when teachers are actually in a room with colleagues. I have worked with insightful managers who realize that:
1. They can focus their team meetings on T&L issues.
2. They can get their teams used to reading some administrative information outside the meeting, so that time together includes collaboration, reflection and high quality professional dialogue.
This is about the manager re-branding the meeting slot, radically altering how it operates, so that it works for the teachers by focusing on the core issues in learner achievement. It is part of the new shift towards the manager as learning leader, which is occurring all over the sector. Here are ten tips for the manager, showing how this can be done:
1. Send out admin information before the meeting with a prompt question for reflection and make it clear that in the meeting it will be a ‘for decision’ style discussion, not a slot involving everyone reading a lengthy document. People soon get used to doing the prep or not being part of the decision making.
2. Put a time limit on each agenda item and in the agenda make clear if it is a discussion, an update, a for decision point etc. Think about what really needs to go on the agenda versus what could be put on a notice board, left on a poster on a workroom door or emailed to staff.
3. Put the T&L item first so it doesn’t get pushed off the schedule by other data focused admin. Focus it on a specific activity with a purpose, e.g. Sharing practice on how you stretch learners or a report back on practical applications of some training that has been attended by one member of the team, so it is classroom focused.
4. Get creative and model a teaching and learning technique in your meeting then unpick it with your team to discuss potential applications. Great candidates for this are snowball discussions or assertive questioning- hot topics in research, easily applied in class, useful for any level. Be someone who is role modelling the kind of practice you want to see in classes, so that teachers benefit from content and process in your meetings. This also helps them see the manager as a learning focused leader.
5. Run a very simple sharing activity on a topical area of interest, e.g.brainstorm what the team did well during induction and ideas for future enhancement. Summarise key points and save them in an effective practice log online, which you can come back to at a later point and build. This stops you from losing track of what is working well for you or losing effective approaches when people leave.
6. Shake up the way meetings are structured. Get a teacher to be chair; ask another to take notes and rotate roles in subsequent meetings. Focus on facilitating discussion, bringing in quiet staff members who may have good ideas but be reticent to contribute among more dominant colleagues. Keep the discussions focused around impacts on learners and how you can collaborate to improve learning. Be explicit with your team that this is how you would like meetings to run in future, to cut down moaning and talking at a tangent!If the team tends to moan, have a “moans chart” where people can put post it notes with moans. Decide if they are for action in your meeting, for passing on to others, for parking until another date. Manage this so that team members can’t highjack the valuable meeting time as a platform for personal gripes- arrange to see people outside for those.
7. Create cluster groups within the main meeting discuss an item and agree key recommendations. Then use a solution focused mindset to debate and finalise action points, around these questions:
What can you do as the manager?
What can the teachers do?
Who else could support?
What are the deadlines for each step?
8. Ask teachers to nominate an agenda item on a T&L point of interest. Start to use the meeting to air issues, trouble shoot together and keep a tight focus on action steps and reviewing them. Make your meeting something teachers want to attend, find useful, practical, maybe even inspiring!
9. Questions for reflection can be sent out before the meeting to provide thinking time. Ask teachers to bring in ideas about how the team can enhance use of ILPs, improve the quality of written feedback, tackle problems with punctuality etc.
10. Confess to a T&L difficulty with one of your classes and ask for advice. Then have an agony aunt slot where teachers table a problem and colleagues advise them, either through a speed dating activity or a round table discussion. This is a powerful way of transferring good practice among team members.
All of these approaches can help you share good practice in your teams, standardise approaches, engage teachers in collaborating on ways to improve the learner experience. Time spent in this way- even if it is just twenty minutes- contributes to the drive for enhancing achievement way more than ploughing through admin ever can. I think that as learning professionals we need to reclaim team meetings from the bureaucracy that is limiting their usefulness. Managers play a pivotal role in making this possible and can develop their leadership of learning in this way.